How To Teach Your Kids To Use A Knife

Make your kid a knife-wielding pro in no time with these tips

It's unnerving to hand a child a knife and hope for the best. But that shouldn't keep you from enjoying the kitchen together. We ask five food experts how they teach their children one of the fundamental basics of cooking: knife skills.

① Start small—and blunt.   

Experts agree that starting off with plastic or nylon trainers is the way to go.

"My youngest is only two and a half," food writer MK Martin says. "She gets a plastic, blunt-tipped knife" until she's gained the motor skills to use something sharper. For slightly older kids, start with a small paring knife.

② Establish clear safety guidelines.

"Point out that adults need to be careful just as much as kids," Amber Eisler, baking instructor at King Arthur Flour, says.

Pat Tanumihardja, author of Farm to Table Asian Secrets: Vegan & Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season, agrees."Before I let my son touch anything sharp, I talked to him about the right and wrong way," she says. "I demonstrated how to hold and use a knife, and explained how to avoid getting hurt."

From there, establish clear safety guidelines, including: Never run with a knife; never point the tip at someone; keep the tip pointed down while walking with a knife; always pass a knife with the handle pointed toward the recipient.

③ KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!

It may sound obvious, but start with flat, soft ingredients. When cooking with her daughter, Lila, EatingWell food editor Carolyn Malcoun keeps it simple. "If I have her cut things, I try to give her softer things I know will be easier to cut with that knife, like kiwi, mango and cucumber." 

④ Make it fun.

"Kids are so excited to be in the kitchen," Eisler says. "I encourage them to use their senses: Smell the ingredients, feel the textures, notice the color changing as something bakes and, of course, taste!"

Doing something by themselves can be a big, exciting learning moment. "The kids are so empowered when they finish, knowing that they cooked an entire meal by themselves and didn't just do some honorary stirring," Selena Hoy, food writer and teacher at Japanese nonprofit Mirai no Mori, says.

⑤ Don't be nervous.

Mistakes and mishaps will happen—after all, your kids are learning. "Even if there's a mishap, it'll be a life lesson," Tanumihardja says. But experts agree that it's well worth the time spent.

It's important to mentally gird yourself for the messes, spills and wails, because that's just part of life cooking with kids. But "once you see that trust builds their skills," Martin says, "it's easy to line them up and get to work."