Knife skills: Cooking with kids (part 2)
Updated: Jul 17, 2022
This blog is all about knife skills. With a few simple techniques, day-to-day cooking can be transformed from a chore to something quick, easy and fun, for both parents and children. Read on for ‘how-to’ video demonstrations and step-by-step guidance.
So many adults cook every day but have never been taught how to cut, chop and slice properly. Understandably, it's therefore hard for them to teach their kids.
When I see pre-chopped fruit and vegetables in supermarkets that cost double the price it always makes my heart sink as it’s so easy to do at home yourself (if you know how), much cheaper and better for the planet (using less plastic). There is a solution!
Over the years I’ve had lots of comments and questions about how my small children can safely use big knives, so I wanted to talk about this and share techniques to get more children – however old they are – confidently into the kitchen and cooking safely!
Learning to chop properly is the difference between cooking being a chore or a joy, as it means you can cook all sorts of dishes without it taking too much time and effort. I hope the videos below are as useful for parents as for kids!
Five Top Tips
Follow these basic tips to help you chop safely but fast and efficiently.
1. Start with soft foods (mushrooms and peppers) to practice before moving on to harder or larger foods like carrots or potatoes.
2. If held correctly and with the right method, it's far safer to use a large, sharp knife than a blunt, small one (as well as faster and easier). This is because a sharp knife will cut the food rather than you having to push down really hard to slice through it and therefore it is less likely the knife will slip and cut you.
There's more about the knives I use and knife sharpening at the end of this blog.
3. To safely and efficiently cut any food item, these four methods are indispensable. I’ve described the ‘claw’, ‘rock chop', 'hand on end of knife' and ‘forward round movement’ below.
Claw: The most important thing to teach children (or anyone!) when using a knife is where you put your hands: if they are out of the way, you can’t cut them! With the claw, you tuck your fingers under your hand so that they cannot be chopped off. You can still hold the food in this curled up position but it may feel slightly strange at first.
Rock chop: For cutting herbs and nuts you can have your hand safely on top of the knife and not near the food. With your hand holding the knife, lift up and down (your hand on the end of the knife keeps that end on the board while the other chops up and down). The video below demonstrates what I mean.
Hand on end of the knife: For large hard vegetables (like celeriac and butternut squash) place both hands on the knife and push down. There is a celeriac video further down that shows how to do this.
The 'forward round movement' is the rhythm you need to practice in order to quickly cut food. Push the knife down and forward then lift it up and drag it back then push down and forward again. Hold the food in your other hand but remember to have your fingers curled up! If you’re doing it right, the circular movement feels a bit like a boat bobbing anticlockwise on a wave. These videos below demonstrate the movement.
4. If you’re nervous, to help children safely get through the transition to big sharp knives I would recommend gloves for kids to protect their hands. It helped me relax when my 2 year-old started using my big chef’s knives! They are made of chain-mail like substance that protects their hands if they do forget to curl their fingers under their hands.
5. Place a piece of wet paper or cloth under a chopping board to stop it slipping. This will stop food sliding around and your knife moving and cutting you.
To give you a better idea of what I've been talking about, here are some videos to help demonstrate general techniques and how to deal with trickier food items:
1. How to cut an onion
2. Chopping sweet potatoes into small cubes
3. The best way to peel and cut a mango
4. Chopping hard vegetables (like celeriac, parsnips or carrots) into batons
5. Cutting up and preparing herbs
Knives and sharpening
In terms of the best out there, I don’t have super expensive knives and you don’t need lots. One large chef’s knife and one small serrated knife is all I usually use. The secret is to keep them sharp! Also, if you wash them by hand rather than the dishwasher they will last forever.
I use a pull through sharpener every time I’m about to start cooking. This keeps an edge on the knife and means it stays sharp. However, after a while you might need to have them ground down by a butcher to get them back to their original sharp state.
In the next blog (part three of cooking with kids) I will list some kitchen jobs for different age groups and some no-cook recipes (as well as some easy, low-risk cooking ideas).
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy having a go at honing your new knife skills! Please do tag me in any videos or posts of your attempts – I’d love to see them - and feel free to forward on this newsletter to family and friends who would find it useful. You can also share it using the social media icons below.