My toddler and I have now had our share of baking sessions. She loves it. I love seeing how much she loves it. And we both enjoy spending that time together. But it’s not always peachy. Several desserts later, I’ve experienced the fun and not so fun parts of being in the kitchen with a little person.
In an effort to save you from unnecessary mishaps, here is my list of Do’s and Don’ts when junior is in the vicinity of an open flame or a hot oven.
- Practice sanitation: No, your hands cannot go in your butt and then back in the dough. Just when you thought you’d taught your toddler all about cleanliness, she’s picking her nose and waving a booger in your face. Sigh. Even if it doesn’t entirely sink in, keep at it. Wash, wipe, don’t cross contaminate. Practice safe handling skills in the kitchen – your bellies will all thank you for it.
- Invest in an apron: I don’t know about your little one but mine loves cleaning her hands on anything and everything she finds. Her clothes, her hair, the wall. Whatever will get the slime out of her hands, including the dogs. Rather than having greasy little finger prints all over your wall, buy an apron. They’ll love how ingenious it is for keeping hands clean and it works wonders. Trust me.
- Emphasize safety: You don’t stick your hand in the oven, you don’t touch the mixer when it’s on, and you definitely don’t put your chin on the pan if it just came out of the oven one second ago. I sometimes don’t even realize the things I need to point out until something happens, like gagging, and then I’m saying “Oh, um, you don’t drink the oil.”
- Pretend to be a Star: If your toddler is anything like ours, she won’t stop talking. Not for a second. It’s a good thing – we love having conversations with her. But it also means that halfway through making the dough and trying to listen to what she’s saying – I’ve completely lost my train of thought. How much flour did I dump in there already? I have found that if I pretend like I’m on my very own cooking show, sharing my stellar recipe with a viewer of one, she tunes in and keeps quiet. At least long enough to measure the flour.
- Clean after yourself: If it were up to my toddler she’d be sitting on the dirty floor amidst pots and pans having a bite off that fresh-baked cupcake. Then she’d be running off to make another mess somewhere else in the house. We clean the kitchen and everything we use before we can try what we made. Doing this provides an incentive…and the payoff is always worth it. Who knows, they may even enjoy washing the dishes so much you’ll be set for all your meals! Wouldn’t that be nice.
- Give them tasks: The first few times we went into the kitchen , I thought “all I have to do is make sure she listens and follows simple instructions.” What. Was. I. Thinking. I would look away for a fraction of a second and all hell would break loose. Then I decided to give her simple duties. Like whisking the dry ingredients or pouring sprinkles onto the cookies. Be warned that you must be OK with an entire bottle of sprinkles going onto ONE cookie. This was hard for me at first, but now I really enjoy seeing her little masterpieces come to life. If you can get them to focus on one thing at a time, you will both survive!
- Have fun: Like, duh. Sounds pretty straightforward, I know, but I still struggle with this one sometimes. I’m so focused on baking the “right” way that I forget to have fun. I need to remind myself that I want her to think of baking as this beautiful time we spend together, not bootcamp. Bootcamp comes later. Like when she’s a teenager. =)
I’m always looking for fun things to do around the house with my daughter, especially on snowy or rainy days, and baking has quickly become one of our favorite activities. Nothing beats seeing her face light up when the muffins are rising or hearing her squeal when the cookies come out of the oven. It’s worth every second (as long as you follow these simple steps.) I hope these are useful. Have fun!