My grandmother was a blue-ribbon baker. Every year at the county fair she bagged multiple ribbons for her baked goods. A plump older woman with tightly curled hair and wrapped in an apron, Gramma John was the epitome of the Midwestern farm wife. I loved visiting her on our family vacations to Minnesota each summer. Gramma had two kitchens!
This California girl had never seen such a thing. There was a regular kitchen in the home, decorated in the styles of the '70s, where we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the cool of the basement there was a second kitchen, austere white, and ready for business. Despite its professional looking nature, that’s where the fun happened!
Each summer I would bake with Gramma in that kitchen. I particularly remember her pat-in-the-pan pie crust. While mine didn’t look as pretty as hers, the pastry was easy. In fact, even my five-year old can do it.
She’s the one who taught me to bake. And I've passed that love on to my kids.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies to bake with children. It sounds great, but in reality, it’s a mess. It can be a little frustrating when flour flies and egg shells float in the batter.
But, it’s worth it. Now that my youngest is five–my eldest is 16–I’m able to relax a bit and look back to see what worked and improve the things that didn’t. Here are three basic things I’ve learned.
1. Let them do.
This is hard, especially if you’re a control freak like I am. My husband is the one who modeled this for me. He let our two-year old crack eggs!
Recently, I taught my 7-year old how to use the bread machine. She even adapted a favorite recipe and wrote it down in her own words. That handwritten copy is a keepsake, for sure.
My 16-year old now bakes on his own, hunting down recipes to feed his ravenous appetite for healthier, body-building snacks.
2. Just keep calm.
Find ways that you can relinquish control and still keep your cool. For instance, let your child crack each egg individually into a ramekin. Then add it to the recipe after you’ve fished out any shell.
Set up a work space that is easy to clean. We have a very large cutting board that I often use as our work space. Most of the mess happens there, making it easy to move it all at once when it’s clean up time.
3. Have fun!
Baking is the ultimate three-for-one experience. You get food prepared, you teach your child some life skills, and you get to enjoy some good times together.
Don’t sweat the messes, the cookies that don’t look picture-perfect, or the fact that this activity takes way longer than if you did it by yourself. You’re making memories with your child and getting some great fringe benefits.
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies
This is a recipe from my Gramma John, updated to be just a bit healthier. I swapped coconut oil for the shortening; replaced processed white and brown sugars with demerara sugar, and used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white. I also notched up the flavor profile and the antioxidants with ginger and cinnamon. The result is a sweet, crispy, crunchy cookie that pleases kids of all ages.
- 2/3 cup Coconut Oil
- 1 cup Demerara Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat baking mat.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the oil and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, chocolate chips, and nuts, if using. Mix well.
Drop dough onto the prepared sheets by rounded tablespoons. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Jessica Fisher is a mom of six children, aged 5 to 16. Homeschool mom by day, writer and blogger by night, she writes two blogs, LifeasMom and GoodCheapEats. She is the author of Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze, Organizing Life as MOM, and Best 100 Juices for Kids. Keep up with her on Facebook and Twitter.