As a kitchen designer I put my personal experience to use when planning family friendly kitchens. Many things can be done to make kitchens safe, functional and fun for families starting with the layout.
As a mother of two, I have mopped up my share of spilled milk and cleaned up after more than a few cooking experiments gone wrong. From the time I carried them as babies in snugglies while chopping vegetables for dinner, my children have spent a lot of time in the kitchen. They have serenaded me as toddlers on pots and pans, helped decorate cupcakes for class parties, hung out with their friends after school, reluctantly made dinner and done dishes on their chore night and more recently hosted a dinner party for college friends.
The floor plan should be divided into zones and traffic patterns set to allow for good flow. This will not only make it more fun to work in but will also make it safer. A child running through the kitchen to reach the back door should not cross the path of a cook carrying a pot of boiling water from the range to the sink. That’s a recipe for an accident.
If you want to encourage children to participate in cooking and clean up, make it more workable. Choose finishes that canbe easily maintained and are durable. Children are experts at making messes and spillsare inevitable. A child’s body and mental maturity is constantly changing as will their ability to handlecooking tasks so you need to supervise closely and decide what they are ready to handle. Allow for enough counter space to spread out. A child should be able to pull up a stool beside you to see what you are doing and participate in simple tasks to start with like rolling out cookiedough. As they become more accomplished, you can encourage independence by storing dishes and food in low cabinets. Keep milk & snacks on the lower shelves of the refrigerator and lunch bags close by so that as they mature children can help make their own lunches for school. I often plan a servery area in the kitchen near the fridge where breakfast foods and snacks are kept along with counter space for a toaster, coffee maker andmicrowave. Family members can easily help themselves to a quick snackor drink without disturbing the cook.
Although you want to foster independence, there are some things that should be kept out of reach. Sharpknives andappliances as well as toxic cleaners should be kept in cabinets with childproof locks. Teach your children to be respectfulof electrical appliances and careful around hot surfaces. Even teenagers need to be reminded to keep an eye on the chickennuggets in the oven instead of the most recent text message on their phone. The kitchen should have a fire extinguisher andsmoke alarm nearby. Teach your children what to do in case of a fire.
Don’t forget about the furry members of your family. You don’t want to be tripping over pet bowlsbecause you forgot to plan a place for them. If you don’t have an out of the way floor space for them, bowls can be built into pull out drawers. I have even planned a feeding station with pocket doors for a family with several cats and a small dog.
Many open plan kitchens are now integrated with informal living areas inviting more activity than just food preparation. Children’s play and homework can take place in the space often including access to a computer and TV. The kitchen table often ends up as a place for homework but if you have space, you may want to work in a desk area with a message center. A phone and/or recharging station for cell phones can be placed here. You should also have a spot for a calendar & message board to keep track of everyone’s schedule. This is also a handy area to file school papers and household bills. And yes, don’t forget about the ‘junk’ drawer for pens, paper and other odds and ends.
I have encouraged and yes, often nagged my children to participate in the kitchen. Now that they are 16 and 20, they are reaping the benefits. They have become quite accomplished cooks and even proud of their skills. I know when my children are ready to leave to set up their own homes, they will take many fond memories and valuable skills with them.
Debra Tan is a kitchen designer based in St. Lambert, Quebec