I love baking. If I didn’t try to lose a few pounds I’d be at it like a fiend every weekend. Candice has nothing on me (okay, that bit is a lie – I’m not that good by a mile)!
The girl and I have been baking ever since she was two years old and I today – just before his second birthday – I have started to involve the boy, too. Baking with kids has so many advantages, it’d be silly not to start them on the journey as soon as you physically can.
1.Baking is quality time
Once you have got over the fact that baking with toddlers (as well as older children, of course) will never be a perfect affair, it is time that you and the kids will spend together – anything from 30min to an hour of pure parent-child time, uninterrupted by screens. When the girl and I are in the kitchen, where we have progressed to cooking alongside each other, I find out more about her day at school than sat around the dinner table. It’s where we have our ‘proper’ mummy-daughter talks and it’s a safe place I have been creating since she was just a toddler. For now, the boy, of course, is much more focused learning skills than deep toddler philosophy, but he still enjoyed every minute of being mummy’s little helper.
2.Baking teaches a range of skills
Remember the importance of messy play? Baking is the ultimate, natural messy play. If it doesn’t get messy you’re not doing it right, especially when baking with very little people. Today, the boy has learned to
- count numbers of cups
- transfer a solid from one container to another carefully with the help of a spoon
- squish margarine with his hands
- pour sugar out of a packet without much mess
- use a dustpan and brush (and cleaning up after himself in general)
- listen to instructions
- have patience.
3.Baking teaches independence
The reason baking gets so messy with toddlers is that we have to let go of perfection, if we want them to get anything useful out of this. Did we measure out two precise cups of flour to pour into a bowl? Nope, there was significantly less in the second cup and I’m sure a sneaky spoonful actually found itself in the bowl before being measured.
You know when they try to tell you in the GBBO that baking is a precise art? Yeah, no. How do you think people baked in the past without the precision measuring spoons we have now? Maybe you need a precise measurement or two for a merengue shaped like a crown, but not for your everyday brownie, muffin or crumble.
So choose a simple recipe (eggless, where possible) and let your toddler loose on measuring out cups, spoonfuls and sieve away to their hearts’ content.
Our recipe for the crumble:
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 250g margarine
- 1tsp vanilla essence
- 2tsp cinnamon
Ask your toddler to transfer the flour to the cup, and the full cup to the bowl. Allow the to pour sugar from the packet to the cup, then transfer to the bowl. Forget the sieve and scoop up the handfuls of flour around the bowl afterwards. Allow them to mix with a spoon. Take the margarine out of the tub and allow toddler to use a toddler-safe knife to hack away at the butter, then transfer to the bowl. Add the vanilla essence and cinnamon and alow toddler to squish to their hearts’ content. Bake at 180°C for 30min.
So, how do you make baking with toddlers a success without the need to resort to gin?
1.Is your toddler ready?
That depends. If they understand the words ‘cup’, ‘bowl’, ‘spoon’, can count up to three and if you can rely on them to follow simple instructions and – more importantly – understand the word ‘no’, then they are ready.
2.It’s a big deal – make it one!
Plenty of praise for things done right, plenty of reminders, but especially an opportunity to dress up! Get a small apron, a small toddler chef hat or two and if you feel brave even a pair of oven gloves, even if the latter are never used. Somehow dressing up makes the whole thing more serious.
3.Let it go
There will be mess. Learning is all about making mistakes, and how to find a bowl with the spoon when the flour on the floor wants stirring, too, can be hard at times. Expect a great big mess. Expect your cookies to be wonky and sprinkles to only cover one spot of the icing. It really doesn’t matter when you see the proud face of your toddler afterwards.
4.The floor is your new best friend
Seriously, unless you want lots of broken crockery, just stick to the (clean) floor. Excuse the pun.
5.Choose your ingredients carefully
You want ingredients suitable for toddler-eating, toddler mess and toddler hands. And remember that toddlers have the attention span of a gnat, so go for recipes, which would take no longer than 5-10min if you did it all by yourself. You will still be busy for 30-60min. So, go for muffins, crumbles, cake mixes, shortbread – you get the idea. Hold off on the Christmas pudding until they’re a little older.
6.Your mess, your responsibility
Just as important as teaching the skills involved in baking is the skill to know when to tidy up after yourself. That means, washing hands together before and after baking. It means giving them a brush and showing them how to clean, guiding their little hands as needed. It doesn’t have to be stressful; just make it a part of your routine.