Get the kids in the kitchen: It's Bake for Family Fun Month!

bread

The other night my 2-year-old daughter, Amelia, and I baked a birthday cake. I weighed the ingredients into the bowl, she stirred (and perfected the word “ounces”), we carefully peeked into the oven together when the timer went off, and a little while later we enjoyed our delicious homemade cake. It was a lovely example of baking for family fun at its best.

But let me tell you a secret about baking for family fun: Sometimes, it’s not that fun. Sometimes, like when you’re a new parent and it’s your first attempt at really hands-on involving your 2-year-old in the baking process, it can be a disaster.

That’s what happened during our official “Bake for Family Fun Month” project I had planned so I could write this blog. Most of the pictures my husband snapped looked a lot like this:

I decided we should make whole-grain Kids’ Choice Chip & Fruit Oatmeal Cookies, ditching the chips and fruit for Amelia’s favorite, M&Ms.

That was my critical mistake. In case this didn’t occur to you, either, it’s not wise to put a bowl full of M&Ms in front of a toddler who loves them and expect that she’s going to have any interest in baking after that – or that she’ll sit by and peacefully watch you pour them all into the cookie dough!

Reasoning – you’ll get to eat them in the cookies later! – did not work. She had a meltdown that lasted for pretty much the rest of our baking time.

Our experience was a bit frustrating – I had a goal for this project, after all – but I managed to laugh, she ate a ridiculous number of M&Ms, and, in the end, everyone was happy and we have hilarious pictures and a silly story to share.

So Rule #1 for baking (really, doing anything) with kids is to keep your sense of humor; make sure you don’t take it too seriously so you can all have fun!

Beyond that, the Home Baking Association – which designates February as Bake for Family Fun Month – offers some sound advice to ensure that baking with kids of any age can be a fun and educational experience. Here are the Home Baking Association’s “Ten Tips for Baking Success,” along with my experienced commentary:

1. Allow time. As the adult, make sure you read through (or try) the recipe first and plan enough time to complete the project. Depending on the age of your little bakers, build in time to explain and demonstrate. For a longer project (like making and decorating cookies), splitting it into two sessions can help keep it within the kids’ attention spans. With littler bakers (like Amelia), pre-measuring your ingredients can help move the project along and focus their efforts on easy steps like dumping the measured ingredients into the bowl and stirring.

2. Always wash hands and countertops before starting and clean up after you’re done. Explain to kids the importance of washing hands and keeping things clean when cooking or baking to prevent contamination and protect their health.

3. Stay safe! Make sure little bakers have supervision, and guide them toward age-appropriate baking tasks. Be especially careful around the oven, mixer, and any other hot, sharp, or moving baking amenities.

4. Before you start: Read the recipe top to bottom. This gives kids practice reading (even if they’re little!), and gives you the chance to explain any terms or techniques that they might not understand.

5. Gather all the ingredients and equipment. Make sure you have everything you need to complete the recipe so you don’t have to go searching for it once you’ve started.

6. Use the right tools. Use liquid measuring cups for liquids, dry measuring cups for dry ingredients, measuring spoons for small amounts, and the right size pans for baking. Or you can simplify the process (and the cleanup!) by weighing your ingredients. Specialty tools like cookie scoops and bench knives can be helpful, too, depending on the recipe.

7. Use the right ingredients. Use the ingredients the recipe calls for. (And if you need to make a substitution, contact our King Arthur Baking Hotline for advice!)

8. Take it one step at a time. Follow the recipe step-by-step, double checking to make sure nothing is left out.

9. Manage the oven. Check to be sure the racks are in the right position before you preheat the oven. Preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes (and to be sure, keep an oven thermometer in there and check the temperature). Make sure your pans don’t touch each other in the oven. And don’t forget to set the timer!

10. Teach kids how to clean up. It’s never too early to start teaching kids the habit of cleaning up their messes. While your product bakes, work together to clean up your work area and put everything back where it belongs.

The awesome thing about baking with kids is that there’s usually some part of the process that’s manageable for kids of nearly every age, so no matter how old your apprentice bakers are, they can get their hands into the project – and in the process pick up a little practice with numbers, reading, safe kitchen habits, and more.

