For those of us with young children, the holiday season is not just a magical time but also an exhausting one. Along with celebrating traditions and enjoying our vacation time, we also usually have to manage tantrums, potty accidents, and incessant whining. Balancing this physical and mental load can be pretty stressful. One way to manage it all is to involve your family in your holiday preparations. You can spend quality time together while also checking a box on your to-do list. One great way to involve your kiddos is to have them help you in the kitchen. That’s why I’ve come up with this list of my top five tips for baking with kids of all ages. I hope you enjoy!
1. Prepare Mentally
This may seem obvious, but I think it’s the most important tip of all. Don’t rush through the experience of cooking with your little one. And, don’t try to multitask! Joyce Meyer said, “patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” It’s so true. Plan an extra half hour at least when baking with your kiddos. The joy of working together is just that – in working together. The end product is simply the icing on the cake (pun intended). Remind yourself that your job is to teach age-appropriate baking techniques to your child and to create a safe and encouraging environment where they can learn and have fun. It won’t be perfect, it will likely be messy, and it may test your patience. But it will build lasting memories and teach valuable lessons. Take it easy on yourself and your children and embrace all parts of the experience.
2. Get Your Stuff Together
Restaurant kitchens use a process called “mise en place” to make the job of cooking easier. The idea is to do all of your prep work before starting the actual act of cooking. Translated to baking with children, this means gathering all of your ingredients, reading your recipes to make sure you already have the right measuring cups and spoons, mixers, and bowls, and laying them all out on the counter within easy reach. I would also suggest getting a kid apron like this one, and a small step stool or sturdy chair to help your kiddo get a good angle for stirring, pouring, etc. If you’re using a chair, face it toward the counter so there’s a little extra protection for your little one in the back. I’ve learned from experience to double check those ingredients. It’s a pain to realize you’ve run out of flour and have to either turn your back to dig through a pantry to find more while praying your 2 year old doesn’t nose dive off a stool while holding a glass bowl or put them on the floor and risk them tracking flour all over the house while screaming that they’re not finished cooking.
3. Measure Twice, Bake Once
Carpenters have it right when they suggest measuring twice and cutting once. The same goes with baking, especially with children. It’s very easy to get distracted with little ones, so double check that you picked up the teaspoon and not the tablespoon. Ask yourself, is that baking soda or baking powder? Get your child involved and have them name the letters and numbers on the spoons or practice saying the colors on the jar labels. Young kids love to get messy, so let them try out dipping the spoons into the flour to measure or packing the brown sugar in the cup. If a container or bag is too deep for their little arms to reach in, pour some out into a bowl for them to measure from instead. Try not to be intimidated by the “difficulty” of certain tasks. Kids will never learn things unless they have lots of chances to try, and kids as young as three can even crack eggs with practice. Just have a few extras on hand in case of spills, and remember that it’s almost impossible to dig eggshell pieces out of a bowl of flour. Have them crack the eggs into a separate bowl before adding them to your other ingredients.
4. Safety First
Do you ever tell your kids, “don’t touch, that’s hot?” I’ve said versions of that to all three of my children over the years, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized little kids probably don’t even really understand what “hot” means. A good friend of mine used this technique: She took a cup of her fresh coffee (you could use tea or water), and she checked the temperature with her finger. She said it was just on the edge of being too hot to touch but wasn’t quite. Then, she told her kiddo, “this is hot,” and had them stick just the tip of a finger in to see. They learned then, without having to learn the hard way (like via an accidental palm to the stovetop or iron), that “hot” hurts a little and is something we don’t mess around with.
It’s important to keep safety in mind at all times in the kitchen, and not just with the temperatures of the stove and oven. Never leave your child unattended standing on a stool or chair or sitting on the counter. Consider using metal mixing bowls instead of glass in case they get knocked off the counter. Also, always watch your kids with knives. This seems like a no-brainer, but like I said before, it’s easy to get distracted. While on the topic of knives, you can find a lot of kid friendly knife options to purchase, but I’ve always just let my littlest ones use plastic knives on soft foods like brownies and bananas. Around four years old, they switched over to butter knives and started cutting things like softer blocks of cheese, pancakes, and meatballs. At age 8, my son can now use a smaller chef’s knife (with supervision) to cut things like cucumbers, apples, and salami. You know your kids better than anyone, so use your best judgement and balance letting them try with keeping them safe. And finally, wash and rewash those hands!
5. Finishing Touches
While your treat is in the oven, take the time to teach your child one or two cleaning tips. Part of the baking process includes cleaning up, so it should be a natural next step. Resist the urge to send your kiddo off to play or watch TV while you do all the work of tidying up. Consider showing them where to put things away in a pantry, how to hand wash some dishes, or how to spray and wipe down a counter. These are all life skills that are worth teaching and reinforcing when kids are young and that can help them feel like valued members of the family.
Once your goodies have cooled, help your child finish the task. They may use a spatula to put cookies on a decorative plate, press the Hershey Kisses into the peanut blossoms, or pour way too many sprinkles on sugar cookies. However you wrap things up, give your child (and yourself) a pat on the back and take a picture together with your masterpiece. Once that’s done, you’ve earned your treat – it’s time to eat!
About the Author
Carrie Thomas is a mother of 3 (Hailey 3, Caleb 5, and Jackson 8) and has been a CECPTA blue and yellow group member for almost 3 years. She moved to Carrollton from New Jersey in the winter of 2018 when her husband accepted a job at UTD. She is a middle school English teacher in Carrollton and loves spending time with her family, reading dystopian YA novels, and unwinding with a glass of wine and one of the well-written Netflix shows.