It’s that picture perfect ideal we have in our minds: rolling pin in hand, flour artfully dusted all over our counter tops, our children’s smiling faces, eager to help us cut out adorable little gingerbread men.
The reality however, is not always so picturesque. There are eggs cracked on the floor, I need an ingredient I’ve run out of, two children both want to mix the batter at the same time. It could be easy to simply herd our children out of the kitchen and do it all ourselves, (I have wanted to on MANY an occasion) but there really ARE some amazing lessons and bonding to be had through baking.
Here are a few of my tips for baking (or cooking) with your kids without losing your mind.
** Disclaimer: the author of this blog post in NO way guarantees that you will not lose your mind even if you follow all of her recommendations, children are unpredictable and some days no matter what you try they will TRY YOU. Having said that – these tips can help!
Tip #1) Be Prepared
A little preparation goes a LONG way. Kids (especially very young ones) get impatient. They aren’t interested in tedious things, such as measuring. I always find our baking time 100x better when I have my ingredients pre-measured and ready to dump into a bowl. This also saves me from getting half way through a recipe only to discover a key ingredient missing. Hell hath no fury like a two year old who was promised cookies and has to stop the baking process due to lack of baking powder.
Tip #2) Clearly define each child’s job
Kids actually love rules. Especially when those rules are to ensure fairness. I always start our baking time by clearly defining each child’s job. I let them know who is going to pour the flour, who get’s to dump in the sugar. I tell them the mixing order, first comes older brother then older sister, finally little brother gets a turn. I’ll even go so far as to number out the mixes (“Each person can mix it 10 times and then you have to pass it on”) Might seem extreme, but my children love to know that their turn is coming, it helps them to be patient, it helps them to be respectful – they know the pre-determined amount of times their sibling gets to mix and can have self control because they understand an end is coming.
Tip #3) Create a safe space in the kitchen
Sometimes the chaos in the kitchen is due to the Mother’s anxiety. Our emotions transfer to our children. If we are worried about their safety, it can add to a very stressful activity. I have a designated safe space in my kitchen. Before we start cooking I let the kids know, in my serious voice, that this is the safe space, and when mommy needs to open the oven, or there’s hot oil on the stovetop, If I say “go to your safe space!!” you have to run there and stay until I tell you it’s ok.
I also make sure they know what jobs they CAN do and what jobs they CAN’T – so we aren’t arguing about safety issues. I DO let my kids (especially as they get older) handle knives, showing them the correct way, and teaching them how to be mindful of their fingers, etc. I also let them around hot pans on the stovetop (with supervision) and am constantly instructing them how to be aware of safety issues.
We’ve had a few burns and cuts, but nothing life threatening and the lessons learned have grown their confidence and general awareness in the kitchen. Kids like to know what is safe, what is dangerous and how to take something dangerous and use it in a way that is safe. It makes them feel very grown up and “in the know.” I love encouraging this independence.
Tip #4) Engage in conversation
Kids are most talkative when their hands and bodies are busy. A child who might be tight-lipped in the back seat of the car on the way home from school, can be Chatty Cathy as they mix some batter or cut some cookies out. This isn’t just a time to create food, but memories and connections as well. As long as I can see this time not as the “most efficient way to get food on the table” but a meaningful time with my child, I am able to slow down, not have to correct every thing they are doing wrong, and ask them about themselves.
A few of my favorite cooking conversation starters are:
“What flavors are your favorite?”
“Have you every smelled/tasted this ingredient before?”
“If you were going to make a whole dinner by yourself, what would you make?”
“If you were going to be a chef, what kind of restaurant would you open?”
“How could we make this food even MORE flavorful?”
“Can you find me the (xxxxxx) measuring cup.” (sneak in a little math/ fractions work here!)
“Can you organize these ingredient alphabetically?”
“Can you organize these tools in size order?”
I also try to give a TON of praise to the kids as we are baking. Focusing on affirming their independence, their decision making skills and how much fun I’m having with them.
Tip #5) Keep it Simple
Whether you are a culinary savant or have trouble scrambling eggs, keeping the recipes simple is best for all. The goal is to have fun, learn and create something edible at the end.
I got a Little House on the Prairie Cookbook for the kids when we were reading the books and I love using a lot of these simple recipes. Basic Sugar cookies are also easy and yummy. If you don’t want to have to deal with rolling and cutting (although that is one of the funnest parts!) these snowballs are really fun and rolling them in powder sugar is an great/easy job for little hands.
I’d also highly recommend following @charlottemasonpoetry on instagram for some wonderful kid-friendly recipes throughout the year – for Christmas they have published one for Chocolate Buns that I can’t wait to make with my kids.
Cooking and baking with your kids can be SO much fun.
Yes, it does require some patience and planning, but it’s well worth it.
I hope these tips and conversation starters and resources give you some confidence to get baking with your littles this holiday season.