Toddlers can start by pouring measured ingredients into the bowl and stirring, and older kids can measure, mix, scoop, knead, and more. (Our Life Skills Bread Baking Program gets kids as young as fourth grade baking their own yeast bread.)

And, whether the experience ends up being calm and fun like our cake baking, or a complete disaster like our cookies – and no doubt you’ll have some of each – you’ll be instilling in your kids important lessons and values that will last a lifetime.

Allison Furbish
About

Allison Furbish is a native of the Upper Valley, where King Arthur Flour is based, and an avid lifelong baker especially enthusiastic about anything chocolate.

comments

  1. Aaron Frank

    Where do you stand on tasting uncooked products?

    I was taught to always taste before putting it into the oven and that has save us from several disasters (two dozen loafs of banana bread with no sugar…).

    With my kids I tend not to let them taste things with raw eggs even though I do it.

    Thanks for a great article and your daughter is adorable!

    Thanks Aaron! Like you, I taste my uncooked products regularly (who can resist, really?!); I know there’s a risk, but for myself, I feel it’s minimal. However, I don’t tend to let my daughter taste anything uncooked that contains eggs. She likes to eat our bread dough, and I don’t see a problem with that, but cookie dough or cake batter is another matter. (And besides, if she licks the beater, what’ll I get?!) As with all things about raising kids, it’s really a personal decision each of us has to make based on the best information we have and our best instincts. Thanks for raising this point! -Allison

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  2. Mabel

    What bread recipe would you suggest for little ones (3 years old). Thanks!

    Mabel, I think you could use almost any basic yeast bread recipe and just look for opportunities where your little one can participate – Amelia’s not quite two, but she routinely helps me by dumping ingredients into the bowl, stirring (or watching the bread machine for me), and eating dough while I knead and shape. ;-) One of our favorite recipes is Honey Oatmeal Bread – very kid-friendly flavor and texture, and not a complicated recipe.

    Something I wanted to do but didn’t think Amelia was quite ready for was making letters, numbers, or other fun shapes with bread dough – for a three-year-old, I bet this would work and would be even more engaging than simply combining ingredients.

    I hope that helps some! -Allison

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  3. Mary.B

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog! That picture after tip number 10 is priceless – mommy’s hand and the chubby little toddler hand. Amelia is a doll.

    Baking with my daughter, and now my 2 year old granddaughter, is such a joy. The time together, the memories, the skills learned are all so important. If my granddaughter hears the Kitchenaid start up, she’ll come running; she doesn’t want to miss out on the fun!

    Mary, it’s wonderful to hear you’ve instilled the love of baking in your daughter and granddaughter. You’re exactly right – the time together, the memories, and the skills will last a lifetime (and beyond, as your daughter and granddaughter teach and remember with their daughters and granddaughters). What a lovely thing to share. Thanks for connecting with us! -Allison

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  4. TrishaT

    I make an oat bread with my little guy, too, but we make this one:
    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/vermont-whole-wheat-oatmeal-honey-bread-recipe
    He helps with pushing the bread down and stealing little balls of dough to eat.

    Sometimes we make banana chocolate chip muffins together (these: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/banana-chocolate-chip-muffins-recipe) To avoid a meltdown around just eating the chocolate, I let my son pour the chocolate chips into the measuring cups. Any chips that spill into the pie pan placed conveniently underneath are for eating. He is good about not having his hand slip on purpose. He is six, and we have been doing it this way for a while. Happy baking!

    Thanks for sharing some of your favorite recipes! What a brilliant idea with the chocolate chips and the pie pan – I will give that a try for sure! -Allison

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  5. Paula_G

    I loved your post. When I’m visiting my granddaughters I have the joy of baking with them. We have made cookies and decorated them as well as banana breads and biscuits. I will always remember the Christmas biscuits we made and how much my oldest granddaughter who is a very picky eater enjoyed eating her Christmas tree biscuit.

