To some, baking holiday cookies with kids sounds like a recipe for disaster. It’s not difficult to imagine all the mess and the drama. With a pinch of preparation and a dash of extra patience, baking with your children can be educational and, yes, even a lot of fun. Here are some mom-tested tips for a successful baking experience, reminders about why baking together is so beneficial, and a couple of classic holiday cookie recipes that are perfect to make with children.
Why Bake with Kids?
Following the directions in a recipe together offers a chance for positive, upbeat instruction with a tangible outcome.
What better way to learn about fractions than to measure out or help count the number of eggs going in the bowl? Yet, it’s all so fun they won’t even realize they’re learning math.
Recipe reading offers the potential for new, challenging words and the opportunity to build on your child’s vocabulary.
FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Pouring, scooping, measuring and mixing all are excellent tasks for building a child’s coordination of small muscle movements.
Children learn information when they engage their senses and many of our favorite memories are associated with one or more of our senses, too.
LEARN ABOUT REAL FOOD
It offers an opportunity for discussion about where real foods come from, like the milk that came from a cow, the eggs that came from a chicken and the flour that came from wheat.
WAIT YOUR TURN
Baking together offers a great opportunity to help your children practice taking turns: your turn to pour in the flour, my turn to add the sugar, your sister’s turn to add the salt. It’s an important life skill with which young children can always use more practice.
Children who prepare food with their parents are more likely to eat a variety of different foods. Cooking together offers kids the chance to taste the ingredients as they are going into the dish, thus making the end result less scary and more appealing.
A LESSON IN ANCESTRY
Preparing these time honored recipes with our own children allows us the chance to tell stories about family they may not have known and pass along traditions from generation to generation.
If you always say no to sweets, it becomes the “forbidden fruit” and when they do have access to it, they will not know how to self regulate.
Cut out cookies are like a blank canvas for creating a colorful masterpiece. The more sprinkles and decorations, the better.
When they see that their hard work resulted in a beautiful and tasty treat, they’ll feel satisfied in their effort and gain confidence in their abilities.
Tips to Stay Sane in the Kitchen with Kids
Set up the kitchen by bringing out all the tools and ingredients you’ll need before you call them in to get started. To minimize bickering, set up each child at a separate area of the counter (with a stool for young children). Consider buying child-sized tools. Give them each their own little bowls of sprinkles and other decorations from which to choose. They will most certainly dip their dirty little fingers in each of them and lick and dip again. If they aren’t cross contaminating or fighting over who got more gum drops, you can relax…a little. Try creating a sort of “batting order” listing in which order they will take turns adding ingredients.
BREAK IT DOWN
When setting out on your baking adventure, try breaking it down into stages to keep their interest and minimize fighting. For example, with cut out cookies, try making the dough together before naptime. Refrigerate it while they’re sleeping. Then let them roll, cut and bake before dinner. Set the cookies aside to cool while the kids play and eat dinner. Decorate the cookies after dinner or even the next day. Some moms even recommend doing the baking yourself and just letting the kids do the decorating.
EXPECT A MESS
It goes without saying that baking with kids is messy. There will be flour and sugar and icing on the floor and on their clothes, maybe even in their hair. And there will be lots of dishes. Don’t schedule a baking session just after you cleaned your house or gave them baths. Wear old clothes or maybe even full body aprons. Embrace it if you can. Messy can sometimes be fun if you’re in the right frame of mind and it does make for a great photo op.
DON’T LEAVE THE KITCHEN
To avoid any trips to the emergency room, never leave the kitchen while baking with your kids. Children need constant supervision around hot stoves and sharp knives and to ensure they don’t lick the bowl of icing clean before you decorate the cookies.
LET GO OF PERFECTION
Your finished product will likely not be magazine cover worthy or ready to be “pinned” on your favorite social media sites. Perhaps you shouldn’t plan to use the cookies you made with the kids for your upcoming holiday dinner party. Type A perfectionist moms struggle with this. Focus instead on the fun you’ll have together. Your cookies may not be “perfect.” In fact, cookies made with kids are virtually a spot-on metaphor for life with children: messy, busy, colorful and oh so sweet. Like your life, cookies made with kids are “perfectly imperfect.”
Baking with children always takes longer than it would if you were to do it all on your own. While there will be recipes that you do want to make alone, try to remain patient even just through one recipe and remind yourself of all the reasons why it is beneficial for them to help out.
Iced cut out cookies
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. To the butter mixture, add the egg, milk, vanilla and lemon zest and beat well. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth.
Shape the dough into a large ball and divide in half. Place each half between two large sheets of wax or parchment paper. Roll out to 1/4-inch thick. Keeping the paper in place, layer the rolled dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate until cold and slightly firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Working with one portion at a time (leave the other refrigerated), gently peel away and replace one sheet of the paper. Peel away and discard the second sheet. Cut out the cookies using 2- or 3-inch cutters. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used; briefly refrigerate the dough if it becomes too soft to handle.
If you’re not planning to ice all of the cookies, decorate some with colored sugar or nonpareils.
Bake, one sheet at a time, just until the cookies are lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges, 6 to 9 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer to cookies to racks to cool.
Stir together icing ingredients until it reaches the desired consistency. Decorate cookies when completely cooled.
Magic cookie bars
1 stick butter
Melt butter in a small bowl. Add graham cracker crumbs and stir until well combined. Spray the bottom of a 13 x 9” baking dish and press crust into dish. Pour condensed milk over crumbs. Sprinkle with morsels, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly. Bake for 30 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool all the way through and cut into squares.