Tips for Baking with Kids

My favorite intern, circa 2011

My favorite intern, circa 2011

How terrifically FUN is summer vacation, darling readers?! No school, so much free time! Throwing routine and schedules to the wind until they flit about like snow! Hooray!

Now let me ask the parents of small children the same question.


Sound familiar? I feel you. After surviving Kindergarten, this summer marks the beginning of having Little C on a Real School schedule, meaning she is out until the third week of August (the baby, however, is now 16 months and interested in equal parts cuddling and destruction). We've been hanging in there so far--there have been days that my girl has done various activities and day camps, but there are still plenty of hours spent here at home in the Fog Known As San Francisco Summer.

Given the free time and the weather, baking together is on the agenda. And really, seeing as we'll be careening towards fall and the holidays before we know it, my baking-with-my-wombfruit moments are likely to accumulate. And I don't think I'm the only one, because I've gotten a few tweets and e-mails lately asking if I have any tips for baking with kids. So in the spirit of keeping everyone entertained, satisfying our sweet teeth, and doing that oh-so-noble task of getting our kids involved in the kitchen, here are a few of my favorite tips for baking with small people, particularly if you typically enjoy keeping culinary chaos to a minimum (that would be me here, raising my hand).

1. Start with a handful of basic, one-bowl recipes that are simple and endlessly riffable. My top picks for baking with Little C are things like my favorite banana bread, my go-to chocolate chip cookies, and this utterly adaptable chocolate bark. Not only do these recipes require minimal dishes and machinery, but they allow your kid to call some of the shots--you can set out any number of tasty bits and add-ins to recipes like these, and let the tiny people personalize the recipe with their favorite ingredients.

2. Get them on your level. Find a stepstool or sturdy, slip-proof chair that will bring them right up to your perspective, allowing them to see the contents of the bowl, dump things in more easily, and if you're using an electric mixer, be able to help operate it safely.

3. Keep a set of equipment especially for them. This can mean anything from a dollar store set of colorful plastic cups and spoons to kid-sized whisks, spatulas, and rolling pins, and an adorable apron, if you're feeling like That Pinterest Mom. The point is to give your offspring a sense of belonging and ownership in the kitchen. Especially since our home kitchen is also my workplace, it's easy for the rest of my family (the husband included, sorry hon) to feel like they need permission before touching or using anything. And while I miiiight be a little OCD about that from time to time (ahem), I do try and keep a few extra little tools on hand just for Little C. It adds to the excitement and fun factor.

4. Know your kid(s) and adjust the process accordingly. We're entering a sweet spot with Little C where she's a little older and super into measuring things herself and asking the right away to measure flour, sugar, etc. But for a long time, the measuring process was just too time-consuming for a little one with a teeny attention span, and by the time I'd dipped and leveled my cup, she was off the stepstool and into the Dora-watching sunset. After a few rounds of that, I learned that mise en place was the answer for successful baking with kids--the fancy French term for having all your ingredients measured and set out before you begin. (This is usually a good idea for baking in general, by the way.) When it comes to baking, most kids just want a dump-and-stir operation and see a batter or dough magically come together. So unless my girl specifically asks to help measure, I get everything ready before we start baking together so we can just get to the "good part".

5. Make cleanup part of the activity. Getting a little messy is part of the fun when baking, no doubt. But nothing makes baking instantly un-fun quite like having your kid jump ship as soon as the batter goes into the pan, leaving you in a hailstorm of flour and eggshells. I like to keep a roll of paper towels and a trash or compost bowl right on the countertop as we work, and encourage Little C to help wipe up any big spills and put used dishes in the sink as we go. I'm not shouting "WORK CLEAN!" at my child like a deranged Martha Stewart/Gordon Ramsay hybrid or anything, but it does help to keep things organized and give her a healthy respect for what it takes to create sweet treats.

So tell me, all you baking mamas out there--what are some of your tips for baking with your kids, and making the process fun and not crazymaking?

POC TipsShauna Sever