The holiday season is in full swing, and I’m so excited to finally get back into the kitchen and bake muffins, pies and other homey treats. It reminds me of the times I spent in the kitchen with my mom when I was of preschool age. I was thrilled every time she pinched off a piece of dough for me to roll and shape. I love sharing these treasured memories and the same experiences with my own children. Sure, sometimes it’s not easy having little hands “help.” The process takes longer, is far messier and — let’s be honest — the finished product doesn’t always turn out as well as it would have if I had done it by myself.
Thankfully, I racked up a lot of practice baking with preschoolers when I taught classes for kids and have gathered tips for making it a positive time together — for both parent and child.
Tip 1: Safety first
The first thing to do when baking with children is to set boundaries to keep them safe. Establish the ground rules for what is and isn’t okay to touch. Metal bowls, spoons and whisks are safe, but mixers, ingredients, knives and hot ovens need to be off-limits unless kids are directed otherwise.
Tip 2: Show and tell
The most successful way to bake with children is to explain the task, demonstrate it and then pass it on for them to finish. This will keep frustration at bay for both you and your child.
Tip 3: Prep ahead of time
Set out the equipment and measure out ingredients into prep bowls beforehand. Stirring, pouring and rolling are all enjoyable, age-appropriate tasks, whereas searching for ingredients or accurately measuring baking soda can cause more frustration than enjoyment.
Tip 4: Allow plenty of time
Baking with children means that a batch of cookies may take longer than anticipated. Be sure to pick a time to bake together that allows for this extra time, or spread the project over two days. Having to hurry leads to a more stressful experience for everyone.
Tip 5: Remain flexible
Though you may expect that your child will want to roll the dough into balls or pour ingredients into a mixing bowl, they might not. Allowing the child to choose which steps they want to participate in is completely acceptable. The point is to spend enjoyable and creative time together, and to allow them to explore baking in a way that is comfortable for them.
Now, let’s jump into the kitchen and get started!
Below are five recipes that both parent and child will enjoy baking together.
Pumpkin spice is ever the seasonal rage, and this recipe, which uses white whole wheat flour, satisfies the craving quickly. Children love whisking the dry ingredients in the bowl and then stirring the wet ingredients until combined (though they may need some help getting the batter thoroughly mixed). Use a cookie scoop to evenly fill the muffin tin cups. It’s even fun to watch as the muffins rise in the oven! This is a great recipe to make over two days if you’re running short on time: Make the batter the first day, and then refrigerate it and bake it on the second day.
Make the dough the day before and then refrigerate it to use the next day. The following day, make the filling first before bringing the dough out of the refrigerator. Cut the apples into slices and let your little assistant break the slices in half and use their hands to mix them together with the sugar and spices.
A plastic cup is the perfect size for little hands to use as a rolling pin for the dough. To decorate the top, kids can use little cookie cutters to cut out shapes, or you can cut the dough into strips and let them set the strips on top of the pie however they want! Note that the trick to a perfect pie crust is to keep it cold, so stash any dough not being used in the refrigerator. If the dough starts to get sticky when you’re working with it, pause the action and chill dough in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before continuing.
I made this recipe in my preschool baking class all the time. The kids love peeling and mashing the banana; dumping the oatmeal, spices and chocolate chips into the mix; and then squeezing the dough into balls. Adults usually need to help mix the dough ingredients together since it takes a little elbow grease. Save a few chocolate chips to snack on while the bites are baking in the oven. Be sure to allow the bites to cool sufficiently before eating — the chocolate is hot and can burn little fingers and tongues.
Yogurt cake is a versatile treat that is a hit for breakfast or dessert. Besides pouring and stirring, kids enjoy zesting and juicing lemons. Set the zester over the bowl and show them how to keep their fingers back while they push the lemon up and down. Slice the lemon in half and let them squeeze it over a fine mesh strainer for the icing.
Granola is one of the easiest recipes to bake with children. Measuring can be inexact, and creativity can flourish. Allow your child extra ownership by setting out a variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, and let them decide which ones they want to include in the granola. Let them stir it all together (except for the dried fruit) as long as they want and then spread it on a baking sheet to toast at low temperature. Check for browning often, and once it’s dry and slightly browned, let the granola cool completely. Then transfer it to a large mixing bowl and have your child stir in any of the dried fruits they’ve chosen.