Kids love to help in the kitchen, and with a bit of planning this may start a new family tradition you can enjoy for years to come.
Baking with your kids can be a great bonding experience if you first try and put yourself in their little shoes. Kids can make quite a mess in the kitchen because they are learning. Measuring flour and sugar, pouring sprinkles and mixing frosting are just messy endeavors until you have mastered them. Ditch your dreams of beautifully decorated Martha Stewart-like confections and simply accept that the fun is in the process.
If possible, try and plan your baking experience ahead of time. Kids can help decide on what types of treats they would like to bake, with a bit of your guidance. Make the grocery store list based on the recipes and make shopping for the ingredients part of the adventure! Even kids who aren't usually crazy about the grocery store will be excited to shop for cookie ingredients.
There is a lot of prep work you can do that will make things move more smoothly. For younger children, you can crack the eggs into a small bowl, soften butter, set out the ingredients and gather the measuring utensils. Older children will enjoy gathering the ingredients on their own — like a scavenger hunt. If you plan to make more than one type of treat, it may be easier to focus on one at a time.
Find a large enough work surface in your kitchen so that you can spread out a bit and give those little arms some room to move. If your counter space is at a premium, consider using a plastic tablecloth on the kitchen table. Stools help tiny bakers reach their workspace more easily. Make sure that everyone washes their hands to keep germs to a minimum.
Don't try to replicate your great grandmother's perfectly baked shortbread cookies and expect them to be just like hers. Choose simple favorites like easy Christmas cookies, no-bake cookies, snickerdoodle muffins or brownies. If your kids are very young, don't even worry about whether their creations are edible. In all honesty, you probably won't want to eat that sugar cookie with two pounds of glitter sprinkles on it — but your child might.
If you have more than two kids participating — either siblings, cousins or neighbors — assign specific tasks to each person, so everyone has the chance to participate. Kids love to feel special and have an assignment that's just for them. There are jobs for every age group, if you use your imagination. Even the tiniest of kids can watch the kitchen timer or be in charge of choosing sprinkle colors.
If you plan to give any of the cookies away to neighbors, have the kids make cute tags out of old Christmas cards, wrapping paper scraps or construction paper in festive red and green.
Throw on some fun holiday tunes, make some hot cocoa, break out the Kitchen Aid and let the fun begin! Help your older kids take turns measuring ingredients and have the young ones toss them in the mixer. Working together in the kitchen is a perfect time for silly discussions, singing and bonding. When the first batch of treats has cooled, have a tasting session. This is one time it doesn't matter if they spoil their dinner — you are making memories that will last a lifetime.
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