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Warm muffins, melt-in-your-mouth rolls and all the pumpkin spice you could wish for: hello fall! Now that autumn days are cooler and crisper, I’m ready to take my oven out of its summer retirement. It’s no wonder that Peeper has been wanting to help me in the kitchen, too: She asks to help me make muffins at least once a week.
Of course a preschooler’s “help” in anything, especially an activity that involves dumping large quantities of messy flour, requires a certain amount of air quotes. But she loves it—and inviting a child to participate in choosing, preparing and serving food can encourage her to make healthier food choices in the future, according to research. (Um, do chocolate chip cookies count as a healthy food choice?)
Through plenty of experience, I have come across tips on how to bake with kids—without them losing a finger on a hot oven (or you losing your mind).
How to bake with kids
Mellow your aspirations. Your first time baking with kids, you should probably not attempt a three-layer velvet chocolate cake. Start with something easy like muffins or a quick bread, and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out pin-worthy.
Expect a mess. Kids love to measure and dump things—after all, the water table and a few cups kept my kids occupied all summer. But they don’t yet have all the coordination to go about it neatly. So they’ll spill oats and brown sugar, but big deal. You can just clean it up after (or, better yet, have them help with that too!)
Let them rise to the occasion. For a long time, I’d crack the eggs when Peeper and I baked together. Then one day I let her try it—and she did a great job. A piece of egg shell occasionally breaks off, but I just fish it out. It’s a small price to let them acquire a new skill.
Let them choose. When you bake with kids, offer them a choice—banana nut or pumpkin spice?—and even involve them in buying the ingredients at the store. Their investment in the recipe will soar, making them less likely to lose interest in the actual baking.
Know they may flake out anyway. Most kids have the attention span of fruit flies, so don’t be shocked—or disappointed—when your kids are done with baking after measuring the first cup of sugar.
Match the task to their ability. As Peeper has helped me bake, she has gotten more skilled in the kitchen, so her jobs continue to evolve. Kiwi is just a pint-sized helper still, so she mostly puts cupcake liners in the muffin tins.
Outline rules. Establishing clear rules keeps everyone safe and cuts down on complaining in the kitchen. We have a rule that kids use a knife only with an adult’s help, and only grown-ups deal with the oven—period. (Think I’m crazy for letting a 3-year-old use a knife? Read this.)
Taste test. The best part of baking is eating, obvi, and little ones usually agree. So when you bake with kids, make eating the cookie or muffin just as much a part of the activity as stirring the batter. (Baking with kids can be a great way to get them to try new foods, too—zucchini bread, anyone?)
Bake with kids out of the kitchen, too. Especially if you want baking and cooking with your kids to be a part of your routine, stock a play kitchen with a mini saute pan, let them bake mud pies in the yard and read about cooking. Our favorite children’s books about baking: Bunny Cakes.
The next time you bake with kids, try out some of these tips. You’ll end up with a delicious fall treat—and a very proud munchkin.
Do you have any tips for how to bake with kids?