One Mom’s Trick for Baking with Kids Minus the Meltdowns (Yours and Theirs)
It doesn't have to be complicated for everyone to have fun.
PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOMSNancy FullerFood NetworkFlour, Baking Soda, Fine Salt, Peanut Butter, Butter, Vegetable Shortening, Light Brown Sugar,Eggs, Vanilla Extract, Peanut Butter Chips, Jelly, Chocolate Kisses,PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOMS Nancy Fuller Food Network Flour, Baking Soda, Fine Salt, Peanut Butter, Butter, Vegetable Shortening, Light Brown Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla Extract, Peanut Butter Chips, Jelly, Chocolate Kisses
Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
‘Tis the season for baking! And if your kids are like my four, they’ll want to be right in the kitchen with you. Sure, it’ll be slow and you’ll have flour in places that white stuff has never seen before, but it can also be really great.
The most-important thing about baking with kids sounds so much simpler than it is: start calm. And yep, I’m talking to myself! If I can gather my wits ahead of time, maybe have a cup of tea, put any stress out of my mind and really focus on having fun, that’s exactly what we’ll do. And obviously, don’t pick a time when you’re in a rush. Cooking with kids takes time. And the cool thing is, that’s what experts are always saying kids desperately want: more time with us.
So, a few technical moves that make baking with a brood safer. Kids need sturdy stools because they always want to see inside the bowl. Measure accordingly. They also need aprons because they always want to wipe sticky hands on their clothes. (And if you’re really into it, you’ll have a wet washcloth on hand too. I learned this baking a favorite chocolate cake recipe with my preschooler who kept telling me she’s “a expert at cracking eggs.” Just trust me when I say you’re gonna need the washcloth.)
Which brings me to the most important techniques of all, the ones I’ve learned by trial and lots of error:
1. Go tandem. Let tiny kids rest their hands on yours while you do dangerous tasks like slicing apples (for a surprisingly healthy quick bread!) or stirring a double boiler (for a surprisingly easy chocolate dipped pretzel gift!). This move gives toddlers and preschoolers a sense of ownership but keeps them out of trouble.
2. Have a safe word. When I say “hands up!” you’d be convinced there’s a robber in my kitchen. Everyone holds their hands high, no longer touching, spilling or eating anything. It’s a good safety/sanity check that I use almost every time we bake together.
For my bigger kids who are in elementary school, I try to find pockets of work for them to own. One kid melts butter in the microwave for the super simple homemade bread we’re giving teachers this year, and another kneads the dough. To avoid squabbles (and messes), I’ll set a cookie sheet in front of each kid. Just add decorations and ta da! Work spaces make it easy to sprinkle dried fruit and nuts on the most gorgeous Chocolate Circles the mailman will ever see, assemble a Melting Snowman cookie or push a Hershey’s Kiss onto a Peanut Butter Blossom.
There’s also the matter of trust. My nine-year-old uses the stove. By herself. Not home alone, but not heavily supervised either. She’s one of those wise old souls trapped in a fourth-grader’s body, so this might not be for everyone. But I realized that I needed to start giving my kids more reign so they could gain more confidence. And boy did they. My first and second graders use real knives now too. I DO supervise them, but still. Blades. Again, deep breaths.
(Cooking with kids is practically yoga. Without the exercise part. I KID, I KID.)
But back to the main thing. Whether we’re baking Homemade Soft Pretzels for gifts or Ina Garten’s famous Coconut Macaroons for ourselves, I’ve figured out that I really have to be the calm captain of the ship. If the point is making memories, I want them to be about the time we started out with Trisha Yearwood’s Snickerdoodles and ended up with Reindeers! Not about “That time mommy kicked everyone out of the kitchen.” Not that I know anything about that. Shh.