Call it a momentary lapse in judgement. Call it the rainy season. Call it crazy. But this week, the boys and I have been doing a little baking. I’m not much of a baker. They are very eager. They have had fun but for me, it kind of felt like getting doughed and floured (the less painful cousin of tarred and feathered). Cooking with kids is an age old practice. Generations of families have gathered in the kitchen to knead, stir and bake. But what no one wants to talk about, is that cooking with kids doubles everything: the time it will take you to finish, the mess you will create, your chances for food poisoning.
So I give you, the real mom’s guide to baking with your kids. Because not all parents are alike, it’s a choose your own adventure piece designed to give you options. But choose wisely, like all great choose your own adventure books, there are happy and not so happy endings.
Option A: Family trip to the grocery store.
You really want your kids to get the full experience. You pack them up in your car, in their stroller, on foot (bless you, extra points), and bring them to the grocery store. You’ve got a list of all the ingredients you will need and have obviously checked what you already have in the pantry. You,
show off confident mother, are armed and ready.
You start to wonder if you’ll regret your decision when the kids, not yet in the store, start running for the last cart with a plastic car attached to the front. Lucky for you, they beat the family three steps behind them. Unlucky for you, your kids immediately start arguing who gets to sit where.
You make it into the store. You get three aisles in and someone is climbing out of the car mid-motion to grab the Fruit Loops you are passing. They’ve never had Fruit Loops but today, they MUST HAVE them. You are declared the worst mom ever and your little one is letting the whole store know with crocodile tears and loud snotty sobs.
Your other child sees this as an opportunity to improve his rank and starts to “help” you. He is sure you need tomato sauce but drops the bottle because after insisting he could, he actually couldn’t reach into the cart. He starts crying as the other starts to calm down. Tomato sauce is not on the list.
You emerge from the store with everything you need, including four bags of junk not on the list. No one is crying or arguing because you’ve bribed them with lollipops. You arrive home only to realize you forgot eggs. The recipe calls for 3. You have one. You quickly google, “how to turn one egg into three when baking.” You don’t get any further because your children have begun. On to step 2.
Option B: Find a recipe with video.
You tried option A once and this time remembered to make the trip to the grocery store solo.
You start by telling the kids you need to find a recipe and directions online. Martha Stewart has a recipe with a video. You start watching together. Everyone is having fun! Then they realize this is not a Paw Patrol video. Your youngest starts bashing the keyboard hoping to “change the channel.” You watch the first 45 seconds of the video. You got the idea. You’re ready for step 2.
Option C: Read the back of a box.
You realize all your kids want to do is lick the bowl. You cut to the chase, grab the Ducan Hines box and ask your kids how many eggs are in the picture. You tell them one person gets to crack the eggs and one person gets to pour in the oil, one person gets to put the flour mixture in and they should decide now. Once an agreement has been reached, you move to step 2.
Step 2. Get started
Option A: The guide on the side.
Your doing this for the kids. You want them to feel empowered and take pride in their work. You’ve seen Giada cook with kids, this will be a piece of cake (get it?). You’ve seen Master Chef Junior. You know they are capable. You will let them measure, pour, crack, beat and mix.
You realize after the first cup of flour has been measured that your kids are not like the kids on TV. You stop to try and get the mound of flour on the counter back in the bowl. Someone has reached a hand into the bowl to “see what it feels like” and flour is now scattered everywhere, except in the bowl.
But the train has left the station, you can’t stop it now. “I want to measure the next cup,” they yell. “You said I could do it! I can do it!” You don’t want to crush the enthusiasm. You are able to compromise and win back the right to measure flour but lose any hope of helping with the eggs. You’re not sure if this is a win.
All that rogue flour and sugar has given someone the sneezes. You’re little helper reaches for a napkin, spills the oil, and Sneezy gets a direct hit into the bowl. You remember this is supposed to be fun so you casually grab a wet cloth to clean the oil and resist the urge to curse about how awful this will be.
