Holiday Baking with Kids
As loved ones gather and winter’s chill sets in, the holiday season is a wonderful time to welcome kids into the kitchen. Teaching children the value of cooking and baking from a young age has many benefits. It helps them take an interest in food and promotes critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. Plus, it’s fun!
Here, we share tips for baking and cooking with kids. Get ready to crack eggs, stir ingredients, roll dough and enjoy time-honored traditions with those who are almost always eager to help make something delicious.
Kids crave independent tasks, so pick a recipe or two that can help them thrive with your supervision. Whether you’re making Great-Grandma’s legendary thumbprint cookies or Grandpa’s homemade spaghetti, there’s likely a portion of the recipe that can work for different age groups, toddlers to teenagers.
With encouragement and guidance, kids as young as 2 years old can usually follow simplified instructions you say aloud. They can also excel at repeating a step after you show them. As you work together, ask younger kids to add pre-measured ingredients to a mixing bowl, roll dough with a small rolling pin or use cookie cutters. They may even enjoy helping you compost, recycle and clean up at the end.
Give older kids some more responsibility to enrich the experience. They may be ready to preheat the oven, set the timer, measure and add their own ingredients, or whisk eggs. Even reading instructions out loud to younger siblings or cousins can help them feel more confident and in command.
Time in the kitchen builds practical life skills. When you make something from scratch, you introduce math concepts (hello, fractions!) and strengthen reading skills. Each task promotes the importance of paying attention to details, while cementing the value of teamwork and taking turns. Plus, kids get a total sense of accomplishment in the process.
EMBRACE THE MESS
Sensory exploration is pure joy for kids. Pouring and mixing liquids with dry ingredients, kneading dough, rolling balls in
sugar, filling up muffin tins or baking pans—they’ll love being a special helper and working with their hands.
If the thought of flour every which way, spills or sticky fingers seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and know each step supports lifelong development and skillbuilding.
Before you begin, set out all ingredients, bowls and pans, and pre-measure as much as possible for the smallest sous chefs. Offering child-size kitchen utensils can help improve outcomes and ease any safety concerns, too. Outfit your crew in aprons—bonus points for coordinating sets among adults and kids! Put long hair up in a ponytail or braid. Remember to wash hands regularly as you take turns.
Reading the recipe out loud is a good first step. Give lots of praise after kids complete their portion. Don’t dwell on mistakes, which are bound to happen. You can instill patience and perseverance, and remind kids that mistakes help us all learn and grow.
Beyond producing nourishing meals and tasty treats, your kitchen also doubles as a space for conversation and storytelling. Use this special time to share and build lasting memories.
Some thought-starters: Explain your cooking philosophy and what it means to you. How did you learn your skills? What’s your favorite part? Is there a recipe that definitely didn’t turn out? What did you learn from that experience? Sharing personal stories can help inspire additional questions from curious learners.
Cooking often blends passion and emotion, so including older family members gives greater depth and meaning to the conversation, too. Do Grandma or Grandpa recall a time cooking with their parents or grandparents? Can they share a favorite recipe passed down from generation to generation? Be sure to write it down and book a date to make it together.
Ahead of gathering with extended family this holiday season, consider asking everyone to do a kid-friendly recipe swap. It could be seasonal delights to make during the holidays or ideas to try all year long. The best part? Even one contribution can become the basis for a starter cookbook of family recipes to give to your kids one day.
RINSE AND REPEAT
Kids learn by doing. If winter also means slow cooker season in your house, it too presents many opportunities for kids to help chop and drop vegetables into a single pot. They’ll marvel at how home-cooked meals come together in different ways. With miniature tools to steady their small hands, it’ll be easier to assist as you prep pot roast, chili or soup.
Another fun idea for any snackers or party hosts: Let kids help assemble a theme board for classic charcuterie, dessert, dips, veggies or fruit. Creativity shines through the colorful combinations of sweet and savory bites. Age-appropriate tasks may include placing crackers; rolling meats; skewering fruit, tomatoes or mozzarella; and using mini cookie cutters to cut cheese or melon into fun shapes.
Involving your kids throughout the year continually encourages food appreciation and kitchen competency—crucial abilities that stretch into adulthood. With practice now, they’ll be more advanced in time for grilling season. Win win!