When my daughter, Elara, was three years old, she decided that cooking is just adult play time. And then, of course, she wanted in on the fun.
Cooking with toddlers is a great practice in theory. There are whole social media accounts devoted to parents calmly, with a never-ending well of time and patience, cooking with their tot to adorable results. But on a practical, I-need-to-get-dinner-on-the-table level, it’s trickier.
Outside of stirring, whisking, or using her hands, finding a safe way to let Elara help cook was tough. I wanted her away from hot pots and sharp knives. I also didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making a meal. And no one has the time to ideate a dinner that is easy for a toddler to make every night.
Enter the lettuce knife. It’s a chef-knife-shaped serrated, plastic knife used to safely chop leafy greens that—in theory—also prevents browning, compared to a metal knife. In Elara’s hands, it isn’t just for greens! Even though it’s deliberately dull, a lettuce knife is still sharp enough to cut through fruits and vegetables like grapes, kiwis, bananas, cherry tomatoes, lemons, and cucumbers. But it’s blunt enough that I’m not worried about her fingers in the process.
Thehas little holes in the blade to help strip kale, which is another easy prep step that little hands can do. I also love this with various sizes and colors, which works great if you have multiple kids helping out in the kitchen, or if their hands are extra tiny.
As a bonus: It’s a universal truth that parents are always on the hunt for new tricks to get their kids to eat their dinner, and I found that when we made a meal together, Elara was more likely to try it and enjoy it. It’s even backed by science: Occupational therapists and feeding specialists often recommendto get them to explore different foods and expand their palettes. Beyond eating well, it helps and build confidence. And on a personal level, as a professional chef, I know it’s never too early to instill the importance of a well done mise en place.
Now with her trusty lettuce knife, Elara could prep a whole salad pretty much on her own. I would give her a bunch of kale to strip and chop with her knife. I’d let her drizzle in olive oil, lemon juice, and sprinkle in salt to massage with her hands until tender. And then, back to the cutting board for some chopped cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. It’s quality bonding time. And now, it’s like play time for both of us.