You ignore the fact that it’s 3 pm and pour a glass of wine. You’ve moved into damage control. The train is racing but still on the tracks. You manage to get all (most) of the right amounts of ingredients into the germy bowl, turn on the mixer, keep all fingers out of the bowl while it’s on. As soon as it’s done mixing, you hand over the mixers for licking. No one is crying. They may even be having fun. You’re almost done. You repeat. Almost done.
Option B: Controlled chaos.
You make up a story about how certain things – hot ovens, sugar, oil, vanilla – are not good for kids to touch so you need to handle them. You feel a little guilty so you let them crack the eggs. One of your kids delicately bangs the egg against the bowl, heeding your advice about how eggs are fragile. He takes his time then becomes frustrated that “it’s not working” and takes a big swing, the shell cracks into a million pieces – far too many to start picking out. You get the big ones and make a note to google, “is eating egg shells harmful”? Your youngest cracks another egg but really needs to “see how this feels” too. He uses his hand as a sieve then claps his hands together making a sticky eggy mess.
He reaches for a spoon before you can get him to the sink and they both begin stirring as if they are in a race. Puffs of chocolatey flour explode from the racing site.
You’re guilt about lying about why they can’t do more begins to fade. You tell them they are doing a great job mixing and it’s almost time to lick the spoons. They’re having fun. You make yourself feel better about the mess by thinking how much worse it could be.
Option C: Less is best.
Thanks to Duncan Hines, you only have to worry about getting 4 things in a bowl. You repeat this with every step. You repeat to your kids, “the more we get in the bowl, the more we get to eat!” You make a really big deal out of the first 2 ingredients so they get excited and feel helpful. “Wow, you put the water in! Great job! You’re amazing!” Your enthusiasm is contagious. They feel like they are MasterChef Junior. You remind them it’s almost time to lick the spoons and sneak the remaining 2 ingredients in the bowl.
You have a passing thought that perhaps it would be more fun to cook from scratch. Then you look at your kitchen and your kids happily playing while waiting and pat yourself on the back.
Step 3. Clean up
Option A: They made the mess, they’ll clean it.
You’re all about learning responsibility. There is a lesson to be learned always. You give your kids a wet cloth and a broom and ask them to help clean up. They fight about who gets to do what. They manage to sweep crumbs out of the kitchen and into the living room. They get water everywhere. You hope no one has ingested the cleaner they were spraying liberally because, spray bottles are SO MUCH FUN!
You say thank you and spend the next 90 minutes cleaning up, momentarily forgetting about your goodies in the oven until it’s almost too late.
Option B: Get everything in the sink
You get it. They need to learn cleaning up is part of the process. But you also know you can’t trust anyone under 5 with a broom or wet cloth, let alone a spray bottle. You give them the plastic bowls, spoons and measuring cups to get into the sink. You call this “clean up” and thank them for helping. You let them continue to ignore the sticky, powdery mess that is your kitchen and spend the next 30 minutes cleaning up.
Option C: Minimal collateral damage.
You may have taken the easy way out with your semi-homemade baking but the mess is minimal. You give your kids a good wipe and can clean up what you can while your goods bake.
Step 4: The end
Option A: Family trip to the ER
You find yourself packing everyone up AGAIN. You’re all sick. Could’ve been anything – the sneezing, the egg shells, the chocolate chips that were all over the floor. Be honest, it was a war zone in there. Cooking with kids is not what Giada would have you believe. Have you learned your lesson? (Option A can also sometimes end up in a small house fire. Go back and choose more wisely.)
Option B: There’s always store bought.
You realize your cooking endeavor may not have turned out as expected, but you have that extra stash of Oreos hiding in the pantry. You break it out. No one is upset. There’s always next time.
Option C: KISS.
You kept is simple. You win, clever mom, you win.
Remember, you never, ever, never, ever log on to Pinterest.