Baking with Kids: mess and memories

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I grew up with a professional baker for a mom, and a chef for a dad. They were skilled and dedicated food magicians, who worked many hours and still found the energy to cook for their family at the end of a long day. My earliest memories involve standing on a step stool on tippy toes, barely tall enough to see over the counter, the dusty pillow of flour and yeast and water being tamed into sweet-smelling loaves and loaded into our cranky home oven.

Julia_chocolateMe, eating something chocolate.

I never baked with my parents, and truthfully, the idea of baking with my friends’ children scares the heck out of me. Baking with children can be work, in the way that teaching a new skill to anyone is clumsy and wrought with failure. And let’s be honest: baking with children is messy.

bread 005Alecia Roy, baking with mom at age 4.

“Early on, it was often more of a mess than a help,” says Amy Roy, brand research and customer insights analyst for King Arthur Flour, about baking with her daughter Alecia.

“Flour everywhere, including the floor and on her and me.”

Amy_Roy_Blog_re-size-8Alecia still baking with mom Amy Roy, 5 years later.

I followed my parents into the restaurant business, making my way from the dish room to cook – which is to say, I share their love of a clean work space. But then, I also want to share with my friends’ children my love for food – many of our friendships started over meals shared together. For their children, I want even more – I want them to know where their food comes from; how four simple ingredients come together to become bread; how much better a homemade chocolate chip cookie is than anything they’ll find in a store; how they can feel the joy I’ve felt my whole life, feeding the people they love most.

That’s the other side of baking with children – the part that makes it worth the mess and the time. It’s seeing them discover their own potential, work out problems, struggle to stay patient, and finally, enjoy the fruits of their labor. Baking with children can be magical.

And messy.

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“I remember Alecia sitting up on the kitchen counter, ‘making her own dough.’ She was probably 2 1/2 or 3. It consisted of a lot of salt and sugar, some flour, oregano and cinnamon – the spices she chose of out of the cabinet.

“Of course she didn’t measure, just dumped. She added water to make it more like a batter, and then asked if she could taste it. Even though she didn’t like the taste, she still shaped that dough into a disc, and pretended to bake it in the warming drawer of our oven.”

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Seeing Amy work in the kitchen with her daughter was intimidating – perhaps you have a friend or sibling or parent who makes it all look easy, too. Amy was so natural with Alecia, that I did start to wonder if some people were just cut out for this more than others. I was relieved when she confided that it wasn’t always this easy.

“In the beginning, having her bake with me was part survival, part teaching, part mother-daughter time together. But it was hard – it tested my patience and frazzled my nerves. I went back to work soon after Alecia was born, but when my husband was gone for business, I would have entire weekends where I’d have to entertain a toddler. If I could do some baking while keeping her occupied AND teaching her something, I considered that a real win. I wasn’t always successful.”

Why keep at it?

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“It was teaching her tips like my mother taught me that kept me going. It’s giving her skills that will stay with her for life, and hopefully she’ll share with her children someday. These days, it’s like having a friend in the kitchen with me, having fun and enjoying baking just like I do.”

Was it worth it?

“Every second.”

Amy bakes with Alecia most weekends, and last Sunday, I was invited to join them. It was a cold but beautifully sunny day, so Alecia opted to make a quick and easy cookie, to maximize outdoor time.  These delicious chocolate chip cookies took a moment to set up after coming out of the oven, but were crisp on the edges, and chewy in the center. Amy and Alecia used chocolate chunks, mini chips, and mini peanut butter cups.

 

Pre-heating the ovenReading over the recipe before starting.

Measuring ingredients, unlike the old days!

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Amy_Roy_Blog_re-size-19Amy looks on while Alecia does all the work!

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Amy_Roy_Blog_re-size-28Inspecting the final product.

Amy_Roy_Blog_re-size-27QC, of course!

 

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Amy and Alecia tried salting the dough for the second batch.

Alecia tries her hand at shadow figures while the second batch bakes.

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The baking duo!

The final product…

Amy_Roy_Blog_re-size-39…And plenty of time left to play in the snow!

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We’re baking for family fun this month – who will you bake for?

Special thanks to Amy, Alecia, and Scott Roy, for allowing me to spend the afternoon with them!

