Make Your Own Birthday Cake

kids bake in the kitchen

kids diy make and bake birthday cake

If you know a little bit about me and my parenting philosophy, you’ll know that I welcome opportunities to get my children into DIY mode. The only way they’re going to learn how to do something is by getting involved, so I may give them a few pointers and then I’ll step back and let them take the lead.

My youngest, R, who I sometimes refer to here as Baby Rainbow, is no longer a baby. Sniff. She just turned two! When we’d ask her what she wanted for her birthday, her response was consistently “vanilla cake.”

Not only do I also drool over vanilla cake, but this simple request made for a totally low-key, low-stress birthday that I look forward to repeating again with future birthdays.

Baking Cakes

To get started, my 4-year old, N, and I mixed up one box of vanilla cake mix from Trader Joes. It doesn’t get easier than that, and the ingredients are actually fairly healthy.

We pulled out our rotary hand mixer/egg beater, which my daughter uses any chance she can get. Not only is it fun for kids to use, but it gets them involved in the kitchen and it does wonders for developing hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

kids use rotary mixer

 

After she mixed the batter up, we divided it into two 9-inch cake pans and cooked as directed on the box.

Meanwhile, we mixed a batch of our favorite frosting: Buttercream Frosting. Oh-my-goodness. If you’ve never made it before, it’s not only easy, but it’s also highly addictive. Yum.

My kids are always promised a beater to lick at the end of baking, which helps keep hands out of the bowl while we’re assembling.

Once the cakes cooked and cooled, we popped them out of the pans and started in on our grand assembly plan.

Cake Recipes

My 2-year old’s request: Vanilla Cake

My 4-year old’s plan: Two-tiered vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and strawberries in the middle layers. The top will be covered with sprinkles, Happy Birthday letters, a “2” birthday candle, and fairy cupcake toppers (basically, everything we had in the cabinet).

frosting cake with children

Decorating Step 1: The kids used butter knives to cover the bottom layer with raspberry jam (this was my suggestion, and they did not protest). Then we added a thick layer of vanilla frosting.

kids decorate cake

Frosting for Cake

Decorating Step 2: My 4-year old thinly sliced the strawberries and the kids layered them on the cake.

frosting cake with kids

We placed the second cake on top of the strawberry layer, and then covered the whole thing with frosting. When you’re working with children, it helps to value the process over the product. You can’t worry too much about how the cake is going to look. It’s a bonus, of course, if it looks amazing, but the important thing is that they have take pride in make something amazing happen.

cakes

We started gussying the cake up and R requested jelly beans. There were only six left in the box, and she eagerly plunked them into a corner of the cake. This ended up being her piece!

kids bake in the kitchen

And when we were done, they got the frosting bowl as a bonus.

Experiments

For more of our kid-led cooking experiments: How to Invent a Recipe with Kids, Cooking with Toddlers, Cooking with Kids (exploring butter and rosemary)

Also, one of my friends and favorite bloggers, Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent recently wrote about a birthday cake her daughter made: A Kid Made Birthday Cake. I think my kids would feel right at home in her house!

DO YOU LIKE TO COOK WITH YOUR CHILD? WHAT ARE YOU FAVORITE COOKING-WITH-KIDS RECIPES?

 

Cooking with Toddlers Made Simple

chopping salad with toddler

Cooking with toddlers made simpleAfter sharing some thoughts yesterday on how to invent a recipes with kids (by opening your kitchen up as a lab for experimentation), I thought it might help if I backed up a bit and shared a few tricks that have helped me set the stage for kitchen experimentation.

Here are my top four tips on bringing toddlers into the kitchen, making cooking with little ones fun, and keeping it simple…

 chopping salad with toddler

TIP #1

Spend time in the kitchen. I’m a big advocate for bringing children into the kitchen at an early age.

Babies won’t do much in the kitchen, obviously, but the kitchen is full of sensory experiences that can grab hold of the attention. As soon as my kids could stand, they’ve been active observers; watching me chop, stir, mix, and pour.

TIP #2

Give them tools. And as soon as they show an interest, I give my kids small bowls to mix pretend batters and salads while I make the real thing right next to them.

My youngest is 18 months old, and she loves mixing just about anything. She’s not as efficient as I am, and she’s certainly not as neat, but I know that if I include her at this young age she’ll feel comfortable in the kitchen as she grows older.

