February 11, 2011

Your (Almost) Stress-Free Guide to Baking with Kids

Will I ever stop getting that sinking feeling in my stomach when I see a mother walk into a bakery and buy her very excited child a fancy cupcake and a cup of milk?  Maybe not.  But baking at home (either homemade or semi-homemade) can be just as--if not more--gratifying!  I encourage everyone to start baking with their kids.  Not only do your kids learn so much in the process, the end result is always a show-stopper, since THEY made it themselves (or as Addison likes to say--"MYself!").

Disclaimer: I am not a very good baker, nor will I ever profess to being one.  But I do enjoy it and have done my share of baking with all my kids (and classrooms of kids), and I usually start them really whenever they show interest (Addi was around 21 months).  So I do believe all kids can participate, as long as they’re willing!  That said, make sure you're in the right state of mind, and with any new kids experience, be ready to expect the unexpected!

If you don't yet have an easy and allergy-friendly recipe, try this Wacky Cake recipe, or try out an allergy-safe mix, with egg replacers if necessary.
Some tips:

Clothing: Aprons or even old clothes (theirs or yours) come in handy here.  Not only are they super cute in their play kitchen aprons or your husband's old work shirt, but putting a little thought into protecting their clothes takes a little bit of stress out of the equation.  Spills are gonna happen...

Paper towels: You know how Rachael Ray has a "garbage bowl?"  I don't have time to wash a garbage bowl.  I have a garbage paper towel layer under and around the mixing bowl to place soiled spoons, wrappers, and other garbage down when the kids are done using them (they're going to put the stuff down on the table next to the bowl anyhow).  Makes cleaning up so easy--no extra bowls to wash, and us San Franciscans can wrap up the garbage and throw our towels and compostables right into our compost bin.

Have those baby wipes handy: Not only for spills, but some kids just don't like icky hands--and that's ok.

Find teachable moments in baking--discuss measurements and fractions, teach the kids how to prepare for a project, and how to clean up.  Also, show and teach the kids the names of all the ingredients.  If they're stored at arms reach, the kids can eventually gather them up for you before baking, they'll learn to recognize some of their "safe" ingredients, and they will be able to do much of the adding and mixing on their own in no time--really!

If you have more than one child baking, teach them how to take turns.  For example, I have one hold the bowl, while the other takes 10 turns around the bowl.  One holds the measuring spoon, while the other pours the ingredient.  It also helps if you have a few mixing spoons and spatulas around (you'll see why).

Kids' Table: If you have a kids' table in the kitchen or nearby, it makes things a little easier, especially for the really little ones.  Otherwise, I like to pull my toddler's high chair right up to our kitchen table so she can comfortably participate (and be conveniently restrained at the same time!).

Teach the kids oven safety.  I turn on the oven light when i start pre-heating the oven.  Whenever the light is on, my kids know the oven is hot, and not to touch it.

If you're not baking with eggs, let the kids lick the spoons!  Sometimes I'll scoop some leftover batter onto a clean spoon if there aren't enough to go around.  This is definitely the best part about baking without eggs!

Send in your experiences, tips, and funny stories about baking with kids!  The better prepared we are, the more likely we are to include the kids in the baking, and that makes for happier kids (and happier us).

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