Some of my earliest memories are of baking. I can remember standing at our kitchen counter, weighing flour and whisking eggs and learning how to use the hand held mixer. My mum taught me how to make cheese scones and coffee cake and “hag and mag” (our family version of tiffin). All my memories of family gatherings and events are full of food – cake and shortbread and chocolate mousse and lemon icicle and sticky toffee pudding. There was always plenty, because there was always plenty of people invited to eat it all up.
Baking and cooking was about the food, oh yes. But it was also about the hospitality, and about the built in rest times in the day for a cup of tea and something sweet, and about the pure enjoyment of the process itself. And all of that led to my realisation as an adult that baking is an important spiritual practice for me.
These memories are such a central part of my own childhood, that I guess it was natural that I’d start baking with Kaya as soon as possible.
Of course the reality was not exactly bathed in golden light…
Baking with toddlers is MESSY. When Kaya stirs the cake mix, she kinda does this upward flick at the end of each stir which effectively spreads flour and sugar all across the kitchen counter. When I am weighing ingredients, she helpfully presses the “zero” button on the scales when I’m halfway through, so I have no idea how much I have already added. She sneaks nuts and cranberries out of the cake mixture and she demands to “lick lick!” from the first minute, even though I have tried to explain so many times that we only lick the spoon when we’re all done. When I try introducing her to my spices collection by letting her smell them, she blows through her nose instead of sniffing, sending spices flying. She wants to help with everything but has particular ideas about how, like using the measuring cup to stir with. She frequently gets bored before we are finished, and I am secretly usually relieved to be able to finish off with some degree of order and speed.
And yet we still bake together nearly every week. And I still love it.
Because as we are standing there at the counter together, her on the stool next to me, I can see us setting down a foundation of memories together, a foundation that values togetherness over tidyness, that encourages creativity over uniformity, that enjoys every moment of the process as well as the tasty results.
I am sure she is learning more measurable skills too. Her hand-eye coordination will be improving, she can identify more and more ingredients, her counting is getting better as we scoop spoonfuls up, and her patience to actually get to eat the thing she is making is slowly slowly increasing. But it’s those other more intangible outcomes that I am hoping for every time we take down her brown hand-me-down apron and pull out the scales.
So how do you start?
Pick a simple recipe that you know, and one that is toddler friendly. That means, lots of steps that they can be part of, for example spooning ingredients into the bowl to weigh, or filling up cups; things that just need stirring, no adult machinery necessary; as few steps as possible, coz our little ones have short attention spans; definitely a spoon that can be licked at the end.
Have low expectations as you begin. When I first started baking with Kaya at around 18 months, she was still too little to really be able to contribute much at all, but I discovered she loved putting the muffin cases into the tins. By the time she’d done that, I was done with most of the steps that were still a bit hard for her, and she could help me do the final stir and direct me to fill up the cups with batter. She still saw everything I was doing and so as she has grown she’s taken over more and more of the steps.
Make it a multi-sensory experience! This age is all about discovery. Kaya loves to smell the ingredients, try a little of everything (figuring out quickly that she likes sunflower seeds but not so much vanilla essence), and tends to put her hands in everything. That bugged me at first because it meant more mess, but then I realised she has no idea what flour feels like unless I let her touch it. And then it is fascinating to her. Now it’s all part of the process.
Enjoy the results. This might seem obvious, but how we eat is as important as what we eat. So when the cookies are out the oven and have cooled a little, we both get a drink and some nice plates, and we sit down together at the table or outside on the garden bench, and we enjoy what we made. We savour it. Kaya tends to hoover it up at lightening speed actually, but the intention is there! Really feeling the enjoyment of what you have made is a way to instil a sense of gratitude in yourself and your child.
Some recipe ideas:
Here are a few recipes that have worked well for us so far…
- Pancakes – perfect Sunday morning activity, pancakes have only four ingredients at their most basic, so this is not exactly hard. Of course the cooking part is for Mama but they can still enjoy watching from a safe distance as the bubbles appear in the batter and you flip them (and gets them used to seeing you use safe practices around hot things.)
- Cherry Shortbread Hearts – shortbread of any kind is fun and this is a great one for cutting out the shapes.
- Muffins! So many varieties including lots of healthy ones (pick ones packed with vegetables or fruit, and with natural sweeteners. I also nearly always substitute at least some of the flour for wholegrain). These Banana Bran Muffins are a favourite (and we like her carrot bran muffins too).
- Granola – everyone has their own favourite recipe but this is the one we use as our base, and then change it up with different nuts, seeds and fruit (which Kaya loves tasting!). I also use honey instead of maple syrup because it’s cheaper.
- Scones – Kaya is still a little young to be able to rub the butter into the flour, but she can help with all the other steps and loves cutting out the circles. We have a basic recipe we use and then change up the additions (raisins, cheese, dried figs, glace cherries…).
Do you bake with your toddler? What recipes have worked for you or what are your best tips? I’d love to hear your ideas, and how it goes if you decide to start!