TIP #3

Find some kid-friendly knives. Did you see that my toddler is wielding a knife?

kid knives curious chef

One of my most creative friends, Rebecca Jordan-Glum (she’s just building her Facebook page — visit her here: https://www.facebook.com/JordanARTandDESIGN ) turned me on to these incredible kid-friendly knives from Curious Chef. We bought this pack of 3 knives for under $10, and use them all the time. If they’re out of stock, you can also find the knives through other Curious Chef cooking packages.

My 3.5 year old knows where to find them and can help herself, and my 18 month old will ask for “knife.” My youngest doesn’t use the knife as its intended, but she wants to join the party and I’m not going to stop her.

The knives are appropriate for children ages 5 and up, so supervision is recommended for little ones.

toddler mixing salad

TIP #4

Involve them in simple cooking projects. When I’m having a long day and I’m not in the mood for a massive clean up, I’ll try to find neater cooking projects for my kids to help with. Chopping salad is one of these projects. Scooping flour is not. Spreading butter on toast is one of these projects. Making pancakes is not.

Cooking with Kids: Resources

I’m loving Foodie Parent. It’s hilarious and there’s a section of the site called “Cooking with Kids.”

Cooking with My Kid is a beautiful site, full of practical ideas. Macki describes herself as a “Foodie by day, microwaver by night, I set out to teach my kid (and myself) the art of cooking.” I’m kicking myself because she was at Blissdom, and we didn’t meet!

Do you like to cook with your kids? What are you favorite cooking-with-kids tips? What is the most challenging part of cooking with children? Do you have a favorite “neat” cooking project?

 

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Creative Cooking

rolling out dough

While the art world may dominate a large corner of the creativity market, creative activities can be found in just about any aspect of life. And the kitchen is a great example of this.  A couple days ago my daughter spotted the candy sprinkles that we used for her birthday cupcakes, and jumped up and down with enthusiasm to make cookies — the medium (in this case, sprinkles) inspired the following 1 1/2 hours of cookie making.

When I’m in the kitchen, she’s always involved in some way or another, from scooping granola into breakfast bowls to shucking corn. And this is great for her on many levels: she learns where her meals come from (and is now in the practice of encouraging everyone to thank her for her contributions to meals…she can be sassy!), she knows where everything lives in our kitchen, and she’s beginning to understand the properties of recipes and food. When we shuck corn, for example, she hands the cob off to me when she reaches the silk because it grosses her out. And when she pretends to make pancakes I hear her naming off the ingredients (“flour, baking powder, eggs…”).

Of all the things we make together, one of the best recipes for kid participation (in my life as a parent thus far) is pizza. Kids can roll the dough, sprinkle cheese, and choose their own toppings. And with that autonomy comes problem solving (figuring out how to roll out the dough to fit the pan or resolving an area of dough that has become too thin and breaks), exploration (working with pliable dough and experiencing the feeling of cheese as it falls from the hands), and creative thinking (making choices about what goes on the pizza). And the part of making pizza that’s especially creative is that you can easily improvise with the ingredients — one day it’s pineapple/olive and the next it’s feta/sausage/mushroom. One of my favorite food writers, New York Times columnist, Mark Bittman, is well known for improvising in the kitchen. I love his cookbooks, and always feel liberated from cooking conventions when he’s by my side.

While we’ve done this in our home kitchen, this would be a really fun activity to run in a preschool, afterschool program, or camp. Given that you have access to an oven, of course. I’ve made my own pizza dough, but excellent pre-made doughs are easily found in the fridge or freezer sections of many markets. If you happen to have a Trader Joe’s near you, they have three varieties, and they’re each $.99.  In my not-enough-time-to-clean-the-house life, this is the no-brainer way to go. When we make pizza together, I always make a big pie for the family while she makes her own mini pie that she’s always very proud of.

Steps

  1. Set up your cooking area. With kids, anticipation is everything. Get out the rolling pins (if you have a mini rolling pin, this is the time to use it), clean your work surface, grab some flour for dusting, and gather your ingredients. Set up a station for yourself, and one for each child.
  2. Ingredients: Your favorite cheese (pre-shredded if you’re short on time. We make a mozzarella/feta combo.), pizza sauce, and your child’s favorite toppings. I like to put all the toppings in little bowls — cooking shows have obviously played a role in this!
  3. Create! Roll out the dough. If your child isn’t old enough for this step, give them some dough to play with and squeeze. At two years old, my daughter gets the idea of rolling, but I still jump in to help her shape it into something edible. Spoon on some tomato sauce, place toppings, and sprinkle on the cheese.  Follow the directions on your dough package to see how long your pizza should cook.
  4. Eat. And enjoy the pride you see in your child’s face, as they enjoy their own homemade pizza.

Bon Appetite!