After having our first kid, the time I spend in the kitchen cooking and baking has slowed down significantly. But there are certain things I just can’t let go of, and baking holiday cookies with kids is one of them. This year I’m excited to involve our two-year old force of nature in the holiday festivities, too. Sure, there’s going to be more mess and more chaos, and no, he won’t remember it when he’s twenty, but when it all comes down to it, establishing family traditions is more important than keeping a perfectly clean kitchen counter.
So we’re diving in, and I’ve come up with a handful of good tips that have worked in the past that may help you create your own kiddo-fueled cookie magic this year.
Planning ahead is key, and will 100% help preserve your sanity when baking with small people. Before bringing Oliver into the kitchen, I line the table with butcher paper or wax paper (and even put a towel underneath his chair for easy clean up). I also get all of kid-friendly cooking baking equipment and decorating tools ready. This means the basics like spatulas, measuring cups, jelly roll pans, and our cookie press.
Then I like to prepare the fun items too, such as squeeze bottles pre-filled with frosting and non-breakable divided plates filled with gumdrops,red hots, sprinkles, and more. By laying everything out ahead of time, I’m focused on helping and guiding rather than organizing the project at large.
This isn’t the time to pull out that multi-step, complex holiday cookie you were excited about—that one can wait until the little ones are in bed. When baking with kids, I like to go simple, choosing either sugar cookies or gingerbread men I’ve pre-baked.
For a slightly older crowd, thumbprints can be great (kids love creating those indents) and spritz cookies made with a cookie press are a lot of fun, too. Like many things in life and in parenthood, you’ve just got to know your crowd and read the room: Letting Oliver loose with a bunch of cookie dough would be a disaster right now, and no one would end up enjoying themselves (well … maybe he would).
Workstations For the Win
I’m a big fan of corralling a mess whenever possible and also setting some boundaries for kids so they feel in control, and the best way I know to do this in the kitchen is to set up a workspace. Older kids may have a stool at the counter or a chair at the table, but regardless of location it’s great to reinforce that all decorating and helping has to occur at that station.
For our family, since Oliver’s still relatively small, I actually strap him into his booster seat at the table and let him play with the frosting and sprinkles—this helps keep the mess in one spot, and grandparents are always pleased to get holiday cookies that Oliver helped decorate (sort of).
Choose Doable Tasks
Managing expectations and thinking through what baking-related tasks your kids can handle in the kitchen is important before diving in. Little hands can often manage sprinkles, dusting powdered sugar and placing larger decorations like gumdrops. Slightly older kids love coloring labels for cookie gifting, or preparing tins and packages. We have a great cookie spatula with rounded corners that makes it easy for kiddos to shimmy treats from cooling racks onto platters.
Make ‘Em Feel Proud
Even at two, Oliver has a sense of accomplishment with certain things he builds or tasks he completes, and decorating cookies is no different: Help your crew lay out the cookies on platters so they can see their work, and even involve them in the practice of gifting the cookies. I like to set out one of our homemade treats on a little plate for Oliver to enjoy at the end of everything, too. After all, hard work can really pay off.
What to Bake With Kids
Some recipes are just going to work better with kids than others. Aim for recipes with easy to measure ingredients, and ones that don’t need a lot of time to set between steps. You’ll be surprised how willing your tot is to help at every stage of the process—everything from beating the eggs with a kid-friendly egg-beater to carefully measuring each ingredient to festively dusting sprinkles on their creations with a dusting wand. These are a few of our favorite recipes to bake with your kids.
- Spritz Cookie Recipes: Nothing says happy holidays like cheerful spritz cookies, and these recipes are easy enough for even the littlest hands to help prepare.
- How to Make Multi-Colored Cookies: It’s no secret kids love color, so they’ll love the look of these brightly-hued Cream Cheese Spritz cookies.
- Kid-Friendly Banana Muffins: Simple ingredients make this a fast and fun recipe to bake with your kids.
- Easy Homemade Ice Cream: Sure, this one doesn't require the oven, but it still involves sprinkles and decorating fun your kids will love.
Kids love helping in the kitchen any time of the year, and with the right tools baking with your kids can be fun for all parties involved.