• A Wild Lass

Homemade Cookies: Conquering Perfect Mom Syndrome and making it enjoyable for kids

If you’ve ever thought, “The kids would love decorating cookies! Let’s bake some Christmas treats!” Then you’ve probably gotten halfway in and encountered serious frustration. Whether you stuck it out (kudos to you, mama) or abandoned the project (been there--solidarity, sister), baking cookies with toddlers is definitely not for the faint-of-heart.


Fortunately, we mamas stick together. If someone screws up, everyone else can learn from it. So this post is all about my screwups, because baking cookies with kids really can be fun. You may need a little extra planning and forethought, but if you’re determined to manufacture some Christmas joy for your little ones, take courage. You’ll get there, and you may even have a little fun, too. Take a look.


Photo: Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

*Disclaimer: Some of the links you see may be affiliate links. All that means is if you click through and end up making a purchase, I’ll earn a commission.


1. Create A Distraction


Bring a small table with small chairs into the kitchen. Wherever you can find a spot, plop it down, as long as it’s not in your pathway to the pantry. You’ll want to have a place where you can let the kids play when they get bored (let’s face it--a toddler’s attention span is shorter than an Oompa-Loompa). Try loading the table with small rolling pins, cookie cutters, and Play Dough for them to pretend while you’re working on the real thing. Here’s my favorite homemade play dough recipe; I’ve added essential oil scents before and different colors of glitter to make it more fun.


If you have no table like this, or one won’t fit, choose your child’s favorite toy. Our young lassies like the car play mat and my collection of Hot Wheels from 25 years ago. It can keep them busy for at least 20 minutes, sometimes 45 on a good day. You’ll need all the allies you can get. Use toys or a table to create a distraction to get you and the kids through the cookie baking process.


2. Enlist Help (hubby or friend)


While you may be hoping to work on this project when hubby is at work, it may be easier to enlist his help. Baking all together as a family on a Saturday morning can be a fun activity, and you’ll get a lot more miles out of it if you have another adult to help wrangle children.


If that’s not what you had in mind, and you want to save your Saturday time for different quality time with hubby, I understand. We’re pretty protective of our weekends. Consider doing a baking play date with a fellow mama in the trenches. You can help wrangle each other’s kids and share a cup of sugar if you run out. Please note, I’ve done this many times, but it does require significant planning ahead:

  • What recipes will you make?

  • Will you bake at her house or yours?

  • Will either of you actually bake all the cookies, or freeze the dough for fresh cookies later?

  • Whose ingredients will you use?

  • Whose pans and measuring cups will you use (and does she have enough to share)?

Keep it casual as you hash out the details, but make sure you’re prepared so no one is embarrassed or frustrated. Your kids may even stay entertained longer with other kids to play with.


You can combine the two methods of enlisting help, too. We bake at Christmas with another family, and the daddies hang out with the kids, who mostly play by themselves now, and the mommies bake. It’s a good time for all of us!


3. Prepare Ahead of Time


This tip depends on what is most important to you. If you want to spend quality time with the kids and have them remember decorating cookies as an enjoyable family tradition, then it’s best to make the dough ahead of time. Most sugar cookie dough needs to chill, so I’d recommend mixing it up the night before. Then you can spend time rolling and cutting and baking and decorating with the kids.


If the most important thing to you is getting cookies baked and ready to give away or serve at a party, then the prep work is different. You may want to bake them ahead and just let the kids enjoy some decorating, while you do some careful decorating on the cookies you will give away. Either way, modify your preparations based on the end goals to get the most enjoyment out of the process.


4. Lower Your Expectations


Photo: Photo by Dilyara Garifullina on Unsplash

Don’t expect your cookies to come out looking perfect like this picture. While you hope they do, chances are it’s not going to happen when your sous-chef is three years old. Instead, you’ll want to expect that you’ll have to take frequent breaks to help small children use the bathroom, find new toys when they get bored, and mediate disputes when they aren’t getting along. You may even have to bake the rest of the dough the next day, if you get too derailed. It’s a lot easier not to get frustrated if your expectations were low in the first place. And if you’re not on a time schedule, then you’ll be less stressed and have more fun.


5. Logistics and Nitty-Gritty Details


Have kids take turns standing on a stool. Invite each one to dump in an ingredient, and then switch places. The kids who aren’t “helping” can play with the toys you already have set up. They can also switch out stirring (we don’t use a mixer at our house, we do it the old fashioned way. This won’t work if you’re using a Kitchen-Aid).


Ask older kids who know where things are kept to help you get ingredients out and put them back. Talk about what each one is for (preempt the “why” questions--those drive everyone crazy!) and how important it is. Let them sniff the spices so they get an idea of what things will taste like.


Demonstrate that you’re reading a recipe, and even if they can’t read, follow along with your finger so they know that cooking is about following directions (as much as it’s nice to be thought of as an all-knowing goddess, practicality dictates that we teach our babies that they can cook anything if they can follow a recipe).


Making the Holidays Fun


I sincerely hope that by using these tried-and-true tips, you and your kids can enjoy baking together at Christmas. Whether it’s with the whole family or a mommy friend, Christmas cookies is a big part of holiday traditions, and it doesn’t have to stop if you have small children. You can even help the kids feel festive by getting them their own aprons to wear. It achieves two things: keeping their clothes cleaner (you’re welcome) and helping them feel more authentic.


Have you ever baked with your kiddos successfully? Let me know any tips you have that I didn’t mention. I’m sure I could use them! Comment on the Instagram post or on Twitter.


For more helpful holiday hacks, try these tips for getting holiday shopping done early and our holiday favorites gift guide. Or hire us to help make your holiday easier.


*Disclaimer: Some of the links you see may be affiliate links. All that means is if you click through and end up making a purchase, I’ll earn a commission.