    I love imagining these memories. And as you point out, one of the nice things about baking (and cooking) with kids is that they’re more apt to eat something they’ve helped create. I’m sure your granddaughter will always remember her Christmas tree biscuit, too! Thanks for sharing. -Allison

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  6. BFromM

    I love to bake, so I tried a lot of baking with my kids when they were little. I found that it wasn’t really a great experience until they had reached 4 or so. They could help out a lot more then, and participate. I always let them eat raw dough, because that’s half the fun of baking! I felt that the raw egg risk is very minimal (compared to potential frustration of keeping them away from the dough or batter)

    (Don’t tell anyone, but I let Amelia lick the cake batter whisk for the first time when we made that birthday cake! -Allison)

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  7. Brittany

    My 3 year old son loves to bake with me! It is such a great experience for both of us.

    What are some other kid-friendly recipes?

    That’s great! I’ve baked various breads (monkey bread is popular with kids!), muffins, pizza, cookies, brownies, cakes, granola, and more with “help” from my daughter. I think the trick is to find something you’ll both enjoy eating, and then figure out how to incorporate your son into the process – find the little steps he can manage on his own or with help, and then you fill in the gaps. The Home Baking Association also has some recipes and fun baking activities for kids, so be sure to check there, too. I hope that’s helpful – and happy baking! -Allison

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  8. miller0814

    Perfect timing! I just told my kids (4 & 7) that each weekend they could pick something to cook/bake with me. They get to choose the recipe, plan out the ingredients, and do as much as possible in the making of the recipe. They’re so excited! I’ve always tried to include them but it can be too stressful during weekdays. My daughter picked your easy monkey bread recipe for her weekend baking. We can’t wait to get started tomorrow. :)

    What a great idea! I’m glad to hear everyone’s excited to get baking. Monkey bread is a perfect project with kids. Have fun! -Allison

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  9. Sue

    I am a childcare provider. At the moment I have 3 two yr olds and older kids. We bake at least twice a week together usually more. Besides adding, mixing and sifting I give them a little chunk of bread dough to knead on bread days. As kids get older baking is a great math project. ..and of course life skill. One problem is..the parents often hear “Sue doesnt do it like that!” lol
    Too funny Sue! I’m sure those kids will remember those experiences for years! ~ MaryJane

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  10. srjohnston

    What sweet pictures! It’s wonderful that you are encouraging parents to get into the kitchen with their children. It’s not just about teaching a skill, but also creating memories. I remember being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother, and I baked with my four children. Wonderful memories! Now as adults they are all very much at home in the kitchen.
    How lucky for you, and for your family. I bet your kitchen could tell some stories, that’s for sure! ~ MaryJane

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  11. Oonagh , Cookingwithoonagh@yahoo.com

    My son’s grown and gone, but growing up cooking meant that he can easily cook good healthy food for himself, bread machine bread, KAF gluten free and I know that he is eating well, which is even more important when you are having to eat gluten free. It’s a skill we should teach to all our little ones. I still remember giving him a set of omelet pans for his 8th birthday and he would make omelets, and make tea by putting tea bag in electric kettle, rather than a tea pot. And business degree not culinary. Well don Allison.

    Thanks Oonagh! I just giggled when I thought of the omelet pans for your son’s 8th birthday – I can imagine those fun days to come with my daughter. As you point out, being able to bake/cook for ourselves gives us greater control over what we consume – empowering for both kids and adults alike! -Allison

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  12. Bill_Lundy

    This is certainly an excellent undertaking. My granddaughter has been cooking with me since she was 4, and the focus of every full day she and I have together is baking. She has a knack for picking a great recipe from the picture alone: her usual sources are one of the Fine Cooking Cookies compilations, or cruising the KAF site.
    But the day that sticks most in my mind is the day two years ago that she wanted to try bread. We used the proportions from Ruhlman’s book, “Ratio”, deciding to use 1000 g of flour then went from there. Basic, yes, but it worked out well. The most interesting moment was when she was weighing out the flour: by coincidence, she managed to get 1001 g into the bowl. That was good enough for me, but not right for her. “No, grampa, you want 1000 g so we have to do it again.” I was able to dissuade her from emptying it all, so she scooped out about a cupful, then began re-adding most. Only after about 5 minutes of scoop-out-replace did she get exactly the 1000 g for which she sought. Later, when she presented two loaves to her mother, (both) beaming like Nobel laureates, I overheard her tell her mom, “These would have been too tough but I made sure there wasn’t too much flour.”
    This is what makes days like these worth while.

