Layla (left) is learning to cook in much the same way that her Aunt Sarah (right) did three decades ago.
When I want to spend some time with my four-year-old niece Layla, who is diabolically cute and disdainful of any adult who wants to bask in that cuteness, I ignore her and instead say these magic words to my sister: “I’m going to bake some cookies.”
Right on cue a head of blond fluff pops up, “Okay, Auntie Sarah, I’ll help!” And then it’s off to the kitchen to wash her hands and borrow her cousin’s panda apron. Although only in preschool, Layla has already learned how to crack an egg, measure and level a cup of flour, help mix the dough, and keep her finger out of her nose during food preparation.
Baking with Ulterior Motives
The truth is that although baking with her is a lot of fun, I have an ulterior motive: I am teaching Layla, and my own kids, the skills they need to cook real, healthy food, and I am doing it by taking advantage of their enthusiasm for dessert.
KIds have fun making yummy treats while they learn solid cooking skills that will last them a lifetime.
They see it as having fun baking delicious treats, but I know that a child who can peel, core, and slice apples for pie has the skills to peel and slice a carrot or seed and derib a pepper. When I taught my nephew Seth how to make the filling for a pumpkin pie and my younger daughter Tejah to pour and flip pancakes, I was teaching them how to be safe and competent around a hot stove.
Hurrah for Child Labor in the Kitchen!
Once your children feel comfortable with simple baking tasks and have grown to crave the lavish appreciation that sharing a dessert brings, start having them help prepare family meals by chopping vegetables or boiling pasta. Once you feel they are ready, you can have them plan and cook simple, healthy meals on their own. I was 11 the first time I cooked dinner for my family—and I’ve been cooking ever since!
If you are concerned about safety, keep in mind that kids know that sharp things can cut them and hot things can burn them and want to avoid being injured. So teach them how to handle a knife safely and not to run and jump around a hot stove. If you feel your knife skills are not up to par, take a quick look online to find an instructional video.
Assess your child’s maturity. If you give them some appropriate responsibility, odds are they will prove more than equal to it. And you will get to enjoy the tasty results of having raised a child who knows their way around a kitchen.
Tips for Baking with Children
1. Allow lots of extra time.
2. Don’t be too invested in the outcome. Things will get messy and the final product may be less than perfect. That’s okay.
3. Insist that young bakers clean up after themselves in the kitchen every time. You will never regret it.
4. Let the kids take the lead. If a child is capable of doing something, even imperfectly, let her.
5. As your child gets older and grows in competence, take yourself more and more out of the equation. Someday you will be able to relax with a book while your darling children bake and serve you brownies. Heaven!
Here’s a recipe to get you started baking with your favorite kids. Older kids with kitchen experience can tackle this on their own.
Easy One-Bowl Brownies
(Makes 16 brownies)
Prep and cooking time: 1 hour
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
¼ cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Assemble all your ingredients and chop nuts.
Line a 9×9 pan with aluminum foil, and grease the foil with butter or spray with cooking spray.
Fill a large pot one-third full with water and bring to a boil.
Place butter and chocolate in mixing bowl. Place the bowl over the pot of water and turn down to low. Stir frequently until butter and chocolate are melted and smooth.
Remove the bowl from heat and stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add flour and stir until well mixed, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in nuts.
Scrape the batter into pan and spread evenly with a spatula.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until set in the middle. A fork inserted into the brownies should come out slightly gooey. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
While the brownies bake, wash the bowl, pot, and cooking utensils and clean up any mess on the counters, floor, and stove.
To serve, remove brownies from pan by grabbing opposite sides of the foil and lifting. Place on a cutting board, and cut into 16 equal pieces. Share with your friends and family.