Julia Reed
About

Born and raised in Vermont, Julia left New England after high school to explore the world. Educated at Emerson College in Boston, she returned home via Los Angeles in late 2012, leaving behind food trucks, secret dinners, and year-round farmers' markets to pursue a simpler ...

comments

  1. Jacquelyn Cressy

    Baking with my grandchildren is one of the joys of my life! I have that opportunity frequently with my VT grandkids (9 and 7), but we also have two (6 and 3) who live in California. I like to order King Arthur items, like cutters, decorations, etc, and have them shipped out there just before we are going out for a visit. Then we have a wonderful time baking, with the extra fun of having a package to open.

    It isn’t just the fun of making something tasty to share with the family. It provides a wonderful opportunity to talk about what they like to do, what they think about things, and gain some skills at the same time – including practicing reading and math.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Everything really does taste better when sharing it with family, doesn’t it? I love that you use baking as a way to get to know your grandkids better, that’s such a wonderful incentive to get in the kitchen and bake!

  2. Nono

    My granddaughter bakes with me and recently she asked to do some of the traditional recipes that I make and send to her house. It really is a nice time together and I am happy we can arrange time around her school work and sports. I baked with my mom and still make some of her favorite recipes.

    Reply
  3. mumpy

    get those kids in the kitchen!….i’ve been baking with my grandsons for years and they love it…..measuring spoons are a great way to teach fractions (2 of these makes one of those, right?).., we’ve made homemade muffins, cookies, quick breads and they deveoloped a love for it….this year i gave them the monkey bread mix (KAF of course) for christmas and they called this morning to tell me that they made it yesterday (snow day) and it was great!…..messy?….sure, sometimes, but i’m never going to win the housekeeper of the year award anyway and they help with the cleanup these days…..baking is a wonderful way to spend time with your gang, and the sooner they start, the better.
    thanks for the lovely article.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      We totally agree–sooner you can get your kids into the kitchen, the better! I’m glad you’ve embraced the mess and jumped in head first :)

  4. Cat

    I did lots of baking with my son when he was growing up, and now that he’s 23, we still bake Christmas cookies together for old times sake. What I regret is that I didn’t get him involved in cooking meals, and especially the concept of balanced, healthy, easy to prepare meals. Now he cooks for himself, and I rather doubt he does much of anything more ambitious than spaghetti. Having a few healthy dinners in your repertoire would be a good experience for all kids.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Absolutely! Baking is part of a larger picture–teaching your children a few healthy and easy meals is a great thing too. Anything to get them thinking about their food in ingredient form is a win as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Ruthie

    I baked with my kids and now I am baking with my grandson and love it! We’ve made all kinds of cookies, muffins and brownies. When he was not quite 2 1/2 we made cookie cutter Hallowe’en cookies. He had his own little rolling pin and we recited patty-cake “pat it, roll it” as we worked the dough. As the first batch came out of the oven I told him these were his cookies, that he had made them and they were his! When I turned around after taking out another tray, I noticed he had taken one bite out of each of “his” cookies.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Haha, what a great story! It’s so empowering for kids to bake their own treats, even if it does lead to some slightly excessive consumption. No better way to learn about what gives us tummy aches than eating too many cookies, right? :)

  6. tanya

    julia, i’m pretty sure that Crisco is not a good fat for consumption by humans–you might want to research that. to your good health!

    Reply
  7. Lois Fine

    Thank You for the wonderful story. I am glad I am not the only one that thought baking with kids was a mess and hard. You showed me that it is important to do it and also to learn it and the quality time you get out of it. Thank You for putting a whole new light on the subject.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Thank you Lois, I’m really touched by your comment. Some of the best things in life are difficult, aren’t they? Let’s be courageous together and get to baking with the kids we love :)

    2. Christina

      I agree with Lois–thank you for being honest that baking with kids is messy and can frazzle your nerves. I love to bake and was excited to share my craft with my son when he was little, but I found it frustrating instead, which made me feel like a bad mother. He would NOT crack eggs over the bowl–only over the floor. And the flour EVERYWHERE! How about lifting the mixer head while it was still running… Now he’s a little older and can laugh at these stories, and his coordination is better. Maybe the key is not to try to recreate some Norman Rockwell ideal but to wait until the children are really able to participate. Then the results are better and you don’t have crabby Mommy who wants to cry into her apron. I also sent my son to a nearby kids’ cooking school, and he really enjoyed it. He even ate a zucchini tart that he made! Wonderful post, Julia. Thank you!

