“I want to help make the muffins!” This is the perfect time to bake together—while the child is interested and wants to help. Baking together as a family can provide many hours of interaction, fun and education. It may seem like it is easier to do it yourself, but the benefits of spending time together—cooking or baking—outweigh any extra messiness.
Before you get started, consider your “helpers.” Make sure you have enough time to complete your recipe enjoyably so everyone can have fun. Be patient! While baking with children may take a little longer, the experience is well worth a little extra time.
Often the aroma of certain foods baking takes us back to special memories of our childhood. By spending time baking with your children or grandchildren, you have the opportunity to build your own family traditions and memories for the children to cherish for years to come. If you have favorite family dishes that have been passed down through generations, be sure to talk about how your grandmother taught you to make these cookies or other memories you have about family traditions.
Here are some tips:
• Allow the children to help choose what you are going to bake. Maybe they have a favorite recipe you want to teach them to make. To simplify the process, have two or three recipes in mind that use ingredients and equipment you have on hand. Then allow the children to choose from these. Keep the abilities and interests of the children in mind. For example, budding artists would enjoy creative work such as icing and decorating cookies, and young children are very active so hands-on work like kneading and shaping yeast dough may be appropriate.
• Use the cooking process as an educational tool as you bake together. Reading recipes, measuring ingredients and timing the baking are all good ways to use math skills. With younger children, you may want to teach about various basic ingredients—such as how to tell what flour or sugar look like. If you have measuring cups in more than one color, you can teach colors by having the two-year-old pour in the green cup, then the yellow cup, etc.
• Assemble all the equipment and ingredients you will need in the area where you will be working so that you will not have to go looking for something halfway through the process. If you are working with small children, make sure you have a safe step stool for them to stand on, or move your work to the kitchen table they can reach more easily.
• Delegate tasks based on the age and abilities of each child. Perhaps older children can read the recipe and help you tell younger children what to put in the bowl next. Younger children may pour pre-measured ingredients in the bowl. Do not expect perfection from the children but allow them to be “hands on and messy!” Maybe the cookies are not frosted perfectly, but the kids will take pride in making it themselves.
• Emphasize kitchen safety and sanitation when baking together. Make sure to help children wash their hands thoroughly, and remind them not to lick fingers, touch hair or rub noses while baking. If cutting or chopping is required for the recipe, supervise closely or do it ahead of time depending on the age and ability of the children. Also closely supervise use of the oven or stove, or do those tasks yourself. Do expect to clean up a mess. A little flour on the kitchen floor and a few extra dishes are a small price to pay for the time you spend together.
In addition to providing some quality time, baking together can also provide a valuable nutrition lesson by experimenting with different foods. Once you finish your baking project, the family can all sit down and enjoy it together. In fact, you may be surprised by some of the foods children are willing to taste if they have helped make the dish themselves.
Research tells us that intergenerational activities are important in building family relationships that give children a sense of security and stability. The kitchen can also provide a non-threatening environment for family conversations, helping to build communications skills. Many fond memories are built in the kitchen—cooking and eating together as a family. Enjoy some inexpensive family fun…and bake!
Submitted by Amy Griswold, University of Illinois Extension family life educator and Jennifer Mowen, University of Illinois Extension, Pike County Extension director.