Gwen's Cookbook

This site houses the toddler-friendly recipes for Gwen's Cookbook. These recipes use iconography heavily and try to limit vocabulary to simple "easy reader" words with minimal cooking jargon.

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How To Bake With Your Preschooler

Before first setting out to bake with Gwen (then age 2, now almost 4), I put a lot of thought into how to make the process approachable for her. This is the system that I’ve come up with to keep the process flowing, fun, and (very important to me, at least) with a delicious outcome.

I will be expanding this post with more elaboration, but in the meantime, I snuck in some pictures while we made carrot cake a few weeks back and included them in the outline here!

Step 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Typically, we decide what we are going to make at least several hours in advance. Gwen will announce what she wants to make the day before or in the morning, and then I’ll do some general prep (e.g. pick a recipe, set out butter to warm up, etc) before we get started.

Know your Recipe

Think of yourself as your child’s tour guide to a love of cooking and baking. You want the process to go smoothly and easily, so you’ll have to know each step before it comes, and use some strategic sleight of hand to make things a little more magical for your child.

Before you start, preferrably even the evening before, read through the recipe carefully to make sure you understand all the steps, have all the ingredients, etc.

I will often annotate a recipe, especially if the instructions are awkwardly worded or I’m adjusting the amounts.

For example, I annotated this recipe back when I was just using hand-drawn icons (based on the shapes of the measurings cups and spoons from her Sesame Street baking set) to explain the measurements to Gwen:

Annotated recipe example

Gauge the Mood on the Ground

As with so many child-related tasks, baking goes much better when the kids are in a good mood and want to be a part of the experience.

Once the basic prep of selecting a recipe and verifying that we have the ingredients is done, I announce that we can bake whenever we want. Sometimes that means that we start baking that very instant, but other times we end up doing something else for hours before we come around to everyone being in the mood to bake.

I try not to force the experience, because I want Gwen to always see this as fun mommy time and not an obligation.

In that same vein, if Gwen looses interest mid-project, I don’t push her on it and keep going myself. As she has gotten older, she’s become more able to stay engaged for big efforts (like a 7-layer Rainbow Cake). The first recipes that we cooked together were quicker, simpler, and required fewer appliances (like the Pumpkin Muffins).

Wash hands and Put On Aprons

First things first, wash those grubby little paws and throw an apron on both of you. I personally consider aprons to be optional, but Gwen is pretty big into them.

This is Gwen in her apron, although based on the chocolate speared all over her face I’d guess this photo was taken after a hot chocolate binge. Gwen in her apron

Nevertheless, that photo is a good reminder of one of my favorite kitchen things: Gwen’s Kitchen Helper. We’ve since moved on to a smaller kitchen tower but the original huge kitchen helper was great when she was shorter because it is adjustable height. I highly recommend getting one used because that MSRP will make your eyes water.

Preparing Ingredients

While Gwen works on getting herself ready to cook, I lay out every ingredient, in the order in which it will be used. When she was younger, I would lay out the ingredients after helping her wash her hands.

All the ingredients lined up

Preparing Bowls

Mama lays out cereal bowls to use as spill catchers while measuring dry ingredients, and for cracking eggs, etc.

The bowls laid out in our work area

Step 2: Following the Recipes

For each step of the recipe, I tell Gwen how much of which ingredient is next up. If we’re using a recipe from her cookbook, Gwen can do this step herself.

Gwen measures the ingredients out

We have slightly different procedures for bulk dry ingredients, small quantity dry ingredients, wet ingredients, and eggs.

For bulk dry ingredients:

  1. Gwen puts the correct measuring cup in a cereal bowl: The cup in the bowl
  2. Gwen scoops the ingredient into the measuring cup, with any overage being easily contained by the cereal bowl: Gwen scooping into the measuring cup
  3. Mama “swoops” off the excess flour/sugar/whatever with a butter knife: Mama swooping off the excess
  4. Gwen pours the ingredient into a mixing bowl: Gwen pouring into the mixing bowl Gwen pouring into the mixing bowl Gwen pouring into the mixing bowl
  5. There are frequently spills. Don’t freak out about it. I usually just gather it up in my hand and toss what I can into the bowl. Gwen spilling flour
  6. Mama pours the excess back into the container: Mama pouring the excess back into the flour container

For small quantity dry ingredients:

I think that this is one of the keys to success- If you’re off by a few tablespoons of flour in a cake recipe that has 6 cups of flour, you’re gonna be fine. If you’re off by a tablespoon of baking powder, though, you’re not gonna have a good time. So, let the parent do the precision work here!

  1. Mama measures out the smaller quantity ingredients that need to be more precise, like baking powder, baking soda, etc. (Not pictured, because I’ve only got the two hands)
  2. Gwennie pours the ingredients in: Gwen pouring in cocoa powder

For wet/liquid ingredients:

* Gwen holds the measuring spoon/cup over the receiving bowl so that any spills are easily contained
* Mama pours the liquid into the spoon/cup
* Gwen empties the measuring cup/spoon into the receiving bowl

For eggs:

* Use two cereal bowls, so that you don't spend twenty minutes extracting egg shell from a bowl of eggs after overeager hands crush an egg into oblivion
* Gwens cracks one egg into the first bowl
* Gwen cracks the second egg into the second bowl
* Mama pours the second bowl into the first bowl
* Mama cracks the third egg into the second bowl, because Gwen is totally over it by this point
* Mama pours the second bowl into the first bowl
* Repeat until you have the right number of eggs Mention separating eggs

Mixing

For steps that require mixing, Gwen and Mama take turns with the spoon or whisk

Gwen whisking

Small Appliances

For steps that use the mixer, Gwen is in charge of putting on the beater, and turning the mixer on and off. For whatever reason, she has zero interest in operating the food processor, so that’s Mama Work.

Pouring and Scooping

For steps that require pouring/scooping, Gwen likes to take charge of our cookie scoop to do the job.

Heat, Fire, Etc.

Mama always handles getting things in and out of the oven

Candles