Baking with Kids: Food for Mind, Body, and Soul

I am starting to catch the holiday spirit this weekend. Yesterday, my youngest daughter – now all of 22 years old – joined me and my boyfriend in picking out and decorating a perfectly shaped Christmas tree. After getting the tree in the stand, my daughter took up residence in the kitchen and whipped up some gorgeous, delicious holiday cookies. She is good enough to be a pastry chef. And I am blessed to be the beneficiary of her out-of-this-world desserts. In her honor, I share with you the family legend of the “blue” cookies.

You Ask: What are Blue Cookies?!!!

When my daughter was three, she had already spent two years watching me bake. Now she decided to step up to the plate (well…the kitchen counter) herself. She had/has a “slight” stubborn streak. Translated: She would suffer absolutely NO advice on ingredients.

She dragged out a big bowl, a big tin of flour, a cup of water, and a stirring spoon. Without any measuring tools, she concocted a flour-water mixture that resembled paste. She cocked her head, looked at her creation for a minute or so, then retrieved a box of food coloring from the cabinet and dyed her dough blue.

We spooned the sticky mess into circles on a tray, deposited the tray into the oven (heated by me) and eyeballed the blue dough until it resembled something like blue cookies. We scraped them off the tray, piled them onto a pretty dessert plate and let them cool.

After dinner – you guessed it – she sashayed into the dining room with “dessert.” And she was a taskmaster. She gave me, her dad, and her sisters the death stare that commanded us to actually eat. Which we accomplished with healthy gulps of water after each bite. The icing on the cookie? She took one nibble of hers, then stone-faced, surreptitiously (she thought) pocketed the rest until she could deposit it in the garbage.

Undaunted, for months thereafter, she made blue cookies. She experimented a little by adding sugar, then cinnamon. Still…blahhh. Finally, she was ready to listen to my tips on the role of baking powder; and on the importance of correct ingredient proportions. She learned to use measuring cups and we studied actual recipes. And after a few attempts, she made something edible.

Which we all rejoiced over.

The Joy of Baking

After that, the blue cookies disappeared form the repertoire. Replaced by chocolate chip and oatmeal; then cookies with sprinkles and frosting; then ginger molasses and Mexican wedding cookies. Then her own creations – yes, she came full circle – which are, I am grateful to report, heavenly!

Aside from an ever more delicious eating experience, what did she gain? What can your child gain from baking?

Food for the Mind

So here’s the great thing for all you right brain types (like me). Math can be fun. So can chemistry. What more creative way to teach measurement, fractions, the metric system? What about the chemical properties of baking powder? (Yes… I am now obsessed with this.) The beauty of baking is it’s a very concrete way to teach. And that means it is very likely to stick.

Food for the Body

Kids are curious. So as you are measuring out that flour, that ginger, those chocolate chips, you have the opportunity to talk about….where these ingredients come from; and the concept of vitamins that our bodies get from food. You can talk about eating in moderation and about balance among the food groups. And it’s all fun! Plus, when you say “one cookie is enough” it will actually make sense and not seem like a heartless random punishment.

Food for the Soul

I think this requires little explanation. Heart-warming times with your children you and they will remember forever (blue cookies are case in point). I heartily endorse the aphorisms “Food is the way to the heart” and “Sweets for my sweet.”

Happy baking!

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