    What a great story. Baking builds patience, too! Thanks for sharing with us. -Allison

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  13. mumpy

    your daughter is beautiful and your blog is terrific….i’ve been baking with kids for years….first with my daughters, then with my grandsons…both girls are still baking and the boys think it’s a huge treat to pull out the mixer and whip up dessert!…..side benefit: my daughter swears the boys understood fractions before they started school, from using measuring spoons and cups!
    Just another great reason to start baking early! Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane.
    p.s. Amelia is the CUTEST! She likes to “borrow” my keys when she is here. ~ MJ

    Thanks! :-) -Allison

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  14. lisamaebakes

    I loved reading all these comments. I had a wholesale baking business when my daughter was a baby and she spent her childhood with me in the kitchen. Today, at 18, she can’t stand cooking! When I delivered wedding cakes close to home, she always sat in the back with the cake to make sure it didn’t slide around. I had a wedding cake this fall a month after I dropped her off at college and cried when she asked who helped me deliver it. I miss her every day but get fan mail via her Facebook from college friends who love the treats I send. Happy Baking to all of you and your little ones.

    Thanks for sharing this. I remember the year I went off to college was the year I started collecting favorite family recipes – I needed those comforts of home. Maybe your daughter will come around. ;-) It’s nice that you send tasty treats to stay connected! -Allison

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  15. Christine

    Great post! I started baking with my son when he was about a year old. I put my mixer on the floor so I didn’t have to worry about him falling from the chair. Now we have an awesome step stool called the “Guidecraft Kitchen Helper”, it is a flat platform with a rail all the way around and I consider it 100% essential!

    Thanks for sharing the tip about your kid-friendly baking platform! We use a chair at the kitchen counter or the high chair at the dining room table, but eventually we’ll no doubt need a better solution… -Allison

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  16. LeeB

    Several years ago when my now-13-year-old was a toddler I purchased a set of cookie cutters from King Arthur that were every letter of the alphabet. We had a blast with both kids using those to cut everything into letter shapes and later to make words with it – cookie dough, cracker dough, play dough – it’s all good. Having fun with the kids in the kitchen keeps them coming back. Now I have both a boy and a girl who love to cook and do it well. The early years of baking treats morphed into main dishes, salads and more.

    I remember those cookie cutters, Lee. They’re a great idea for smaller bakers who aren’t ready to shape bread or cookie dough into letter shapes themselves! It’s great to hear that both your kids have a love for the kitchen and food – I bet you’re all eating very well! Happy baking -Allison

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  17. tinyfarm

    I will start with saying my son is ADHD …. well I simply started having him help me at toddler age. Then we designated Fridays as his day to cook! We had to create a menu, shopping list (this helped him practice thinking something through) and then a trip to the store, and then, of course, the actual cooking or baking. We had a lot of cheerios to begin with on his Fridays, but last summer he visited and grilled up fresh tuna with a homemade mango salsa, along with mixed grilled veggies. He is now 36 and often cooks for their friends on holidays. The other benefit of all of that cooking is that when he started kindergarten he already knew fractions and could multiply (double a recipe) and divide (half a recipe)! I am sure we had messes and disasters that would not have happened if I had kept him out of the kitchen; but now all the memories are of a lovely, fun, family time in the kitchen, and a grown son who does a lot of the cooking in his marriage!

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  18. Gina Collins

    Does King Arthur sell the bowl shown in the picture (cream with red rim) for the Family Baking Blog? If not, do you know where it was purchased?

    Thank you!

    We do not sell these particular bowls, although we do have some kind of similar ones on our website (search “bowl”). The one pictured is part of a three-bowl set sold by Preserve (a fellow B Corporation) – I love that their products are made from recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt containers (they also make storage containers, reusable plastic plates/utensils, and toothbrushes – which I love!). I bought mine at my local food co-op, so you may be able to find them in a store near you. You can learn more here: http://www.preserveproducts.com/

    Thanks for asking! -Allison

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  19. jfseidel

    For those of you bemoaning the high school/college age kids who won’t “play along” any more, they’ll come around… I was raised with homemade bread (that I hated at the time), homemade cookies, etc. Now, I prefer homemade to most store-bought cookies and other treats, and I’ve started making my own bread (more artisinal, but still prefer Brownberry/Arnold type for sandwiches – some childhood things can’t be undone!).

