Ah, voicemail transcription. Recently, my name, Mary Zbaracki, auto-corrected in a message as “Mary the Bakery.” While this moniker clearly does not fit, it does perhaps describe my latest and cherished role, that of personal teacher of “Grandkids in the Kitchen.”

To be specific, we did not start with baking, but rather coloring Easter eggs. That first year, Adam was still in diapers, and Catherine appeared with her floppy rabbit ears and to-the-ankle paint shirt. Even standing on sturdy chairs, the kids barely reached the counter. But we became hooked, and it took a pandemic to interrupt our annual tradition.

Looking back, it was an easy transition to baking. Their practice with embellishing eggs was good preparation for what I would call slice and decorate cookies, a.k.a. "slice and bake*."

Soon, we graduated to baking from scratch, which involved much more patience (me) and ability (them). It also revealed their individualized approach to tasks such as cracking an egg. For one child, this was three gentle taps, resulting in barely a hairline fracture, and the other, one fell swoop, producing a gooey mass of shell and egg. But now they can both execute this maneuver with video-ready perfection.

We’re not ready for the Pillsbury Bake-Off or any kind of baking show for that matter, but we’ve learned some lessons along the way.

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Mary Zbaracki's grandchildren, Catherine and Adam, in the kitchen. 
Contributed / St. Luke's
Mary Zbaracki's grandchildren, Catherine and Adam, in the kitchen. Contributed / St. Luke's

Here are the basics for a fun and valuable experience for everyone. A child can participate in all of these steps and skills, building a foundation to last a lifetime, along with some very pleasant and delicious memories.

Prepare, prepare, prepare: Select the recipe and read all the way through.

Assemble ingredients: Check expiration dates, quality and quantity gather specific items such as spatulas, pans, hot pads, cooling rack, measuring cups and spoons, cutting board, and utensils.

Above all, be clean and be safe: Wash hands frequently. Don’t eat raw cookie dough or flour! Keep the work space clean and uncluttered, clean up as you go, tie hair back or wear a cap, wear appropriate clothing (avoid sleeves that are too long or loose), supervise and instruct regarding hot pans, oven, and stove to avoid burns, and be very cautious around knives. If age-appropriate, teach how to use a knife safely. Supervise use of any kitchen electrical appliance; children should not operate alone.

Math skills: Learn the basics of teaspoons, tablespoons, measuring cups, ounces in a cup, size of various pans, serving size of a recipe.

Quiz time: How many teaspoons in a tablespoon or tablespoons in a cup? Can you double a recipe (including fractions) in your head? What part of a cup is a stick of butter?

Food science: Baking is about chemistry for all the right reasons! Start with very simple activities, such as identifying and separating wet and dry ingredients. Lead with questions such as: What makes a cookie turn brown? What makes a cookie rise and then fall back into a flatter, more-wrinkled state? Gradually look at individual ingredients and their function. For example, baking powder? An egg? Brown sugar? White granulated sugar? Most of all, enjoy your time together!

Peanut Butter Pistachio Cookies

This is a simple cookie recipe with a few options to dress it up for the holidays. Let the baking season begin!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 medium eggs

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios

Optional ingredients:

Colored granulated sugar to roll cookie in prior to baking.

Whole pistachios or chocolate kisses for placing in center of cookie right after removing from oven. (Do this with care; beware of hot pan).

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter and butter. Beat with electric mixer until blended. Add eggs, vanilla extract and pistachios and blend.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and baking powder. Gradually add this to the sugar/butter/egg mixture. Beat just until a dough forms.

3. Using hands, roll dough into 1-inch balls. If desired, roll each 1-inch dough ball into granulated sugar.

4. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly.

5. Bake 8-10 minutes and remove from oven.

6. Immediately press chocolate kiss or whole pistachio in center of cookie.

7. Remove cookies from sheet to cooling rack.

Nutrition Information: Serving size: One Cookie Calories per Cookie: About 120 Carbohydrate: 15 grams Protein: 2 grams Fat: 6 grams

*Snack idea: For a more nutritious spin on slicing and decorating, try slices of apple or pear, cut into circles and spread with peanut butter, or a light cream cheese. Children can develop their own designs for topping, including: diced fresh or dried fruit, crushed cereal, finely shredded carrot or chopped nuts.

Mary W. Zbaracki is a dietitian for St. Luke's.
Mary W. Zbaracki is a dietitian for St. Luke's.

Mary W. Zbaracki, MPH, RD, LD, CDCES, CNSC, is a St. Luke’s clinical dietitian.