Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Survival Guide to Baking With Your Kids

Christmas is almost here.  There are still things to wrap, a gift for my nephew that I still have to finish making and last minute shopping.  But when my son asked me to pull out our family recipes and make his great-great grandmother’s pierogi recipe, I couldn’t say no.  It’s a recipe I remember my grandmother making each Christmas growing up and when I was in my early twenties I tried to make it.  It was an epic fail.  So my sister and I asked our grandmother and aunt to teach us how to make them.  We needed to see someone make them and then have them watch us and help us fix what we were doing wrong.  It’s one of those handed-down recipes where you have to add “enough” flour and knead it ‘til it “feels right”.  Perhaps now I could search you tube for a tutorial video, but that day of “Pierogi School” was so much more meaningful.  We learned our family’s recipes from our family. 

However, the idea of cooking or baking with children often seems like a wonderful idea until you are in the middle of the actually doing it.  You know that moment when you wonder what on earth possessed you to do this!  There’s a great cartoon by Amber Dusick of crappypictures.com floating around facebook where the top picture is what you imagine baking with your children will be like – it’s ideal, everyone is smiling and clean… then the bottom picture shows the reality, one child is squirting frosting in their mouth, everyone is covered in sprinkles.  It’s so true!  And it’s painful to watch a three year old make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich never mind roll out dough!  But before you reach for the slice n’ bake consider what is gained from making something from scratch and check out my survival guide below.  

  1. Safety First – Remind them about kitchen safety and set guidelines.  For example: when I’m about to open the oven I announce it to my kids and they have to touch the doorframe on the opposite side of the room until the oven door is closed.  When we use any small appliance I remind them that it’s my job to plug and unplug it and any other rules to keep them safe.
  2. It’s about the process, not the product – It may not be the prettiest, but letting your child make something without you following behind “fixing” it will give them a sense of accomplishment and show that you have confidence in their abilities. 
  3. Show by example - And then let them have a go at it, don’t be afraid to help them if you see something that they can improve on that’s not just aesthetic (like sealing the edges of a pirogues so the filling doesn’t leak out). 
  4. Give them one step at a time – If you give a child too many steps at once they will get confused.  Take it one step at a time.
  5. Be specific, very specific – When my son was five I asked him to grease a bowl for bread to rise in and he did.  He greased the inside and the outside.  Be very specific.
  6. Set aside enough time – Squeezing a batch of cookies in between activities will surely stress you out.  It always takes more time when you have “help” from a child so plan on it.
  7. Don’t overwhelm yourself – Cut a recipe in half or put half the cookie dough in the freezer to be baked on the next snow day.  You don’t have to do it all today.  I should have halved my recipe today, but I guess it’s not so bad that we have 75 pirogues in the freezer now.
  8. Reinforce math and reading skills -   Let them help you read the recipe and count the amounts of ingredients as they are added.  It’s easier for me to measure it out – obviously, but when I remember what they gain it helps me ease up.
  9. Expect some mistakes – Let them crack open the egg, but do it in a small dish so you can

    easily fish out any pieces of shell.
  10. Use the timer to your advantage – You have 8 minutes til this batch comes out of the oven?  See if you can sweep the kitchen before the timer beeps!
  11. It’s going to be messy – get over it.  After the kids are in bed pour a glass of wine, turn on some music and do the dishes.  You might also have to wash the floor…and your hair… but it will be ok.

My son thought we had the best supper ever.  He was all smiles.  And you know the reality is probably going to look like the bottom picture on the cartoon, but when you look back on it, you’ll both remember it as the top picture.

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