    When I was in high school, my mom read something like this that said “mothers, remember not to let your kids lick the spoons” because of the raw egg. She trotted that line out as i was mid-lick, and I said something like uh-huh, and kept going. Now, it’s a bit joke when we get to bake together. She did say that the chance of us eating enough that was tainted enough to get sick was pretty small (especially at my age – if I were a toddler, I’m sure it would have been different). There are pasteurized whole eggs available, I believe, so that could be an option for family baking. That way, everyone can join in after explaining that these are safe, special eggs., instead of a “do as I say, not as I do” disaster.

    Yep, that “do as I say, not as I do” thing has never really worked, has it?! Thanks for the encouragement regarding older “kids.” I think you’re right that “some childhood things can’t be undone” – which means that if you’re raised on home baking, you’ll probably someday crave that childhood favorite thing and need to learn to bake it yourself! -Allison

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  20. LeeB

    I’ve been pondering the first commenter’s question about eating the raw cookie dough, a treat anticipated by all children with parents who bake. It really seems to me that the scary, dangerous part of the dough is the sugar not the raw egg. We get our eggs from local friends and farms, the hens live outdoors whenever possible, the eggs are super healthy and we eat them raw in homemade ice cream, smoothies and wherever else we can slip them in. Raw eggs from the grocery store do carry a slightly higher risk of salmonella but even that one is 1 in 7,000 or less than .001%. Sugar will zap you 100% of the time.

    That’s a good point. I think it comes down to an individual decision about what we want to put in our – and our kids’ – bodies. Thanks for that perspective! -Allison

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  21. Jess

    Great post! And thanks for being real about the fun AND challenges of baking with kids. I have a 3 and 7 year old, and I’ve also baked a lot with groups of kids at our co-op preschool. The other tips I’d add to your list are (1) don’t bake hungry (give a snack first); (2) give kids choices about what task they want to do (in our house, one of us scoops the sugar, the other one levels; etc.); (3) incorporate guessing games about ingredients (taste a little flour and ask what it is; smell vanilla; etc.).

    Those are wonderful suggestions! “Don’t bake hungry” is especially important – make sure EVERYONE has had a snack (adult included!). Thanks for sharing! -Allison

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  22. peaceland

    What a special month February will be! My grandchildren all like to bake with me. Pizza is our usual task. Last week my 4yr old grandaughter told her mom that they could make pizza at home like at MeMaw’s. They called for the dough recipe – then when they’d mixed it together Leah told her Mom – this is too sticky it’s not like MeMaw’s…she was right – her Mom had doubled the water! Pretty good for a 4yr old.

    Wow – I love it! I never cease to be amazed at the things kids pick up and remember (even when they’re not quite two yet!). Amelia and I like to make (and eat) pizza, too. Definitely a kid-friendly project. Have fun with your grandchildren this month! -Allison

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  23. Kerstin - Cake, Batter, and Bowl

    Awww, Amelia is getting so big and is so cute! I totally understand her M&Ms logic, lol. It’s so fun you’re taking the time to bake with her :)

    Thanks Kerstin! Hey – the girl knows what she likes! Can’t argue with that. Happy baking! :-) -Allison

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  24. thefiverogers

    Two recommendations for parents on cooking with kids: first if you have the opportunity, teach cooking at your elementary school and second, prep all dry ingredients for baking on a day before baking. My kids are now 14, 17 and 20 and still I am drawn in by blogging on cooking with kids. One of my most cherished memories was when my two year old added the cup of milk to my 5lb container of sugar sitting nearby! I believe that cooking with kids taught me to have more patience (maybe the kids a little too). I cooked with all my kids, though now they avoid it if it takes more than warming in the microwave! I hope they will come back to it. If parents have the opportunity, I highly recommend teaching cooking at the elementary school, after school programs are great for this. I “taught” after school cooking class at the elementary school and learned quite a bit about cooking with kids. The best part of teaching in the after school enrichment program was that initially my daughter participated in the class and then quickly became an assistant which I could not do without. She continued to be my assistant even when she was in middle school. She not only learned repeatedly how to measure ingredients and the gentleness required to make tender muffins and scrambled eggs but also how to work with others. My second recommendation helps with the fact that kids quickly loose interest in the process, they want the product. One way to make product happen sooner is to focus on measuring dry ingredients one day and then when convenient, measuring out liquid ingredients and baking. This allows your child (or student) to learn the importance of accurate measurement and not be hurried to get to the end product. Often we get something in the oven (dry ingredients measured at an earlier time) quickly and then to distract them while it is baking, we measure dry ingredients for a baking day in the future. I could write a book on cooking with kids!

