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Parental Arts

Baking With Kids: More Fun, Less Stress

Baking pro and cookbook author Genevieve Ko shares her tips for how to (actually) bake with littles.

Written By
Marnie Schwartz
Baking with kids is a classic “Instagram versus reality” moment. In the pic: An adorable toddler with their hands in the pizza dough. Behind the scenes: Parents cringing at spilled flour all over the floor. So how do you actually have fun involving your kids in the kitchen? (And maybe even end up with something delicious?) Since we’re all baking more than ever these days, we asked mom of three Genevieve Ko, author of Better Baking and cooking editor at the Los Angeles Times, for her top tips.

1. Let it go. It’s time to channel Queen Elsa (if Elsa were a mom of very messy toddlers). “The very first thing I realized when I started baking with my girls was that I had to 100 percent let go of the desire for it to not be messy,” says Ko. Not easy for a self-proclaimed “type A” baker. But, she says, remember that “at the end of the day, you can always clean up. The state of your kitchen can always come back. But you can’t have the experience of baking with them when they’re six years old once they’re not six anymore.”

2. Procure some helpful tools. A few little extras can go a long way, like an offset spatula, which is what professionals use to spread frosting, and parchment paper, which makes cleanup so much easier. And don’t forget a child-sized apron. “It makes laundry easier later, and also makes the whole experience feel really fun,” says Ko.

3. Choose the right recipe. Now is not the time to experiment with something you found on a new blog. Go for the tried-and-tested or a trusted source, so you know the recipe works. “You want to give them that confidence, and don’t want them to be disappointed,” says Ko. Equally important is choosing a recipe that doesn’t require a delicate touch. Shortbread dough is pretty foolproof, crepes and pancakes are instant, and brownies are almost impossible to mess up, she says.

4. Prep (almost) everything. “Kids’ attention spans are so short,” says Ko. So pretend you’re getting ready to film an episode of a cooking show and do as much in advance as possible. That means putting cupcake liners in your pan, preheating the oven, measuring out messy ingredients like granulated sugar into little prep bowls or measuring cups, and locating and taking out the tools you’ll need like whisks or spatulas.

5. But let them measure (and do other fun stuff), too. While you might want to pre-measure the flour (it makes the floor really slippery if they spill it), leave a couple of things for the kids to measure, like the chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies, suggests Ko. It’s a fun, not-too-messy step, and no cookies were ever made worse by a few extras. When you read through a recipe, figure out ahead of time what steps your kids can handle on their own, like cutting out cookie shapes or adding sprinkles to a cake. “Let them have some part of the creative process.”

6. Focus on the joy. Yes, cooking and baking can help teach your kids about math and chemistry and following directions. But it’s also an opportunity to share in the joy of the process and watch them experience the magic of dough rising or ingredients transforming into something delicious. And if things don’t work out as planned, well, that’s fine too. “Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned but that’s okay, that’s a good lesson for kids. You can always patch it up with frosting, or break the edge off a burnt cookie.”