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Baking with Kids: Messy Kitchen, Full Heart!

by Jackie Thesing, Sweet Girl Treats

Nov. 30, 2020

by Jackie Thesing, Sweet Girl Treats

Baking with my mom is one of my earliest and fondest memories—rolling out sugar cookie dough and sneaking a bite, pouring ingredients, whisking flour, and that wonderful aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Can you sense my nostalgia? These memories have driven me to instill a similar love of baking in my young girls. Not only is it a great lifelong skill to pass on, but it’s also a wonderful time to make memories and to be together as a family.

Now, I would be the first to admit that I’m a neat freak. Before having kids I would not have imagined myself “being OK” with flour all over the floor, spilled milk, or a dropped egg, but parenthood changes you. No matter the mess, my 3-year-old is quick to repeat our family motto: “It’s OK, baking is supposed to be messy!” I love using baking together as a time for my girls to do things themselves, to learn kitchen skills, and to be OK with making a mess!

A mother smiles while her daughter wearing a pink sweater scoops cookie dough out of a bowl.

Baking with your little ones takes some patience, but it's worth the memories! (Photo by Jackie Thesing)

So, if you are unsure if you or your child are ready to bake together, I hope that I can put your mind at ease through my experience and these tips below. No matter what age your child is, there are tasks that match their abilities. Keep in mind that each child develops differently, so you as the parent will know best whether they are ready for a certain task. However, they might surprise you with what they’re able to help with!

Let’s walk through some ideas for you and your littlest baking partner.

Babies & Toddlers

Yes, you read that correctly. Older babies can help too! If your child is under 2 years old or is still not quite able to stand on a stool or chair on their own, you can put them in a highchair to bake alongside you. Give them some empty measuring cups and teaspoons to play with. You could even fill them with a little water so that they can pour or spoon it back and forth to “bake like Mom or Dad.” (Remember, a mess is OK!)

With your help, your toddler could help you use a rolling pin to roll out dough or crush graham crackers. Your child could also help you hand-mix dough or whisk flour. For younger children, I recommend using drop-friendly utensils like plastic bowls and measuring cups.

Pre-K

If your preschooler is anything like mine, they want to try to do things by themselves. Baking is a great way to get them involved and to let them do tasks on their own.

You could have your 3- or 4-year-old hop up on a chair alongside you to whisk dry ingredients or pour ingredients into a bowl. My girls love to climb into their kitchen helper toddler stool with guardrails to help bake or cook. If your little one is a frequent helper in the kitchen, I recommend checking these stools out!

View of a little girl's hands using a rolling pin to smash crackers in a plastic bag.

Smashing crackers is a task any child will have a blast with! (Photo by Jackie Thesing)

You could also set out utensils or ingredients ahead of time and have them hand items to you when you need them. This will help teach them what all of the kitchen gadgets and ingredients are called. They will be so proud to be able to help!

Since your little one may be asking to do things independently, I again recommend using non-breakable materials and a slip-proof plastic mixing bowl. Pour your milk or cream into a two-cup glass measuring container so that it’s easier for your little one to hold, and have them pour it into the bowl. My 3-year-old also loves to help me open ingredients like butter and cream cheese.

If you’re making cupcakes, have them count as they place liners into the tins, and they can help top the cupcakes off with sprinkles! As you bake, I’m sure you will be surprised by the number of tasks that your little one is able to help you with.

Bake This With Your Toddler or Preschooler!

This four-ingredient Ghee Fudge is perfect for making with little hands! Your preschooler can pour the condensed milk into the pan and add the chocolate and butterscotch chips. They could also add fun toppings such as sea salt or sprinkles after it’s baked.

Overhead view of the hands of a little girl in a pink sweater pouring milk from a measuring cup into a mixing bowl.

Measuring ingredients into a larger measuring cup allows your littlest helpers to pour liquids into your mixture while more easily. (Photo by Jackie Thesing)

Young Elementary

Baking with younger elementary-age children is an easy, hands-on approach to not only teach them useful life skills in the kitchen, but also sneak in additional learning without the “homework” feel!

