Letting Kids Help With: Christmas Cookies

Christmas baking and kids might sound like an easy combination — I mean, c'mon, it's Christmas! And who likes cookies more than kids, right?!

But it's also sugar and flour and frosting EVERYWHERE, and you can kiss those perfectly iced sugar cookies goodbye (at least for a while). It's time to say hello to blue pine trees and red snowmen, people.

It's hard, yes, but try not to expect the idyllic baking day. (But, hey, it can happen!) Photo: Thinkstock

It's hard, yes, but try not to expect the idyllic baking day. (But, hey, it can happen!) Photo: Thinkstock

And look, Christmas brings with it a lot of tasks — decorating and shopping and large family meals. So, maybe the thought of baking is too stressful for some. I get that. But for the record, I love all of the Christmas tasks, so I'm a bad person to ask. 

And one of my own personal childhood memories is holiday baking. So, it's something I wanted to share with my own son. I've been waiting for him to be old enough to really get involved — and to hopefully have outgrown a few allergies so that we could actually make cookies he'd be able to eat.

My boy. 

My boy. 

Well, last weekend, my mom, my 16-year-old nephew, my 3-year-old son and I piled into my kitchen to make cookies. We made Spritz cookies. We made peanut butter cookies. And we made sugar cookies that the kids could decorate with frosting and sprinkles. (And all were dairy-free and egg-free!)

When the boys called it quits, I realized that we had been baking and decorating and enjoying one another’s company for over 3 1/2 hours. Now, I don’t know what anyone else’s 3-year-old's attention span is, but my son's is pretty short. I honestly cannot remember the last time he did anything for 3 1/2 hours straight. In fact, some nights he doesn’t even sleep that long before he wanders into our room.

I considered baking day a success.


Ways to Make Christmas Baking with Kids Enjoyable

So, here are a few takeaways from our experience that might help you enjoy the time rather than stress out about it.

  • Let go of perfection. As with all things with kids, you have to let go of perfection, of stock images like the one above, of clean clothes and clean kitchens, of Martha Stewart and Pinterest. It's not gonna happen. (And hey, cookies are delicious even if they're ugly, so who cares.)
  • Remember why you're doing this. HOLIDAY MEMORIES. 
  • Team up. Look, I love, love, love mommy/son time. I cherish it beyond measure, and I'm always on the lookout for things we can do together, just the two of us. But having another adult and another "kid" (even if he's 16) really helped. If you have an only child, think about inviting a friend or cousin over. I think it helps with the level of engagement. PLUS, the grown-ups can share responsibilities so it's less daunting for you! My mom and I handled moving the baking sheets in and out of the oven, setting timers and washing dishes (though, to be fair, my mom did most of that). And we each made some dough in advance.
  • Make dough in advance. Some dough works better after it's been refrigerated. Plus, if you want to make more than one type of cookie, you'll likely be washing measuring spoons and cups, bowls and beaters in order to make all the dough. For our baking day, we made two batches of dough in advance and one with the kids. They got to watch the KitchenAid mixer spin around, which is something my son always enjoys. They got to help measure and pour ingredients (though you can pre-measure to help move things along). But by prepping in advance, we eliminated a lot of the wait time. For older kids, this might not be a big deal. But for little ones lacking in patience, this was helpful.
  • Do it when the neat partner is gone. My husband is neater than I am. Just naturally. More organized, less clutter, neater. I aspire to be all of those things, but there's always something else that takes priority (writing, sleeping, exercising, playing with my son). Baking cookies can be MESSY. You have to let it go. And if you have a spouse/partner who shouldn't see how the sausage is made ... well, send 'em out of the house for a day. Mine was gone for several days, so I had a chance to clean up (a little) before he came home. 


How Kids Can Help Make Christmas Cookies

So, what can the kids do? Obviously, depending on age, lots of things. They can even man the oven if you want. In our case, here's what our kiddos enjoyed:

  • Mixing. My son loves dumping ingredients into the mixing bowl and flipping the switch. Can't get enough. (My nephew and nieces were always the same way as little ones.)
  • Rolling balls of dough. For cookies that need to be rolled into balls before baking (like our PB cookies), this is a great task for older kids. My nephew took control of this task, while my son rolled the balls of dough around in colored sugar.
  • Spritzing cookies. My son is too little for this, but my nephew enjoyed it greatly. My son loved just watching the cookies come out (and helping to pick the design).
  • Rolling dough. Both kids enjoyed tackling this task. (But yikes, flour went everywhere!) 
  • Cutting cookies. This is what I really remember from childhood. And both the teenager and the 3-year-old enjoyed using cookie cutters.
  • Decorating! And, of course, they enjoyed using frosting and sprinkles to decorate. Because my son is so little, I just made a few different colors of frosting in bowls and they used plastic knives to spread the frosting. But for older kids, consider frosting bags with fun tips. 
  • Eating cookies. Yes, we're all wary of sugar. Yes, we're good parents. But seriously, let them eat a few. That's part of the fun.
I told ya. The KitchenAid.

I told ya. The KitchenAid.