Whether they’re dumping boxed pasta into boiling water or cranking out handmade dough on a pasta machine, kids can get involved in the kitchen in all kinds of ways from a very young age. And while having your little ones assist won’t get dinner on the table faster, it can help improve fine motor skills, get picky eaters more invested in their meals, and offer opportunities for learning (for them and you).
For this guide, we invited five kids, ranging in age from 2½ to 8, along with their parents, to the Wirecutter test kitchen to try out a variety of cooking tools. They chopped vegetables; squeezed lemonade; rolled, cut out, baked, and iced cookies; and decorated dish towels. And they had a ball—which is really what it’s all about.
Joie Fruit and Vegetable Wavy Chopper Knife ($6 at the time of publication)
Victorinox Swiss Classic 4½-inch Serrated Utility Knife ($8 at the time of publication)
If you want to introduce knife skills to your kids, you need two things: a lightweight blade that’s easy to wield and lots of supervision. The Joie Fruit and Vegetable Wavy Chopper is a good starter tool. This chopper was the most popular “knife” with our kid testers because the bold-hued plastic top handle is easy to grip, and the corrugated blade leaves a fun wavy pattern on everything you cut. Said one 3-year-old tester’s mother of the Joie, “After watching her cut a cucumber, I need to get it. She loves cucumbers, and I think it will be great to start teaching her how to cut it.”
When your kid is champing at the bit to start slicing and dicing like the adults, we think the Victorinox Swiss Classic 4½-inch Serrated Utility Knife is great for developing their skills. It’s lightweight and has a rounded tip so you don’t have to worry about accidental pokes. Our kid panel didn’t test the Victorinox, but after we observed the difficulty they had with larger chef-style kid knives like the Opinel Le Petit Chef, Made-for-Me Beginner’s Knife, and Kai My First Knife, we decided to ask an expert for recommendations. Michelle Dias, creator of the Cooking Club at the Montessori Children’s House in Redmond, Washington, told us that she lets her first- and second-grade students use nylon serrated knives and ones similar to the Victorinox Swiss Classic. Dias says that plastic lettuce knives are a crowd favorite in her class. But their utility is limited to leafy greens and soft fruits, while a steel serrated blade, like the Victorinox, can cut everything from berries to carrots.
Dias advises parents to halve round foods (apples, potatoes, lemons) so they sit flat on the cutting board, making it easier for a child to do the rest. She told us how she instructs kids about proper knife usage: “I tell them, ‘Keep your fingers as far away from the blade as possible while still holding the food firmly in place.’ And frequently remind them to look down to make sure their fingers aren’t under the knife.” Understanding that attention spans run short at this age, Dias repeatedly tells her students, “Don’t hold the knife unless you’re using it. If you want to talk to a friend or do something else, put it down with the blade facing in.”
A pint-size apron not only protects your kid’s clothes from splashes and spills but also looks super friggin’ cute! We compared six aprons and found that the colorful kid aprons from Hedley & Bennett are the best because they’re easy to put on, well-made, and sized for kids ranging from toddler to tween. Our kid testers found the around-the-neck style easier to take on and off compared with the cross-back aprons we tried. Hedley & Bennett’s thick cotton-blend twill is an especially effective barrier between normal cooking splatters and a favorite outfit, and the construction is more durable than other around-the-neck aprons we tested. We love that these aprons are available in many colors and in three sizes (2 to 4, 4 to 8, and 8 to 12 years old), more than most brands offer. We tested the Tug Boat Jr. and Addy Jr. styles in all three sizes, and they all fit well. While Hedley & Bennett aprons are more expensive than other brands, we think the quality is worth it. They make great gifts, too.
The Young Chef Vintage Draper apron, made from thick and durable denim, is a good budget-friendly choice. But while the Hedley & Bennett aprons have a stitched neck strap that adjusts with a metal ring, the Young Chef uses Velcro, which may lose its effectiveness after multiple trips through the washer and dryer. It’s only available in one size, which we estimate will fit kids between 4 and 8 years old.
We also tested Bay Stripe and Classic kids aprons from Williams Sonoma and the Rough Linen Child’s Pinafore. The Williams Sonoma aprons have a Velcro neck strap that doesn’t adhere as well as the one on the Young Chef. As for the Rough Linen Pinafore (the gray apron second from the left in the group shot above), we can’t deny that it’s devastatingly cute and well-made—we have the adult version in three colors in our test kitchen, and we love it—but it costs $60, and our kid testers needed help putting it on because the fixed crisscross straps can be a bit confusing to figure out.
