Kids love the process of baking almost as much as eating their yummy bakes afterwards. But many parents dread the mess and potential fuss and bother.
Here’s how to make baking together fun - so you’ll all want to do it again and again.
Keep it simple and exciting (and try not to be a stress pants)
Kids love the hands-on bits of cooking - so give them every opportunity to squeeze and squish, pour, mix, sift - and wash up with lots of bubbles.
Baking has a very appealing alchemy for kids - mixing butter, sugar, eggs and flour and seeing the ingredients rise in the oven as if by magic, or adding bicarbonate of soda and seeing the froth appear.
It’s a fabulous win-win confidence booster for kids: they get the sense of pride of showing off what they made and there’s the delicious tasting session afterwards.
So for all these reasons, you should give it a go. It’s best to keep things simple to start with, especially as young children have a limited attention span.
Andrew Webb, food journalist, author of Food Britannia and a dad, suggests no cook biscuits for young children. “Rocky road is easy. Melt the butter in the microwave, mix in ingredients and set in the fridge.” Making a batch of biscuit dough and using different-shaped cutters is a good starter recipe too.
“It’s best to have all your equipment and ingredients laid out and ready before letting the kids loose,” says mum-of-two and food writer Katie Bryson, who blogs at Feeding Boys. “They’ll be impatient to get stuck in, so if you’re ready to go when you call them into the kitchen it’s a lot less stressful.”
Carol Smith, cupcake-making mum of two who blogs at Lipstick and Lace, advises: “If you’re baking with under-fives, weigh all the ingredients first and put them into separate bowls so they can throw it all in and mix. Keep it simple.”
Older children will enjoy weighing and measuring, using scales and a measuring jug, plus it’s good maths practice.
Children can safely stand on low stools or kitchen chairs with the backs turned towards the table for extra sturdiness. You may want to give them aprons or old shirts to wear.
Hand out different tasks - and prevent stressful sibling bickering
If you’re cooking with more than one child, think ahead about cooking tasks for each child so no one feels overlooked and truculent. Are they going to take turns, have different jobs or do everything in duplicate or triplicate? (I used to give each child their own bowl with icing sugar and little jug of water to add in order to avoid arguments!).
You’ll know what will most appeal to your child and what’s within their age and ability range, but these are the kinds of cooking tasks that can be divided up and children love:
- Sieving flour
- Grating cheese (watch out for little hands on the grater)
- Breaking up bars of chocolate into chunks
- Whisking and stirring
- Cracking eggs
- Squeezing lemons
- Rolling biscuit dough
- Cutting biscuit dough with different cutters
- Mixing up icing and decorating cupcakes and biscuits
Be safety aware
Never leave your children alone in the kitchen mid-cooking session and drum into them that hot pans and ovens are dangerous and never to be touched.
Parenting author Glynis Kozma suggests: “Don’t allow your children to use knives until you’re confident they can handle them safely. From the age of about four, children can do the washing-up with a step. Stirring a pan on the top of the stove can probably be done by eight or nine-year-olds, with supervision.” Of course, you know your kids’ abilities best, but this is a sensible guideline.
Lose any perfectionist ideas
You may remember the French and Saunders’ sketch in which two alpha mums do a competitive baking session together and end up screeching and furious with their kids. It’s hilarious because we’ve probably all got a tendency to be a little bit controlling in the kitchen.
Baking and young children equals mess - sticky fingers, chocolate gloops and clouds of flour. It’s not the end of the world. So just relax. Pick a time when you’re all feeling energetic. Put on some music, dance around together and get stuck into baking up a storm.
“Take a deep breath and just accept that things might not run smoothly. Kids often lose interest half way through and their creations might not always be Instagram-ready, but they’re learning to bake and having fun! ” says Katie Bryson.
“Even if you only manage to keep them in the kitchen for 20 minutes and it looks like there’s been an icing sugar explosion, you can make clearing up part of the activity. Start them young I say!”
Tidy-up time - together
Teach your kids that clearing up is part of baking, rather than letting them wander off leaving behind a scene of devastation. Kids love tidy-up time (plus it teaches them to clear up after themselves, an essential skill for later life) so involve them in wiping down surfaces, filling the dishwasher, fetching and putting away ingredients and washing dishes (save your best ceramic and use cheap plastic bowls).
Katie used to give her toddler sons a kitchen spray bottle filled with water and a cloth and point out surfaces for them to clean - from cupboard doors to the tumble drier. Genius! Just accept that you may have to go over ‘cleaned’ surfaces again for a few years yet.