Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kids in the Kitchen

No-Bake Jungle Bars
Looking for a great family activity that’s inexpensive, educational, and fun, and creates memories that last a lifetime? Look no further than your kitchen.

Baking with your children—or grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or godchildren—provides an opportunity to share your skills and enthusiasm with young people. Yes, it requires patience and good humor, but the rewards are sweet in more ways than one!

We invited some baking and education experts to share their tips for successful family baking. They generously accepted—and offered some of their kid-friendly recipes, to boot!

Why Bake with Kids?

Vanilla Butter Balls
The short answer, say Charlene Patton and Sharon Davis of the Home Baking Association in Topeka, Kansas, is “Because it’s fun!” But Patton and Davis—both of whom have degrees in family and consumer sciences and many years of experience as food educators—agree there’s a lot more to family baking than that.

“Baking teaches keystone skills—reading, sequencing, measuring, time management, fractions, problem solving,” says Sharon, the HBA’s executive director. She grew up on an Iowa family farm “where baking was what you did to live.” Learning to bake, she says, imparts self-reliance and self-esteem. It teaches children about spending and saving money. And it strengthens relationships: “When you’re working side by side, your kids will talk to you!” Sharon says.

Sugar and Cinnamon Apple Muffins
And, adds Charlene—a Kansas native who grew up baking with her mother and both grandmothers—baking together helps build family traditions. “I have four daughters, and from the time they were in infant carriers I had them in the kitchen with me,” she says. “When they grew up and added to their skills they were able to make a real contribution to the family.” A simple recipe like No-Bake Jungle Bars gives young children easy, satisfying tasks—crushing graham crackers, decorating with animal crackers—that lead to a sense of earned pride.

There’s another benefit to baking, says Nancy Baggett, who blogs at Kitchenlane and whose latest cookbook is Simply Sensational Cookies: “It’s important and eye-opening for children to learn that food takes time and energy and care”—that it doesn’t just materialize magically in a takeout container. Nancy grew up in Maryland (where she still lives) “around canners and bakers and jam makers” who taught her that “you baked for the people you love.” Today she bakes with her grandchildren, ages 9 and 10. “I’ve had them in the kitchen with me since they were babies,” she says, “and now they’re the perfect age for baking with me—they can do a lot of things and haven’t gotten jaded, like teenagers sometimes do!” Well within reach of middle-schoolers is Nancy’s recipe for Vanilla Butter Balls—like Mexican Wedding Cookies, but without the nuts. It’s rated “Super Easy” in Simply Sensational Cookies.

Pink Lemonade Ice Pops
If you’re just starting out baking with kids, keep it simple: a few readily available ingredients, basic equipment, and easy-to-follow instructions. Even little kids can roll Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies into balls or stir the batter for Sugar and Cinnamon Apple Muffins (it’s supposed to be lumpy!). Or try one of the easy recipes in the Home Baking Association’s Baking with Friends cookbook: Each one is charmingly illustrated and accompanied by a fun fact, a family activity, and a vocabulary word. The Country Fruit Cobbler—easier than a pie, and filled with fresh or frozen peaches—takes just 30 minutes to prepare and gives middle-school or older kids practice in dry and wet measuring, mixing, and pouring.

What’s a Good Age?

One-Pot Honey-Oatmeal Drop Cookies
Nancy Baggett introduced her grandson to baking when he wasn’t even 1 year old. Strapped into a safety seat at the counter, he held a cookie cutter while Nancy gently pressed his hand into the dough. (One of his first full sentences, Nancy says, was “Nana bake cookies?”) Toddlers can pick out cookie cutters or hold a bowl while you wield a wooden spoon. Nancy’s tip for easier cookie-cutting: roll the dough between sheets of parchment paper, then transfer the “sandwich” to the refrigerator. When it’s chilled, lift off the parchment.

The Home Baking Association’s “Thrill of Skill” handout suggests age-appropriate kitchen tasks for kids from 2 to teenage. At 3, many children can handle dough, spread soft spreads, and place things in the trash. By 6 or so, they can start measuring dry and liquid ingredients, cut butter with a plastic knife, and preheat the oven. A good recipe to teach measuring skills: Pink Lemonade Ice Pops, which get their naturally rosy color from cranberry juice. To practice stirring, scooping, and spacing on a cookie sheet, try Nancy Baggett’s One-Pot Honey-Oatmeal Drop Cookies (easy clean-up, too!).

Mother’s Day Flowerpot Cupcakes
At all ages, allow sufficient time and break projects into manageable steps that account for limited attention spans. And make it a team effort: “If you let older children teach younger ones, everyone benefits!” says Charlene Patton.

A special occasion such as Mother’s Day may inspire a sibling project: our Mother’s Day Flowerpot Cupcakes, for example. Or bring out the flower-shaped cookie cutters and make some pretty Rolled Sugar Cookies. Then “paint” them with the dye-free colored icings Nancy Baggett invented when she developed an allergy to food colorings. “Frozen juice concentrate, especially cranberry juice, makes a great substitute for dye,” she says.

Kids who enjoy contests—maybe they even watch baking competitions on TV?—may be ready for baking competitions, such as the ones C&H Sugar sponsors at state fairs. Sharon Davis and Charlene Patton, who often serve as baking-contest judges, once saw a cake decorated as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”—submitted by a 4-H kid! For more inspiration, read about a couple of recent winners in our Baker’s Profile.

And don’t overlook opportunities to get kids involved in fundraisers like the Great American Bake Sale. Scout troops, 4-H organizations, and neighborhood groups can prepare cookie or muffin mixes in jars, an excellent way to practicing measuring skills and create saleable items of real value.

Keep It Clean (and Safe)

Pizza Cake
Basic hygiene should be the first baking lesson you teach your kids. “They have to wash their hands before they start—and if they lick their fingers they have to wash them again!” says Nancy Baggett. (For specifics on hand-washing, see the Home Baking Association’s advice on “Cleaning Up.”)

Mess is inevitable even with experienced grown-up bakers. So don’t fight it! “I lay out big sheets of wax paper or parchment that they can work on,” says Nancy Baggett. Newspapers work fine, too. Give each child an apron or one of your old T-shirts to wear over his or her clothing. And remind kids to wipe up spills immediately (and set a good example yourself!).

For safety and hygiene, tie back long hair and roll up long sleeves. Turn the handles of pots inward on the stovetop so they don’t get caught on an arm or sleeves. And that adage about a watched pot never boiling? Well, an unwatched pot can scorch and burn. Keep an eye on it!

For more tips about kitchen safety, print out the Home Baking Association’s Safe Kitchen Check List and post it on your refrigerator or on a kitchen bulletin board.

Additional Resources

The Home Baking Association website is full of tips for parents and educators. And be sure to read our story about the HBA!

Baking with Kids, a special section of our website devoted to how-to’s and why-to’s.

Our Kid-Friendly recipe section is full of fun projects like a Pizza Cake that even little kids will enjoy decorating.

For young kids: Cook Learn Grow (“a cooking school for kids”).

For older kids: Cooking Teens website—recipes, features, videos like this one of high school cooking contestants from Oregon.

Quick tip: If you learned to bake as a child, or if you bake with children now, leave a comment here and tell us your favorite story, recipe, or suggestion! Comments are published after approval, so please be patient with us.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up helping my mom bake Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, so it is natural to bake cookies with my granddaughter, Clara when she comes for a 'sleep-over'. We made Sugar Cookies, using all kinds of sprinkles.:) Spending time with the grandchildren is the most fun! :)