You could have your child practice reading recipes, which also helps them practice recognizing numbers and measurements. They could read the recipe out loud to tell you what ingredients are needed. They will love to be the one who knows what comes next.

This is the perfect age to have them practice more difficult tasks like cracking eggs by themselves or pouring milk into measuring cups. They could also work on rolling out sugar cookie dough by themselves, using cookie cutters, and placing the cookies on the baking sheet. Once the cookies are in the oven, they could be the ones to set the timer (more number recognition practice!).

Check out these Kid-friendly Kitchen Experiments that Make Learning Fun!

Older Elementary

Most older elementary kids will love to get some additional independence in the kitchen. You could have them start by reading the recipe out loud and telling you what comes next. Have them grab the ingredients from the pantry on their own and practice measuring them out. This could also be a good opportunity to teach them how to use a handheld mixer or stand mixer. Let them take the lead and offer guidance where necessary! Remember, your little one might not do everything with the ease and cleanliness that you would, but they will love the opportunity to do it on their own (and the mess will be worth it, I promise).

If you need to double a recipe, have them apply some real-life multiplication skills. Who said that learning couldn’t be fun? Your child will be so proud to be able to bake up something sweet essentially on their own!

Bake These Recipes with Your Elementary-age Child

Cookies! Cookies are great for elementary-age kids. Depending on your recipe, they can help you roll dough into balls, dip in sugar, roll them out with a rolling pin, use cookie cutters, transfer the cookies to the baking sheet and space them evenly, and of course, decorate! This year, try these Organic Valley Eggnog Cookies or our Frosted Holiday Shortbread Cookies.


Middle School

By middle school age, your child will be working toward doing most kitchen tasks independently. Have them research and choose which recipes to bake on their own. You could even go shopping for ingredients together but let them take the lead. You can let your child run the show while being available for additional advice or questions that they may have.

Now is also a great time to explain the chemistry behind some of the baking. Why do we use baking soda or soften the butter? What makes cakes and cookies rise? Try experimenting with different recipes for the same dessert and see which one your child likes best and why. Maybe this will be an opportunity for both of you to learn something!

High School

By this age, your child might not be as eager to spend lots of time with you in the kitchen, but you can definitely instill family routines that keep baking or cooking as a priority! Have your high schooler plan a dessert to make for the family once per week. Join them in the kitchen to chat about their day or what they’re making. Ask them questions and sincerely listen and respond to their answers! It might feel awkward at first, but keep at it and you could eventually make a new connection with your high schooler.

Around the holidays, you could start a cookie baking and decorating family tradition. Have them make some personally decorated cookies to give away to friends and teachers. This is a great opportunity to instill values of thinking about others, create lifelong traditions, and capture some precious moments with your teenager.

Bake This with Your Middle or High Schooler

These Funfetti Cinnamon Rolls are a bit more involved, which is perfect for older children! It’s not only a fun recipe (how could it not be fun when sprinkles are involved?), but your child will feel a great sense of accomplishment after completing the steps and watching their family’s faces when they see the funfetti inside and taste how delicious the rolls are!

Time to Get Baking!

I hope that you will walk away from this article feeling optimistic and prepared to spend some quality time with your child in the kitchen. Baking is a fun and unique opportunity for parents and kids of all ages to come together to make something sweet! It’s a time to put down devices, turn off screens, practice life skills, and connect. For me, the time spent in the kitchen with my mom growing up has driven me to instill a love of baking in my own little girls. Our kitchen may not always be clean, but our hearts (and stomachs) are full!


Jackie Thesing, Sweet Girl Treats

Jackie Thesing is a Minnesota girl, born and raised. She, her husband, and two young daughters live in the Twin Cities area where they love to spend time outside and be together as a family. After leaving her corporate job to stay home with her daughters, Jackie created her blog, Sweet Girl Treats, to share her favorite recipes and baking tips. When Jackie isn’t busy with the many tasks of motherhood, you’ll likely find her in the kitchen developing new desserts, probably with at least one of her “sweet girls” at her side! To follow Jackie’s baking journey, hop over to her Instagram page @sweetgirltreatsmn and subscribe to her blog!