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      I’m happy to hear that everything worked out now that he is older, happy baking! Jon@KAF

    4. Julia Reed , post author

      Thank you, Christina! I laughed out loud reading your story, I can so envision a kid lifting the mixer while it’s going…or cracking eggs exclusively on the floor! Very funny now, but I’m sure not so much back then. Glad you kept with it, and that it took a turn for the better when your son became a little older.

  8. Ramona Bork

    I have been baking with children for 40 years and I love it. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Currently I bake with my great nieces and nephews, but in the past I baked with all of my nieces and nephews and a few friends children. We still cherish the memories.

    Reply
  9. Debbie Lazinsky

    This is a great article and a concept that I try to encourage all of my clients to adopt. I am a Health Coach who specializes in teaching individuals and families healthy weight management. Cooking and baking are on the top of my list for people who really want to learn how to manage their weight/health. When you spend the time to cook and bake with kids, they learn so much about where good food comes from, how it should taste and the joy that comes from the creative process and sharing your final products.Its time well spent!

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Absolutely! I whole-heatedly agree. Developing a taste for real food early is critical to enjoying it later. It’s time well spent, on so many levels. Keep preaching! :)

  10. Carrie

    My almost-4 year old son and I spent much of yesterday afternoon baking cookies (KAF Sugar Cookies, to be exact). Cooking with him is a mess and it definitely takes much longer than doing the work solo. It’s also a never-ending challenge to keep him from licking spoons, eating the sugar, licking his fingers (and sticking them back in the dough), etc. Plus he usually gets bored mid-project and wanders off. But we keep at it because there is so much value in it and both of us are learning. Him, a little math, a little cooking skill; me, a lot more patience. He was so proud to give his daddy the cookies we made yesterday as a Valentine this morning. And his daddy can overlook the fact that the preschooler licked the knife used for the frosting as well as the shaker with the sugar sprinkles…

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Haha, what a great description of baking with your son! I love that it ends with the pride he feels sharing what he’s made with someone he loves–that’s so much what baking is all about!

  11. YDavis

    I love baking with my 3-yr-old son and he loves it too! I actually cannot bake without him, he will get mad. LOL! I used to bake fancier desserts but now I look for something easy that we can bake together.

    Reply
    1. Amy P

      My almost-3yo daughter is the same! She now believes it’s her right to be in the kitchen no matter what I’m making, and she invariably slides her little stepstool right to where I need to be standing at the counter ;). As much as I love that I cook and bake with her on a daily basis, these days I really relish the times that my husband is able to take her and the baby for a walk while I make dinner…alone!

  12. Dave T

    My now 6-yr old great niece and I have been cooking together for years. She measures, stirs, pours and flips. She’s been running my 6-quart kitchenaid mix for years. We’ve made brownies, crepes, soft pretzels and bagels to name some. She loves helping.

    Reply
  13. Maria

    My son has been baking with me since he was old enough to stand on a chair to see. Before that he would sit on the counter strapped into his bouncy seat to watch. Now he is a lot better at baking! He does still like to make what he calls “oxybiloxie” (not sure of the spelling!), which is his version of this and that left over from baking, small amounts of spices, etc, all mixed together. He is convinced the pigs on our farm would love oxybiloxie, but from the look of it I’m not convinced that even they would eat it!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Well if you have goats, THEY will eat just about anything (I know this from experience, nearly lost a finger once!). Jon@KAF

  14. Sandra Corlett

    Since I had three younger siblings, I didn’t get to bake at home but I did learn with Grandma. I can still remember the pride I felt when I made Grandpa “Snickerdoodles” for the first time. Eventually I was allowed to bake in my Mom’s kitchen. My own children learned to cook by starting out as toddlers who played with extra dough scraps. All four of my grown daughters and my grown son are quite capable in the kitchen. Now my oldest granddaughter, who is 2 1/2, will soon have her little sister join her to help Mommy cook. When Grace comes to visit, she helps Nana in the kitchen. We all love King Arthur products and the wonderful recipes on your site.

