This time of year has me buying plenty of this and often times keeping it on the counter soft and ready at moment's notice -- because you never know when the Christmas cookie baking bug is going to bite!
I have always found joy and calmness when I bake with my boys. When Charley was 2, I began making simple muffin mixes with him where we were just adding the oil, eggs, or milk. When he was crabby or I was crabby....doing a baking project together always helped us reconnect...maybe because it was one on one undivided attention that occurred, maybe it was because I felt like I was accomplishing something adult-ish while spending time with my tot....who knows. It worked for us.
It is harder to cook with two helpers. And I am blessed with a little time here before baby number 3 comes to bake in the mornings with just Henry. Henry, like Charley, also enjoys helping in the kitchen.
Here are a few of my secrets to successful baking with little helpers:
I have found success when I choose to bake certain things with my boys. Those baked goods include tasks that allow them to feel feel independent and helpful. Last week we made Christmas Kiss cookies (we grew up calling them cyclops cookies). You know the ones...peanut butter type cookies with a kiss plopped on top. Yummy! Henry was able to begin unwrapping the kisses right away. It kept him busy. Then he gets to plop them on when the cookies come out of the oven. Another baking item has him at times he puts the cupcake papers into the tin...etc.
I have also found that getting prepared before calling them in to help makes things go smooth. So often times I will measure things out so that instead of digging for materials we can just focus on talking about what the ingredient is, how much we are adding, and dumping it in at the appropriate time. It also helps me not miss an ingredient - because having a helper does mean you can get distracted more easily.
Making them feel like they are just as much part of the experience and not just watching gives them a helpful feeling. When we are working together in the kitchen I often times have them wear their aprons (made by my mother in law). I call them my assistant. And with Charley, when he got a little older, we often pretended we were on a cookie show and I would narrate what we were doing - asking him to chime in from time to time. He loved this and it always made things silly.
Baking and cooking with children can seem overwhelming. I have found starting when they are little, sometimes before you think they can do it, will lead to surprises. And the earlier you begin the more and more they can really help. When they are too little to actually help - allowing them to stand on a stool or chair and giving them a mixing bowl and a spoon and letting them pretend to help can be just as exciting as really helping.
Baking has been part of gift giving in our family too. Santa and other family members give ingredients or baking tools to the boys. Getting a brownie mix that they can pull out and say they want to bake can be really fun for them.
Children love to help and they love to feel like you are trusting them be help in adult tasks. Take advantage of these quiet moments in the kitchen - I hope that some day when my boys are older - baking or cooking together will be a time when we can talk about life and what's happening in their lives.
My next challenge is to buy some cheap eggs and let Charley give cracking eggs a try.