Want to raise a kid who knows his or her way around the kitchen—and actually likes to cook? One surefire way to set little ones up for success (and save moms and dads some stress) is to outfit them with all the right tools.
Equipment specially designed for budding chefs empowers kids to take culinary risks and gives parents the peace of mind that no lives or limbs will be lost in the chopping of a carrot.
Below, find a selection of kitchen tools that make great gifts for Top Chef Juniors in training—or adults in the market for a small sous chef.
Making the Cut
“Never help a child at a task at which he feels he can succeed,” said renowned Italian educator Maria Montessori. For the helicopter parents among us, that’s easier said than done. But having a selection of chopping tools safe for little hands is one way to take Montessori’s advice to heart.
This chubby chopper with a stainless steel blade is great for preschoolers still getting their grip. To use, just push down and voila: chunks of cucumber, melon, or potato with a cute crinkle-cut.
Joie Wavy Chopper, $5.33 on Amazon
Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set, $7.99 on Amazon
Swiss company Kuhn Rikon makes small playful knives reminiscent of a wiener dog, with a hand guard shaped like a dog’s ear and a cute tail at the tip. The steel blades have a rounded tip and come in serrated and non-serrated versions.
Kuhn Rikon KinderKitchen Dog Knife Set, $25.95 on Amazon
For peeling spuds for mash or apples for sauce, check out the handsome Le Petit Peeler from Opinel, with a clever ring in the middle where kids can rest their index finger for a better grip. Opinel also makes a knife with the ring grip, and it comes with a plastic finger guard for extra security.
Opinel Le Petit Chef Set, $49.56 on Amazon
Dressing the Part
Let’s face it. If you’re going to be a chef, you have to look the part. A crisp white toque adds a little pomp and circumstance to kids’ kitchen capers. And it gives your shortie a height boost, too. This classic version from Sur La Table has an adjustable Velcro closure so it will fit kids of different sizes.
Kids' Chef Hat, $7.99 Sur La Table
Throw in a double-breasted chef’s jacket from French culinary outfitter Bragard to complete the look. Oh la la.
Petit Chef Child Chef Jacket, $49.95 at Bragard
Getting a Leg Up
A kid shouldn’t have to perch precariously on a counter or stand on a rickety chair to lend a hand. Enter “The Learning Tower,” an adjustable wooden platform that raises your child to counter level, with railings on all four sides so no one takes a tumble. This top-rated one from Little Partners, designed for ages 18 months to 6 years, comes in a range of shades to match your kitchen decor, from dark cherry to apple green.
Little Partners The Original Learning Tower, $199.99 on Amazon
Baking Up Some Fun
Sugar cookies aren’t just for the holidays. Take a basic recipe to the next level by rolling out the dough (with this kid-sized rolling pin if you’d like), then using fun cookie cutters to stamp out your favorite designs. Meri Meri makes Peter Rabbit-themed ones, perfect for a garden party or dinos for your favorite paleontologist-in-training. Sur La Table offers a wide array including hedgehogs, mermaid tails and baby sharks (doo doo doo doo doo doo…).
Linden Sweden Children’s Rolling Pin, $10.99 at Amazon
Baby Shark Cookie Cutter, $2 at Sur La Table
Related Reading: The Best After-School Baking Projects & Tips for Kids
Cooking with Gas
My 9-year-old’s favorite Christmas present was this Lodge cast-iron mini skillet—pre-seasoned to prevent rust—which lets him whip up an egg-in-a-hole all by himself. (In fact, he loves eggs so much, I also bought him this adorable plush fried egg. ) A silicone handle cover ensures no burned digits. Come camping season, the durable skillet will turn out perfect pancakes over a crackling fire.
Lodge Cast-Iron 5-Inch Mini Skillet, $14.85 on Amazon
Related Reading: 13 Ways to Use a Mini Cast Iron Skillet
Getting in the Grind
My son’s preferred method of crushing up nuts for cookie recipes or salads is to put them in a plastic baggie, then go to town with a rubber mallet. For a more civilized approach, invest in a mortar and pestle.
White Marble Mortar and Pestle, $7.99 at World Market
It can be used for a variety of kitchen tasks, from smashing garlic to grinding whole spices to pulverizing graham crackers for pie crust. This marble version will add some elegance to your countertop.
Keeping Things Interesting
The key to an effective cookbook for kids? Illustrations, and lots of them. “Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Eat!” by Deanna Cook includes step-by-step directions for perennial favorites like applesauce and pizza to more adventurous dishes like spring rolls and fish tacos. The spiral-bound book, with gift labels, food stickers, and blank recipe cards, will make kids feel like they have their very own chef’s binder.
Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Eat!, $14.25 at Amazon
Cook’s follow-up, “Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake!” includes both the sweet—cinnamon rolls and mud pie—and the savory—pizza dough and garlic breadsticks. In the margin of a recipe for pumpkin muffins, I recently found a scrawled note from my 12-year-old daughter: “Add chocolate chips to give it a kick.” Words to live by.
Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake!, $14.56 at Amazon
Header image courtesy of Opinel