How to (Sanely) Christmas Bake With a Toddler

Bonus tip: You will never regret buying step stools.
Bonus tip: You will never regret buying step stools. Photo by Abigail Batchelder/flickr
Baking around Christmas is a big deal for my family, and it usually takes several days before all of it is done. My kid is nearly a teenager now, which means that they are actually useful instead of a walking burn risk and collection of different pouts. If you want to try and build your own set of holiday memories with your young’in when they are a toddler, here are some tips my wife and I came by the extremely hard way.

Make the Dough Ahead of Time

Refrigerated cookie dough is good for about two weeks, which means that it’s possible to make it once they’ve gone to bed and spare yourself a lot of spilled flour and sass. Our preferred basic sugar cookie recipe actually gets even better in the fridge over a couple of days. Sectioning out the activity into mere half-hour chunks makes keeping a toddler’s attention much more manageable. Warning though: if you have a kid that gets up a lot after bedtime, plan on them joining you at the counter. I’ve yet to see a toddler pulled away from baking without fervent protest.

Preset as Much as Possible

You know how cooking shows on television already have everything set aside in neat little bowls and containers before they start? Yeah, for best results you should pretend you’re Martha Stewart really hard. Trying to measure sugar out of a bag while grabby hands desperately want to help is how you get ants under the fridge. Before inviting the kid to start assisting you, have as many ingredients as possible set up and ready to simply dump at appropriate times. Tossing stuff into a running mixer is all they really care about anyway.

Get a Stand Mixer

A Kitchen-Aid stand mixer can run more than $300, but if you bake with any regularity, they are absolutely worth it. I find that kids tend to respect the heft and size of the stand mixer more than they do a hand one, and obviously there is less chance of them swinging it around and getting the beaters stuck in your hair. We always made a game out of dumping ingredients in, pretending it was a witch cauldron. If you read about a techno-pagan cult started by someone named Rouner in a decade, this is probably why.

Prepare a Distraction

We never launched a baking session with the kid as a toddler that was not preceded by setting up a movie just for them on the television. Sometimes that meant they would wander off and completely forget the project in the name of whatever drama was happening at Monster High, but that’s okay. At this age, kids tend to get their information piecemeal. If they only help you bake half the cookies, it’s still more than zero. In fact…

Just be Prepared for Them to Be Toddlers

The goal of this exercise isn’t to train future adults. If that happens, great, but the real objective is just to involve them with what you’re doing. They’re still toddlers. Expect messes and don’t et mad when they happen. If they dig in their heels and demand dinosaur cookie cutters instead of snowmen, just go with it. Applaud them when they do well and be understanding when they’ve had enough. The effect is cumulative. Over the years, they’ll get more and more part of baking until one day, you’re the annoying presence in their kitchen.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner