Picture this: an idyllic afternoon spent baking with your kids, with no complaints, minimal mess, and tasty treats your kids enjoy when you're done. It's pretty perfect. But before you even start, the logistics kick in. What age can a child start cooking? What can we bake at home? What do kids learn while cooking (if anything)?
Don't let the questions and doubt overwhelm you. Below are our tips on making baking fun at any age, along with some of our favorite products to make life a little easier along the way.
Start baking with kids while they're young
You can start baking with your kids from a young age, 2 - 3 years. Although they won't be able to help with most things, you'd be suprised at how helpful toddlers can be in the kitchen.
Before you start, explain the baking project from the start to the end. List out broad steps (e.g., "first we'll mix together all of the ingredients, then we'll put it in the cake pan, then it goes into the oven to bake") so they feel involved and understand the logical sequence of the baking experience. Then tell them when they can lend a hand. Little ones will love simple tasks, like:
- gathering the tools
- mixing the batter
- opening up containers
- handing you ingredients
Engaging your toddlers in the baking experience teachers them fine motor skills, logical thinking, and following directions. It's also an opportunity to teach them where their food comes from, by explaining each ingredient as you use it, and how it affects the final product. (e.g., "Sugar makes the cake sweet!")
To get them excited about cooking, give them their own set of baking tools and supplies. Kid-sized aprons are adorable AND practical, and colorful, smaller utensils are perfect for little hands. Pull up a chair, stool, or a learning tower to make it easier for them to reach the counter. Stick to kid friendly recipes so they feel involved from the start to the end of the baking experience, and have an adult handle oven duties. They'll love seeing a project through from start to finish, and will start to understand the cooking process.
At 4 or 5,
kids can take on easy baking recipes on their own, with adult supervision. Choose projects that don't require additional tools, (such as food processors), and find ones that can be completed with one or two steps. Using a cake mix can be a quick and easy way to let kids bake independently with reliable results. You can encourage creativity when using cake mixes by helping them:
- add flavorful extracts
- use fun cake pans, such as bundt pans, or muffin tins
- stir in add-ins, such as mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, or chopped nuts
Kids will be honing math skills while measuring ingredients, and fostering independence when they pick a baking project and complete it all on their own (with adult help for the time in the oven!).
Other easy cooking projects include:
- baked French toast
- maple roasted pecans
- chocolate-covered banana bites (although you'll have to let go of any illusions about a clean countertop)
Tweens and teens
can handle larger baking projects, like recipes with multiple components (such as eclairs, where you make both the pastry dough and the filling), and basic recipes that teach them new techniques.
An easy introduction to recipes with multiple steps is a cake kit, where they are responsible for baking a cake, making frosting, and decorating the cake once it's finished. (A cake kit can also pull double duty as a present for a parent or sibling's birthday!)
With the rise of baking shows such as "Nailed It!," and "Sugar Rush," colorful and sweet projects have exploded in popularity and will likely appeal to teens the most. Talk over any baking plans before they start, then foster their independence by having them throw their own cake or cookie decorating parties with friends. When you put them in charge of their own baking experience, they'll learn project and time management, and learn to rely on positive social interaction and cooperation. Some fun themes include:
- "Chopped" style competitions; set a timer and see who can come up with the most unique design, all using the same set of ingredients
- "Nailed It!" parties; pick an inspiration cake from Pinterest, print it out, and try to copy the design
- Pick a theme (e.g. Halloween) and have each person or team come up with their own interpretation of the theme
Encourage your tween and teen's baking with age-appropriate products, so they feel encouraged to try new recipes on their own. Buy them specialized cookbooks that are written by and for teens, and since they're old enough to work the oven on their own, give them safe baking accessories like whimsical oven mitts.
Whether you have a toddler, an elementary-aged kids, or a teen, teaching them how to bake at a young age gives your kids lessons they can take outside the kitchen. Best of all, the end of each project comes with a delicious and rewarding treat that they have made themselves.