    Reply
  15. Connie

    I have four sons but they helped bake as much as if I had girls. I remember trying to teach willpower to one of the boys. He asked if he could put the chocolate kisses on the peanut butter cookies and I said yes but there are just enough kisses for each cookie so you can’t eat any of the kisses. Well, he did not eat any kisses but while I wasn’t paying close enough attention he popped each kiss in his mouth and sucked on it till it was a little round ball, then took it out of his mouth and put in on the cookies! I guess he must have my willpower because it seems like I’m forever trying to lose 20 pounds……
    It was a great time in my life!!!!

    Reply
  16. Kim Knemeyer

    I loved baking with my mom so I just assumed my daughter would love it also. Her friends would be over and they would want to make brownies or cookies but it always ended up with them losing interest and me finishing up. I try to get her to bake with me but she doesn’t show any interest. I just tell myself to be patient and that one day she will come around. She’s almost 15 and I feel like I’m running out of time.

    Reply
    1. Marie Mazzotta

      Baking with my daughters began as a way to help then with fractions and so a love of baking began for them – and now they are both excellent cookie and cake bakers, plus pizza dough aces.
      And so the practice has continued for our ten grandchildren, each have had baking and cooking lessons in Nana’s kitchen, learning to measure, spoon, mix, stealing a taste or two from the batter.
      Our kitchen has been the place where creativity and skill have produced many many memorable memories with our children and grandchildren.
      I was given a sign that says “A Day in Nana’s Kitchen – Priceless”.

  17. Laura Gilger

    My kids cooked with me from early ages, and what fun! What messes! Then, from about 6th grade on, they each had a night every week that they prepared what they liked for dinner. They were creative, and their favorite concoction was named “taco rollups”. It was a flour tortilla filled with leftovers: veggies like cucumbers or zucchini, maybe tomatoes, meat of some kind, seasoning like maybe celery salt, and jack cheese, rolled up and placed under the broiler. Yummy. Today, as an adult, my daughter is known by her friends for her wonderful dinner parties and great food.

    Reply
  18. Marie Mazzotta

    Memories of baking first with my daughters as a way to help them when they were learning fractions (both girls have since become excellent cake and cookie bakers) and now each of our ten grandchildren have had lessons in Nana’s kitchen, measuring, spooning, rolling cookie dough, sneaking a taste here and there, are cherished memories stored in my 78 year brain – the nucleus of our home has been and still is the kitchen where creativity and skill come together to provide outstanding baked goods ( cookies, cakes, pizza, bread) a sign given to me says it all – “A Day Spent in Nana’s Kitchen – Priceless”.

    Reply
  19. Lee

    My daughter and I just spent an enjoyable few days baking for her 11th birthday. We made the Bake Sale Fudge Cupcakes for her to take to school and for the party itself a two-layer vanilla cake and chocolate-filled cream puffs. She also made 18 chocolate-covered strawberries. Her little sister likes to bake and cook too! I just have to remind myself that any mess can be cleaned up and the important thing is to have fun together.

    Reply
  20. Amy P

    My daughter started cooking with me shortly before she turned two. I was hugely pregnant with my son and my idea of ‘nesting’ involves cooking instead of cleaning, apparently (I wish that was a bit more balanced…ha!). So every day we would be making double or triple batches of dinner and baking yet more muffins or preparing ingredients, all for the freezer. Now at almost three years old she believes she is always needed in the kitchen, whether that’s true or not ;) Most of the time I love the help (occasionally only because I know it will pay off for her in the long run), but other days I am so, so grateful if my husband can take her and the baby for a walk while I make dinner all by myself! So far no huge kitchen messes, I’ve eased her into what I allow her to do pretty slowly so she’s mostly stuck stirring in oversize bowls and putting pre-measured ingredients in. She also washes produce and has done some peeling with the vegetable peeler, although once she gashed her thumbnail pretty good and she burnt her finger on a pan once. Luckily it didn’t scare her off. If I’m ever really wanting her to not ‘help’ me with dinner, I stick her on dish duty – kids love to play with water and this way she still thinks she’s helping!

    Reply
  21. gigi

    I really enjoy baking with my granddaughter. Since she’s still very young, she loves to get her hands into everything. I had found her playing in the flour a number of times. Instead of getting freaked out about the mess, I gave her a special mixture of flour, beans and rice along with her own set of special measuring cups and a small whisk broom that she can play with as she pleases. She’s very good at cracking eggs, but prefers to use her hands instead of a whisk to break up the eggs. Instead of fighting with her about it, I try to use recipes calling for squished things – like banana bread. I don’t really care that the bananas and eggs have been squished by little hands rather than a whisk or fork or food processor. Soon, her twin sisters will be “helping” me in the kitchen as well. Working with children in the kitchen is a great way to build relationships and pass on family traditions but it’s always messy. It’s up to us as adults to find ways to keep it fun.

