Baking with Babies

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So, I don’t really mean babies. I mean baking with kids. My English teacher heart just loves alliteration. My baking-age kids right now are 3, 5, and 7. And, ironically, we usually bake when the actual baby is sleeping. But like I tell them, they will ALWAYS be my babies, and I will ALWAYS refer to them as such. You get the point, baking with all kids.

The idea of baking with a kid (let alone more than one) seems messy, overwhelming, even crazy, right? I’m not honestly going to defend the sanity of our family; we’re pretty nuts. And total honesty, I’m not saying our baking adventures don’t ever end in burned tragedy, a few tears, or a kitchen covered in every single ingredient, including ones we didn’t even use. Kids introduce so many variables to every single experience! Since baking is basically chemistry, it tends to be one of those “mom just needs to finish this” projects. But let me tell you, we have found ways to love it. We love being in the kitchen together and all the lessons we’re learning along the way. And, for the most part, we come out of our baking sessions with triumph, giggles, and toasty, moderately edible food products.

Two BIG suggestions if you want to try stress-free baking with kids: 1) No timeline. Don’t try a baking experience with your kids if you’re in a crunch for minutes because it just won’t happen. Not at first anyway. 2) No pressure! The end result of a baked good with kids CAN’T matter, or you’ll reach that frustration point way too fast if you need four dozen cupcakes for a school function in the next 6 hours, maybe not a great time to involve the tiny people. But schedule a time for your own, personal family baking experiment, and see what adventures can be had.

Beyond that laid back mindset, here are some tips we’ve picked up over a few years (and a few kids) of practice!

1. Set Your Expectations–Like almost everything in life, our expectations beforehand color our response to crisis. 

Children are children, and the baking experience will reflect that. Just go into it expecting an egg to break. At least one WILL slip through those chubby, eager little fingers, and hit the ground so hard you’ll be wiping it off the ceiling. No worries. Part of the process. Someone WILL pour in an ingredient of the wrong measurement and you will have to start over. Process. You, the adult, will forget something crucial, like how much water you put into those brownies, and they won’t ever, ever, ever bake. True story. Process. If you’ve prepared for these frustrating moments, you’re much more likely to respond (on the outside anyway) with grace, patience, and encouragement.

2. Mise en Place

French, y’all, gettin’ fancy. This is one of our family’s favorite phrases in the kitchen! I learned this from a friend who I admire for how often she includes her girls in her cooking and baking. Pronounced “mi zun plas” it basically means “putting in place.” In baking, it is the practice of setting out all ingredients before assembling them. And WOW does this make baking with kids easier. First of all, you know you have all the ingredients. Nothing more frustrating than starting cookies and being out of sugar, ugh. It also allows you to adjust to the skill level of your helpers. Measuring too difficult? You do the measuring, and then invite them to the process only after it is all set out. Don’t like eggshells in your banana bread? Crack them ahead of time; they still get to dump it in when it’s time. Once they graduate from ingredient dumping, prep bowls are great practice for measuring. Have them put the correct amount in a tiny bowl by itself, and if they mess up, no harm, no foul. Try again.

And truly, when all the ingredients are spread out before you, all measured out in their little spots, the assembly part of a recipe feels like a super fancy cooking show. You know, the part where they just glide down the counter dumping things in a mixer and magically a cake pops out? We feel so glamorous and professional.

3. Believe in the Value

My heart gets so excited to practice these things with my kids when we’re working on a project together. No matter what quality baked good you end up with, understand the other lessons they are practicing as you get good and hands-on together:

Math and Reading! Kids don’t have to know a single number or letter before baking. 

They will get real-world, natural exposure to seeing and hearing vocabulary and numbers, 1-1 counting, fractions, time, degrees of heat, COUNTLESS (see what I did there?) concepts that they will one day need to understand. Giving them this hands-on literacy at an early age by talking them through baking steps and processes gets those curious brains working. As your kids do grow, or if they are already strong readers and counters, give them the responsibility. Watching the pride grow as they get to do the “mom-job” is so fun. And what a great way to show your kid you trust them with bigger things.

Food Love

Oh, man. I could talk all day on this topic. But I’ll be brief for now! Being and doing in the kitchen is a great way to build your child’s relationship with food. By inviting them to see, smell, touch, (hear?) ingredients in the kitchen, you expose them to new flavors and combos that aren’t as scary to taste when the food is ready. Picky eaters in the house, anyone? Just me? K…

And by handling food and praising its goodness for our bodies, you establish a healthy view of eating, the energy it can give us, the warm feelings that sharing in it brings. This significant experience we can model is an enormous way to combat the negative associations about food that surround our children too quickly.

Confidence in Problem Solving

The goal is not NOT to spill milk. I mean, sure someday it would be nice to not spill. But let them spill that milk! Plan for it to get spilled! But then with grace and patience, let them learn to wipe it up. Let them crunch that egg and then pick out the shells. Have them figure out which measuring spoon to use, or read to you which step comes next. Let them sit with questions and think while you show patience in pausing as they make decisions.

Based on Parenting with Love & Logic, our children’s inner voice says, “I am what I think YOU think I am.” Wow. Read that again. Their sweet little self-image is formed, watching US respond to them. Trying to figure out what it is WE believe about THEM. The weight that responsibility overwhelms me sometimes.

I know my imperfections as a person, as a mom. I know in the speed and routine of everyday life, I hurry them. I do things for them, so it will be faster. Or better. Or right the first time. I know I’m often more concerned with the outcome of what we’re doing to consider what they need to be learning or practicing. I know I make thoughtless comments of criticism or frustration towards my kids that probably don’t show them how highly I really value them. And of course, I work hard to be better each day in normal life.

But in baking, I can find the opportunity to be intentional. Opportunity to affirm things like “You can do hard things,” “You figured that out!”, “Let’s try that again,” “Look what we made!” And whether or not I articulate it all in spoken words, I’m showing them I value your input; This is how to be patient, This is what you do when you are frustrated, You are worth spending time with, You are smart enough to decide something, You are hard-working enough to finishI love being a team with you. It’s not really about the cookies, is it? Whether we end up with delicious treats, or accidentally set off the smoke alarm, I can make it a chance to show them I think they’re amazing, capable of incredible things.

Bake with those babies, Mama <3