GIR Mini Spatula ($13 at the time of publication)
We tested out three pint-size spatulas and found that the narrow, grippy silicone handle of the GIR Mini Spatula was the easiest for little hands to hold and allowed our kid testers to stir food coloring into royal icing with reckless abandon. It’s a mini version of the spatula we recommend in our guide to the best spatulas. When we asked our young testers why they liked the GIR spatula best, 2½ -year-old Andie exclaimed, “It’s the perfect size!” We also tested the Curious Chef Medium Spatula, but the handle was so flat and wide it was awkward for tiny hands to grasp. The Mini Kitchen Silicone Spatulas were fine for mixing small bowls of royal icing, but we think their diminutive blades would be ineffective for bigger tasks, like scraping batter from a bowl. A parent of one of our testers said she would get the GIR since it could also double as a jar spatula. Other parents said they preferred the GIR spatula because it doesn’t have any grooves or crevices that would make it difficult to clean, unlike the competition.
GIR Mini Stainless Steel Whisk ($10 at the time of publication)
The GIR Mini Stainless Steel Whisk is the ideal size for kids to grasp in their small fists, and our testers of all ages had an easy time using one to whisk food coloring into royal icing. We like that the handle is covered in silicone, which makes it less slippery and more comfortable to grip than stainless steel. The handle also has a fun, faceted texture and comes in a wide range of colors. This is a well-built tool that won’t end up relegated to the toy box—grown-ups may want to borrow it for everything from vinaigrettes to scrambled eggs. It has 12 wires for efficient whisking and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
If you want a larger whisk for larger tasks, the OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk is the top pick in our guide to whisks and has a soft, grippy handle that’s pretty kid-friendly. Same goes for the GIR Ultimate Whisk, the full-size version of our favorite small whisk. Just keep in mind that the handles are a bit too fat for the tiniest hands, and that a bigger whisk has the potential to fling bigger messes out of the bowl and across the kitchen. Speaking of messes, make sure to steer clear of whisks with silicone-coated wires. They look fun and kid-friendly, but in testing for our guide to whisks we found them frustrating for even adults to use. The coated wires are too flimsy to cut through thick mixtures, and stick and stutter against the sides of a bowl, spraying ingredients everywhere.
Bamber 11-inch rolling pin ($9 at the time of publication)
We offered our kid testers a choice of four rolling pins for rolling out cookie dough, and almost all of them gravitated toward the diminutive Bamber 11-inch Wood Rolling Pin or its slightly longer sibling. These simple dowel pins are lightweight but sturdy and just the right size for even our youngest 2-year-old testers to maneuver easily, while still being useful for older kids or even adults (they’re great for rolling flatbreads and dumpling skins). The J.K. Adams 19-Inch Wooden Rolling Dowel, which is the runner-up in our guide to rolling pins, is hulking in comparison and seemed to intimidate the kids—none of them wanted to try it. It’s also a bit rougher than the Bamber pins, which have a smooth finish that doesn’t stick to dough and cleans up easily. As senior editor Christine Cyr Clisset noted, the Bamber pins are small enough that they could double as a tool for Play-Doh, and easy cleanup is especially useful if you want them to migrate between kitchen and craft table.
We focused mainly on dowel-shaped pins in our test because they’re simpler to use than tapered rolling pins (like our top pick for adults), which take some finesse and fine motor skills. But we did throw in one old-school rolling pin with handles—a vintage one that writer Lesley Stockton brought from home. Eight-year-old Jacob said he found this one easier to use, and we’re guessing it’s because the center rolls independently from the handles. He wasn’t the only kid who had trouble getting the hang of pushing down on the dowel while also letting it roll under his palms (some of the youngest kids tended to just grip each end of the Bamber pins and smoosh the dough). But we think children can get the hang of a dowel with a little practice, and it will ultimately help them get a better feel for how thick and evenly they’re rolling the dough (even if, like some of our testers, they prefer their cookies 1-inch thick).
When they were done rolling out cookie dough, our testers used some of the kid-friendly plastic cutters from the Wilton 101-Piece Cookie Cutter Set we recommend in our guide to holiday cookie baking. Like the 4-year-old who originally helped us test these cutters, the kids found it easy to press down evenly on the flat plastic tops and were able to get clean shapes even without a sharp metal edge.
Even before a gaggle of children showed up in our test kitchen to make cookies, we were big fans of the quarter and eighth sheet aluminum baking pans from Nordic Ware. They’re toy-size versions of the Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Baker’s Half Sheet, the top pick from our guide to the best baking sheet, and they’re just as durable and versatile. When baking with kids, it can help cut down on the chaos (and reduce the chance of any bickering over whose cookies are whose) to give each child their own small pan to fill with cookies. We also like the idea of using them to bake off just a couple of cookies for dessert if you’ve got a pack of premade dough in the fridge. And, as senior editor Christine Cyr Clisset noted, they’d even make a fun addition to a child’s play kitchen.
