Cooking With Kids

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One of the most challenging things at this point is filling up our days. Especially for those of us who live in the city with lack of outdoor space, keeping our kids busy and limiting the amount of time watching television or on some kind of screen becomes incredibly stressful. So many of the parents on my caseload are looking for easy, fun and non-screen time activities for children so this week I am going to talk about baking with kids. As soon as my daughter was old enough, I started including her in baking with me. It started with her simply just watching me at work as I baked and her involvement increased as she got older. Today, at 10 years old, she loves to bake. Actually, to make up for the fact that she wasn’t going to be with her cousin for Easter, my sister and I had our girls pick out a recipe and the FaceTimed the entire time. It was adorable and made them feel connected on a day that they just love to be together.

Baking with children is not only a great way to connect with your children but has so many developmental benefits built right into it. At this crazy time, I think the most helpful thing I can do for parents is provide them with activities that don’t seem like therapy or work. While I know baking isn’t for everyone, I am going to outline the benefits and provide a bunch of baking activities that you can do with your children.

There are so many benefits of cooking with children including:

*improves fine motor and manipulation skills. Measuring ingredients, rolling out dough, using cookie cutters and decorating your baked goods will lead to improved fine motor and manipulation skills. 
*improves visual skills such as improved hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and visual tracking. 
*encourages language development. Use this time to not only label ingredients, but talk about the ingredients. Have them describe how they feel. For example, put out a little plate with some of the ingredients and have them feel them and talk about the textures. Are they soft? Are they rough? 
*encourages executive functioning skills. Baking with children is a great way to naturally work on things such as improving attention, focus, organization, sequencing and working memory. For some kids, it might be helpful to print out pictures of the steps and have them put them in order before actually starting baking. 
*for older children, baking can be a really motivating way to work on math skills. For younger children, you can introduce the concepts of more and less while measuring out ingredients. For example, put the measuring cups out with the ingredients in them and ask what you will use more of. My 10 year old is working on fractions right now and when she begins to get really frustrated, I bring out our measure cups as a visual.
*boosts confidence and self-esteem. It really is so much fun to see kids light up as they see their completed baked good come out of the oven. Even more exciting is when they get peoples reactions when they eat them.

I am going to share some cooking activities that you can do with your children. It’s important to find activities that will encourage independence for children while also working cooperatively with their siblings or parents. If you are cooking with more than one child, set clear expectations and responsibilities from the get-go to limit arguing during the actual activity. Below you will find several baking and cooking activities. Some requiring cooking, others might not. There are not just food cooking ideas, but also sensory materials like play dough or colored rice and noodles.


Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker-this was actually recommended to me by one of my occupational therapist colleagues and couldn’t love it more. With kids not getting as much physical activity as they are used to, I love that you can combine some gross motor work while making ice cream. Kids can make make ice-cream in about 30 minutes using just a few ingredients by rolling the ball back and forth to each other. Check out this link from L.L. Bean with a bunch of different recipes you can try using this ice cream maker.

English Muffin/Bagel Pizzas-I remember making these as a child with my parents and sisters. This is a great activity because it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients and most are things you can easily get even during a pandemic! You will need english muffins or bagels, sauce, shredded mozzarella and any toppings you might want to add. To add some depth to this activity, give your child a pad of paper with a list of everyone’s names on it and write the kinds of pizza available and have him check off what everyone wants. Another fun thing to do is use ingredients to make silly faces. For example, use a pepper to make a mouth or olives or pepperoni to make eyes. 

Rainbow Fruit Kabobs-a variety of cut up fruits in different colors and wooden skewers. Talk about the colors and what order the colors are in a rainbow and have them put the fruit on the wooden skewers in the correct order. This is a great baking activity to do with younger children who you might not feel comfortable with them using mixers and other baking equipment. There are a lot of kid-safe baking tools that you can give your kids to use so the can cut the fruit up. I love this activity because it’s a great way to work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while also working on hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills. Best part is that the end result is a healthy treat for you and your kids to enjoy. 

