Boy is booooored. I love to cook. Husband works on a team of some 35-ish people.
Of such criteria, summer plans are made. Boy is going to learn to bake this summer. Extra treats will be delivered to Husband's work.
Boy has been cooking with me for the past several years now. It's possible to get kids as young as four or so in the kitchen with you. Messy, but possible.
However, you do need to be prepared for it.
Step 0: Pick your recipe.
Pick something the kids are interested in. The first time in the kitchen is not the time to try an exotic goat cheese and artichoke soufflé. Pick something they've eaten before and enjoyed. Pancakes. Scrambled eggs. Brownies. Cookies.
Step 1: Wash your hands.
Boy knows this one by heart. In fact, now all I have to do is say, "Step 1" and he goes to the sink. Washing hands is a skill: kids won't wash between their fingers or the backs of their hands if you don't tell them. They won't check their fingernails (vital if you're mixing biscuit dough by hand). Heck, some won't even use soap. Teach them how to wash for cooking and baking.
If you're cooking with kids the first time, don't plan on sharing your goodies outside the family. Kids will sneeze into the batter, pick up the cat and then stick their fingers in the mixing bowl, drop something on the floor and then put it into the bowl. (Not that my kid has done any of these things or, uh, all of them.) You'll have to remind them constantly to wash their hands. Eventually they'll get the hang of it. Or leave the kitchen.
Step 2: Gather your ingredients.
I like to gather all my ingredients and set them on one side of the counter. This way I ensure I have all the ingredients necessary for the recipe. Also, as we use ingredients, we put them on the opposite side of the counter. If you think you're one but you still have ingredients on the "start" side, well, something's not quite right.
Step 3: Follow the recipe. Let your kid do the work.
If your kids are old enough, let them read the next step of the recipe and then perform it. If they've studied fractions (Boy learned fractions in 4th grade), let them pick out the right measuring tools. Give kids a separate bowl to crack eggs into (makes it easier for you to pick out the shells), and then have them wash their hands. Give them the correct tool if necessary, but let them sift and pour and stir. (You can always finish up "right" later.)
This is an excellent time to introduce your kiddos to the real food that goes into their goodies. Let them touch, sniff, feel, and taste. Yup, this is the start of things getting messy.
To make clean-up easier, place a rimmed cookie sheet (also called a jelly roll pan) on the work area. Place measuring cups/spoons on the sheet and have your child measure/pour over the sheet. Spilled-over ingredients are then contained on the sheet.
I'm a big believer in letting my child taste and smell everything, but I keep a big ole glass of water or milk nearby. Unsweetened cocoa and vanilla extract smell heavenly but taste terrible. I warn Boy and then recommend he use only a fingertip to taste some of the things I know are likely to be nasty.
Smelling isn't any cleaner, by the way. Boy has been known to take too deep a sniff and then sneeze all over everything. He's also stuck his entire nose into the container, ending up with me telling him to wash his nose. But it's these sniffs and tastes that eventually encourage our darlings to be more daring eaters, so I think being sprayed with a fine dusting of powdered sugar every once in a while is totally worth it.
Step 4: Lick the bowl?
Licking the bowl/beaters was a singular pleasure of my childhood. My sister and I fought over it. My husband and his sister too. Now, we know (or care) a bit more about food safety.
Let's talk about raw eggs here for a minute.
Raw eggs carry a risk of salmonella poisoning. Raw eggs like those your kid just cracked into the cookie batter (did she wash her hands after?). The risk of salmonella poisoning is relatively small. The symptoms of salmonella poisoning are fever, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea (you know, that 24-hour flu you had last week). For most people, this is just 4 to 7 days of discomfort and not straying too far from a bathroom. However, if you have a young, underdeveloped, or compromised immune system, salmonella can be dangerous. Infants, the elderly, and the ill should NOT eat raw eggs, period.
The rest of us… should probably also avoid raw eggs. Or, we can buy pasteurized in-the-shell eggs or egg product, both of which have had the salmonella bacteria removed (killed through heat). If you choose to eat raw batter/dough, and you get sick, it's NOT MY FAULT. I warned you.
Step 5: Clean up.
I make my kid "help" clean up. We put ingredients away, rinse bowls, beaters, and cups in the sink. I don't make him do too much because I want him to enjoy cooking. There's time enough to learn to clean when he has more patience and a better understanding of cause/effect.
Step 6: Enjoy.
Make a ceremony out of it, if you want. But enjoy what you've made together. Share with other family members. Brag about how your kid made these delicious cupcakes. Being effusive will encourage your children's sense of pride and make them more interested to come back to the kitchen.
Step 7: Critique and plan ahead.
Ask your child what they loved about what they made. Or what they didn't love. Then make plans for your next kitchen creation together.
For the record, Boy made Rose Levy Berenbaum's Chocolate Domingo Cake. He said, "It was so sweet you don't even need frosting." And, "It was the best thing I've EVER eaten." And, "Can we make that butter cake you were talking about next?"
I thought this was a delicious dense, but not fudgy, chocolate cake. A dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa would have classed it up a bit. Nice crumb that didn't crumble when you sliced it (although we made cupcakes to make it easier to share). Baked with a nice flat top for icing. Easy recipe to follow with very few steps or bowls for cleanup.
What will you bake with your family?