One thing we heard a lot from parents is that they’d prefer to buy tools that they can use too. Especially when kitchen space is at a premium, it’s often best to choose real, good-quality gear that’s kid-friendly over junky gear that’s kids-only. These tiny pans really fill that bill: You can use them for everything from toasting a handful of nuts to baking a piece of fish. They also fit easily in a toaster oven. And, of course, you can always use them to bake a couple more cookies for yourself after the kids go to bed.
Learning tower and stool
Though we didn’t include learning towers or dedicated kitchen stools in our recent testing, some of us have personally found that they’re indispensable tools for successfully getting kids involved around the house. The Little Partners Original Learning Tower gives very young children a secure spot at the counter so they can help in the kitchen or just be a part of what’s going on. Writer Jackie Reeve bought one when her daughter was about 20 months old (she’s now 6). Because she didn’t walk until she was 18 months, and struggled with balance until she was at least 4, she needed more support than a step stool could provide. The Learning Tower allowed them to adjust the height as Hannah grew; it was stable and never rocked; it kept her from falling to the floor; and the sides gave her something to lean on for leverage when she was stirring cake batter or using Play-Doh. If you’re handy with tools, you could also consider building your own or using an IKEA hack.
The Original Learning Tower takes up a considerable amount of space, so families with a small kitchen may want something like Little Partners’s adjustable step stool. Regular step stools might be more compact and lightweight, but they’re usually not tall enough to bring toddlers up to the counter or, like dining chairs, can be precarious for them to stand on. “As someone who loves to cook, it was important for me to have some way to involve my daughter in the kitchen as soon as she was steady on her feet. But because I live in a small New York apartment, I needed something that would fit in a cramped kitchen,” said editor Winnie Yang, who has been using the Little Partners step stool since shortly after her daughter’s first birthday (she’s now almost 3). She likes that it’s sturdy and too heavy for a little kid to move on their own, but it still gives her daughter a sense of independence. And while it lacks front and back guardrails, the safety rails on the sides are easy to grab.
Bounty Select-A-Size Paper Towels ($17/package of 12 rolls at the time of publication)
Real Simple Bar Mops ($5/set of 6 at the time of publication)
Aunt Martha’s Flour Sack Dish Towels ($20/set of 7 at the time of publication)
We didn’t need a test to know that the littlest chefs make plenty of big messes. To assess what materials are best for cleaning, we tried several cloth and paper towels, comparing how well they wiped up spills and removed stubborn cookie dough from kitchen counters. Parents reached for the Bounty Select-A-Size Paper Towels the most in our tests because they’re absorbent and great for scrubbing surfaces and cleaning little hands. We found that the Real Simple Bar Mops are ideal for big spills or wiping down countertops. And since they’re so cheap, you won’t mind if they get stained or tattered with persistent use. We also cleaned up splatters with several other kitchen towels with kid-friendly prints, including the gnome and vegetable Now Designs towels, the owl Mu Kitchen towels, the ice cream cone and popsicle Mu Kitchen towels, and the owl Mu Kitchen flour sack towels. While these printed towels are cute, they’re not very absorbent for mopping up spills, and several parents who took part in our testing said they wouldn’t want to spend money on printed towels exclusively for their kids because they’d get ruined quickly.
We also recommend the large Aunt Martha’s Flour Sack Dish Towels for tying around kids like a bib to keep their clothes splatter free. Folded into quarters, these towels also make a wonderful canvas for kids to express their imagination using fabric paint applied with potato stamps or brushes. Parents will also appreciate these towels for food prep tasks like squeezing excess moisture from watery vegetables or straining liquids. For other towel recommendations, see our full guide to the best kitchen towels.
Proctor Silex Alex’s Lemonade Stand Citrus Juicer ($14 at the time of publication)
The Proctor Silex Alex’s Lemonade Stand Citrus Juicer from our guide to electric citrus juicers is inexpensive, easy to use, and makes quick work of juicing lemons for your budding entrepreneur’s lemonade stand. We brought one in for our kid testers, and they agreed. It can also do limes, oranges, or grapefruits. The youngest of our testers needed a little help pushing down hard enough on each lemon half to get all the juice out, but they still had fun.
Because no hard work should go unrewarded, we made the kids popsicles in the delightful Zoku Fish Pop Molds we recommend in our guide to popsicle molds. We also tried out a set of dinosaur-shaped molds from Zoku, which are identical to the fish pops in all but the adorable frozen creatures they produce. Our testers loved the fun shapes, while their parents loved the diminutive size of these pops—the perfect serving for a little one.
Read the original post on The Best Tools for Cooking With Kids.