When you have a parent who cooks—and has you act as sous chef—the kitchen automatically becomes a less intimidating place. In other words, kids who know their way around the kitchen will most likely become adults who cook for themselves, which also means that they'll eat more unprocessed whole foods, save money, and maintain a healthy weight.
However, it's hard to know how and when you can transition your tot from setting the table and stirring pancake batter to doing things like cutting up produce. What tools will help them start working on their fine motor skills and get them used to working with a knife without risking a visit to the ER?
The old-school method was to have your child use a butter knife or something equally dull. Thankfully, there are a lot more options available today! (Although it goes without saying that you should always supervise your children when letting them use a knife, even a kid's version.)
My friend's kid announced the onset of her independence by yelling, "Maggie self! Maggie self!" any time one of us tried to cut up the food on her plate. Letting her slice her own dinner kept her more interested in eating, but it was hard to find an appropriate utensil for her to use (a plastic butter knife was the not-so-perfect compromise her parents settled on).
For kids ages 3 and up, the Kiddikutter (via Apartment Therapy) from Australia is a great solution. This knife has a saw-toothed stainless steel blade and a BPA-free plastic handle. This one will cut through raw carrots and is perfect for cutting up softer meats. Again, don't let your kids use this unsupervised.
There's also a slightly cheaper version of the same knife from another company, the Kiddies Food Kutter, which is essentially the same tool, but not quite as nice-looking in my opinion. I also found the handle to be more awkward to grip, but it's a good option if you want to save a few dollars on shipping and handling.
Nylon and plastic knives are the way to go. Generally, these are appropriate for children age five and up. These versions have a sharp edge that will easily cut through most produce and soft foods. Shaped like adult chef's knives, they'll help your kids start to develop the motor skills and hand positions for correct chopping and slicing.
The Curious Chef has a three-piece nylon knife set that features a small, medium, and large knife with serrated edges. They're great for using on produce or even cutting through pastry dough and cakes (although they might scratch your pans).
There's also this $3.99 plastic lettuce knife from Zyliss with a serrated edge. Technically, this knife is for adults, but many reviewers commented that it's safe and appropriate for kids. Many have used it as an introductory knife for their little ones with great results.
Keep in mind that this knife is made of stainless steel, so your young one will need to be supervised. Cook's Illustrated tested it on eleven- and twelve-year-olds, who unanimously loved the knife in terms of safety and ease of use. This is a knife set that encourages real skills (the knife comes with a finger hole to train the correct hand positioning as well as a finger guard so the other hand will be protected). There's also a version that includes a vegetable peeler, too.
Whether you're an experienced cook who's ready to graduate to carbon steel knives or a novice who's interested in a device that makes the easiest, tastiest coffee ever, Food Tools Friday has got you covered. Learn about Himalayan salt blocks and why they're perfect for grilling, the PancakeBot, and why a flexible fish spatula is the only spatula you need in your kitchen.