    Those are great suggestions! I love the idea of getting into the classroom to teach kids cooking and baking. I’ll have to keep it in mind when my daughter is old enough to start school! By then she ought to be an expert in the kitchen. ;-) Thanks for sharing! -Allison

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  25. Born2Bake

    I have greatly enjoyed all of these comments and this website! All three of my sons are great cooks, but my daughter got by without much of an interest in cooking unless you want to call chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese basic cooking 101. A number of weeks ago she called and wanted to come over, so she could make a loaf of Italian bread for a 3rd date special someone-what young man would not be impressed with a young lady who could make a loaf of bread. To make a long story shorter, to save her time- because she had to have time to make herself beautiful, throw the baked spaghetti dish together etc. I lugged all of the bread making items, including my Kitchenaid mixer, to her third floor apartment. It was a long way up those stairs, but I felt like I had accomplished a great feat before she started making the Italian loaf. I must admit, it was hard keeping my hands out of the whole process-being a perfectionist, but I was very proud of myself that I talked her through the baking process. Needless to say, the loaves came of the the oven a rich golden brown. I’m sure the aroma was lingering when the special someone got there. My reward was getting to take one of the loaves home and she carried the mixer down the stairs to the trunk of my car. To seal the deal, I got a big hug. The text I received the next day was priceless…Your bread is gone!! Mainly bc I attacked the leftovers today, but it was so good! Thank you again for being awesome and helping. Yes, this was well worth those 3 flights of stairs and packing up all the bread baking necessities.
    I do have a two year old grandson, that I’m already devising excuses for him to come over to Grannie’s house to have some fun baking. For Christmas, I bought him the Martha Stewart kids collection mix & measure prep set – this stays at my house with the Star Wars light sabers. Anyway, it’s great to get ideas from other baking enthusiastes on this blog and I’m looking forward to baking up some great memories with my grandson. Keep those great experiences coming, I enjoy all of them!

    I love the story about your daughter. That’s quite a leap, from chicken fingers to Italian bread! Reminds me of my little sister – a few years ago, all she could cook was frozen chicken fingers, and now, after a few years of holiday cookie baking together, she’s asking for baking tools for Christmas and her birthday! Have fun in the kitchen with your grandson! -Allison

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  26. FURB

    Having four kids, I find that in order to involve everybody to have fun, I let the older kids (that know how to read) direct the project. The eldest reads the recipe, the second eldest measures, and the younger two do the mixing.

    I pretty much stay back and operate the oven and am on clean up duty. I can stay relaxed, and intervene if there is contention. Also, I am the one that gets the ingredients so that everything gets put away before it gets spilled, and so the sweets get into the cookies and aren’t sitting out the whole time.

    Everyone TASTES, but not too much. Unless your youngster is immunocompromised, they shouldn’t have too much difficulty fending off small amounts of salmonella or similar pathogens in batter or dough.

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  27. donnaandgreg

    My boys are 9 and 11 now. First thing this morning, the first day of Feb. vacation, I started right in on baking bread for a potluck. At the same time, they come waltzing in the kitchen asking for pancakes. I said, “Sure, you can make it yourself.” And they did. Start to finish. I was busy with my own ingredients and before I knew it they were getting the pan ready! I only watched and prompted my older one to flip them. That’s it! All those years of baking/cooking with them has paid off. They enjoy the process. They enjoy the results.
    Seeing your children succeed in the kitchen is a great reward. Well done! ~Amy

    Reply

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