    Reply
  22. Ann Hansel

    I baked with my kindergarten classes for nearly twenty years:chocolate chip cookies, gingerbread men, alphabet pretzels, mini loaves of bread. These and other cooking projects were lessons in math, science, social studies PLUS great fun, good eating, and happy memories.

    Reply
  23. Ross Brown

    My 15-year old daughter, totally of her NYC life, who travels by subway an hour each way to school by Lincoln Center and is in many ways way-to-cool for her dad, had a Valentines Day get together at a friend’s house. She came home and asked me if we could baked something for her to bring. I know her goal wasn’t to have a little quality father-daughter time, but I leapt at the chance. We looked at some of the recipes on your site, and agreed on the KAF tested chocolate chunk cookies, which I’ve made many, many times before. We used a mix of mini-chip, chips, and chunks, and Avery suggested adding even more than the recipe suggested. She also wanted them even softer than I usually make them, so we kept an eye on the time as they baked. She was right; the result was something wonderful. The cookies were fully baked, so no concern about raw egg, etc. The chips and chunks maintained their shape but were soft to the tooth. They were the best batch I’ve ever baked, and I even got a hug out of it. No, nothing better than baking with your kid.

    Reply
  24. Noodle

    Like Amy, I started baked with my daughter, then 2 for survival. Initially all she’d do was lick the bowl, QC ingredients and pick out the muffin liners. Now, at 7, she’s gearing up to bake herself some pinwheel cookies, with mama supervising in the background. This is probably a good time to mention that your chewy choc chip cookie bars are her favorite after school snack! I also have a 6 month old daughter and I can’t wait for her to join us in the kitchen.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      That’s great, thanks for sharing your story–sounds like your daughter is an accomplished baker already! Someday, she will definitely thank you :)

  25. Jen

    I’ve been baking & cooking with my kids for a while now. I wish I had been able to start earlier with my step-son. I like the fact that most of them are old enough they can cook dinner during the week now. I know they love going into school with cookies (or cake balls) they’ve made and proudly announce that they made them.

    I loved baking and cooking with my mom growing up and I’m glad I’m able to pass on the experience with my kids. Now if only I can teach them to clean up after themselves.

    Reply
  26. slmckissick

    Baking and cooking with your children is sooooo worth the mess and aggrevation you encounter at first. And, yes, you do end up with a mess. But when they go on to be good cooks who are not afraid to tackle gourmet recipes, and who then teach their children…oh, so worth it.

    Reply
    1. Julia Reed , post author

      Absolutely! Thanks for sharing your success story–I think it’s good for those of us just starting out to hear stories about why we should stick with it!

  27. blouzahdeb

    I think my daughter is “too used” to me baking so she doesn’t join me as much, lol, but to my nephew it is new and exciting, so he will be my “sous chef” any time he can! I don’t push because I want it to be fun for them, but if they’re interested, I’m all for teaching! It takes a bit longer, and yes, it can be messy, but its way more fun :)

    Reply
  28. Linda

    I started cooking with my oldest grandson when he was about 16 months old. He wanted to help cook, so I took the knobs off the stove, gave him a wooden spoon and a pan of potato peelings and he was happy for an hour! Since then, and six more grandchildren, we have made all kinds of things, whether it is funnel cakes, bagels, crackers, bread, candy, pretzels and just the everyday cookies. When I visit the ones that don’t live locally, they each pick a day and a recipe that they want to make with Grandma! We have a lot of fun in the kitchen. Several years ago, I made each one of them a scrapbook recipe book, that included family recipes, their history, and pictures of the person handing them down, or pictures of the grandchild and myself making the recipe. My favorite is the cake my then four year old and two year old grandsons made to send to their daddy in Iraq for his birthday! We still laugh about the oldest one wanting to break the egg and somehow it ended up on his nose! lol The oldest grandson is now 14, and the youngest 18 months. What memories we have. If you have not tried cooking with the younger ones in your life, give it a try, you won’t regret it. There are more positives than negatives!

    Reply

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