I’m not going to set the blog world alight by saying that baking with small children is a good thing to do. As The Scientist would say: ‘obvious blog post is obvious’. But I think where I am a bit unusual is in baking (and cooking) so much with a very young child: Munchkin is just two and we’ve been baking actively together for over a year (as opposed to his early involvement which was supervising from his sling 🙂 )
I’m sure it’s one thing along which puts most people off: mess. This is fairly undeniable, but only if you compare baking with a small child to baking on your own – unless you’re a particularly messy baker in which case the small child might actually keep you in order. In any case, I find a judicious combination of having everything set out already, and a short hop to the sink to wash off sticky fingers keeps things reasonably contained.
So, here are my top tips for baking with young children:
1. As I said already: get everything out in advance. Depending on where you do your baking you probably don’t want to leave the child unattended while you nip to the fridge or the cupboard. That includes the weighing scales, tins, jugs, spoons, knife for cutting the butter, etc etc. And if you’re super organised, get the eggs and butter out of the fridge in advance.
2. Find somewhere both comfortable and safe to do your baking. We bake in the kitchen with Munchkin standing on a high chair – it means everything is to hand, and the floor is washable. If your child is prone to expansive gestures or isn’t too stable yet, sitting at a table might be better. If the child is doing most of the tasks then you could even put the equipment at a low table and let them get on with it.
3. Get the child involved in as many tasks as you can. Even real littlies can help to stir, or to tip spoonfuls of non liquid things like raisins into a bowl. On the savoury front, Munchkin used to love snapping asparagus stalks. At the age of two he now stirs, rubs in butter and flour (he has an amusing little dancing action to accompany this!), turns the scales on, pours in liquids from a jug or a big measuring spoon, helps to crack eggs, turns the food processor on, helps to hold the electric whisk, dollops batter into the tin… There’s not much I don’t let him help with apart from the obvious heat-related things. And letting a young child know that they should stay away from a hot oven is a good lesson to learn early!
4. If you don’t like letting go of things, or the mess is getting too much, then find small, neat tasks they can do so that they can still feel involved – fetching ingredients, stirring small quantities in a large bowl to minimise spills, or sticking decorations on a finished cake. Personally I believe it’s better to do this than to be constantly cleaning their hands and faces (unless they don’t like to be messy) – and causing yourself stress.
5. Pick your recipe wisely. Go for something easy, and preferably something you’ve made before. But even complicated things might have easy steps – Munchkin helped me to make a meringue roulade mix, and then helped to spread on a filling before we rolled it up.
So, the down sides: yes, there is likely to be a lot more flour on the floor or the table than if you’d made it yourself.
But the plus side: you’ve shared an activity, and the child has learned all sorts of things about shapes, textures, counting, tastes (yes, that is inevitable and one to bear in mind with your planning if you can’t stand the thought of them eating something with raw eggs in it – see more below).
And yes, hygiene levels may be a little lower than if you were baking solo, so try to discourage double dipping of fingers or spoons if that bothers you (which probably depends on who your target tasters are). I try to keep any finger licking to the end, for example, which does mean transferring the mixture to the tins with lightning speed!
I’ll talk more next time about good recipes to choose if you’re baking with a small person, but I think that the best reason to give it a try is the memories you’ll be making. For so many people baking is utterly bound up with memories and love of the person you first learnt with, the smells, and the tastes that it brought – and isn’t that a wonderful thing to share? Even if it’s about the time that Mum accidentally let the raw egg slither on the floor (yes, I’ve done that), or the time we forgot to add the key ingredient and had to get it all back out of the tin (Munchkin was quite baffled by that one). In fact, ESPECIALLY if it’s about those things 🙂 Happy baking!