Rice Krispie Treats-I have always found that making rice krispie treats is another kid friendly baking activity where you can adapt the activity based on your child’s age. For younger kids, you can melt the butter and marshmallows and just have them add the cereal and stir but for older and more responsible kids, have them do that (in the microwave or stovetop). You can make this more of a hands-on/sensory experience by having him roll them into balls instead of putting them in a baking pan. You can also change things up by using different kinds of cereal to add color or have them use cookie cutters to make different shapes once they are cooled down. 

M&M Energy Bites-this is another simple non-baking activity that kids can be really involved in. Mix together 1 cup rolled outs, 1/2 cup of peanut butter, 1/2 cup M&Ms, 1/3 cup of honey and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stirring the ingredients with is a great way to work on increasing upper extremity strength and encourages bilateral coordination skills. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to grab a spoonful, place in hand and roll into a ball. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies-you can make them from scratch or use slice and bake ones. No matter which method you use, making chocolate chip cookies are a delicious way to work on fine motor skills. If you make fresh, let your kids add all the ingredients (break the eggs into a bowl for him) and stir as much as he can. When I was baking with my daughter when she was younger, I would put all of the ingredients in bowls and then would tell her which one to add. If you use the slice-and-bake cookies, give your kid a safe knife and help them cut the dough into chunks and then allow them to roll them into balls before placing on the cookie sheet. 

Sensory Materials

Homemade PlayDoh-play doh is another sensory material that kids LOVE. I love this recipe from Mothercould and love that it can last up to 6 months if stored in a good container. There are so many benefits of playing with play dough such as increasing grasp strength, improves grasping and manipulation skills and encourages hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination skills. Roll play dough into long snakes and practice making shapes, letters or numbers. Use a rolling pin and roll play dough flat and use your favorite cookie cutters.

Dye Rice/Noodles-another great sensory experience and kids can be part of the whole experiences of making it. Kids will love watching the plain rice or pasta go from plain to brightly colored sensory materials.  For each color, you need 1 cup of white rice/baby pasta, 1 tablespoon vinegar and desired amount of food coloring. Have kids help you by pouring the rice and vinegar into little Tupperwares and squeezing a few drops of food coloring. Close the lid and then have them shake the Tupperwares until the rice/noodles are all covered. If you make some of each color, you can pour them into a much bigger Tupperware and hide little characters or animals in it and and have him dig through using their hands or spoons or scoopers to rescue them. Another fun activity is to dye penne or rigatoni noodles and have kids make necklaces out of them. 

Homemade Flubber/Thick Slime-so many of the kids I work with love sensory exploration and there are so many great recipes out there. Flubber/thick slime is a very popular sensory material at my gym and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. You’ll need 1 cup of Elmer’s White Glue, 1/2 cup room temperature water, 1/2 cup liquid starch and glitter or food coloring (optional). Click here for directions. Once made, you can hide little objects in them like beads to work on increasing grasp strength and improving grasping and manipulation skills. 

Salt Clay-this is another simple activity that can be done with kids of all ages and uses only 3 ingredients: salt, flour and water. If you want, you can add a few drops of food coloring to the dough. One of the things I like about using salt clay is that you can adapt how you use it making things either more simple or more challenging depending on the age of your child. Kids can use cookie cutters to make creations or they can use their imagination and make whatever they want to create. Once they are done making their creation, they can use markers or paint to decorate them if you didn’t add color earlier. 
One of the things I think is really important is to not expect perfection when cooking/baking with kids. This should be a fun experience and making mistakes is to be expected when engaged in this kind of activity with children. The other thing to try and let go of is to not get worked up if a mess is made. Unless someone is going to get hurt, don’t worry about ingredients on the counters, floors or even on themselves. Wait until the activity is complete and hand out cleaning up responsibilities to each person who participated. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun because even though this is a crazy time, there are so many opportunities to make fabulous memories with your children. 

Have you been baking/cooking with your kids during this crazy time? What are your favorite recipes for baking, cooking or sensory materials? I would love to hear from you and am always a click away. I’m sure I am not the only one who would be interested in hearing about other recipes to keep kids busy these days. 

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