I am a huge cook and baker. Creating food for my family is one of my true joys in life. I learned how to cook and bake at the foot of my grandmothers who were both spectacular home chefs in their own right. They made sure I knew my way around a kitchen from the time I could hold a spoon, and now I find myself in their position, teaching my children how to combine flavors, and teaching them the weird ratios of baking. Having been raised this way, I know why baking with your kids is good on a personal level, but are there true and measured benefits outside of just knowing how to cook?
There is a surfeit of scientific research surrounding the benefits of cooking and baking with your children. Food and nutritional learning has been a hot topic in the scientific field in the last 20 years as we've witnessed a rise in the rates of obesity and the evolution away from active occupations into more sedentary positions. Involving children in their own food preparation has been linked to a direct increase in food awareness, consumption, and personal confidence, according to recent research published by the Cambridge University Press.
However, much of the research focuses on making dinner, and the preparation of vegetables and other foods that kids might not normally love to eat. This makes sense as a scientific focus. Why would you worry about making breads and treats, which are not typically problem foods? It turns out that why it's good to bake with kids, as opposed to just preparing meals, is three-fold. First, while you may not think of it this way, baking is science. It is a delicious, complicated science that combines elements of chemistry, physics, botany, and biology. It is such a good tool for teaching STEAM learning that the UK has built an entire curriculum around it.
Each of the lessons in the program has an in-depth examination of what's happening when the food is baking and why. It also applies math children have learned, and it's appropriate to their learning level. They look at weights, ratios, temperature, and time, and this all comes together as they bake breads, pies, muffins, and bars. As children get older, the recipes become more advanced. For instance, older children learn about how fermentation affects yeast and how that becomes sourdough bread, or how different types of flour affect the bake. (Now we know where all that knowledge displayed on The Great British Baking Show comes from. I thought it was all in Paul Hollywood's eyes.)
The other reason why it's good to bake with kids is because it gives them a creative outlet that they might not have otherwise found on their own. As reported by Business Insider, baking and cooking involves a wonderfully weird combination improvising and planning. You need the imagination to see in your mind what you want to create, the ability to design a plan to pull that creation out of your mind and into your kitchen, and you need to plan how it will happen. It is no different than a sculptor who needs to design and execute a sculpture, or a musician who composes a song. When you bake with your kids, you are the model of this level of creativity.
Finally, baking is a fantastic way to relax and unwind. Think about it — there is something nearly meditative about kneading dough for bread, or chopping nuts for cookies. Psychologist Dr. Lisa Papadopolous told SWNS Digital News, ''In the same way composing music or drawing allows people to forget the noise of day-to-day thoughts and experience what we call ‘flow,' baking too can provide a stress relief via focussing on a creative and expressive outlet.”
Having a child underfoot while you are baking can become irritating, there's no doubt. Often I'd love to chase my children away so that messes would be fewer, and the process easier. But they wouldn't learn anything from that, and as a parent, sometimes ease comes at the cost of knowledge and growth, and that's OK. Although, thankfully, teaching them to clean up their own messes is a part of the learning as well.