We all kind of tried it, didn’t we? Baking with kids during the pandemic.
It was fun, at first, but then there were the dirty, grubby hands all over the kitchen (ahem, I mean the house). There were the impatient jumping-jellybean toddlers and what to do with them during all that waiting baking requires. And then, of course, the false starts and the errant trials where the bread was more like a slime experiment (their favorite, not exactly yours) than anything edible.
For the most part, I feel like people who baked during the pandemic are over it. Particularly those that have kids. We’re back on the hamster wheel of dropoffs and pick-ups and play dates and school carnivals and after-school activities, and underactive immune systems responding to overactive social lives and … cold after cold after cold.
I get it: Baking bread is for the birds right now. But I’m here to tell you why you should bring it back into the parenting repertoire.
When I was 3 years old my grandfather started teaching me to bake bread. As we baked, he told me the family story. A story that was phenomenal, and which I put together after years of baking with him. I learned that my grandfather escaped three tyrannies. He escaped Franco’s Spain during the Spanish Civil War by crossing the Pyrenees mountains on foot at 13. Then France when Hitler sliced open the continent. And then, he eventually fled Fidel Castro, who wanted to take the life he’d finally built in Cuba with my grandmother, along with his freedom.
What I came to realize later in life was that my grandfather cooked and baked so much because it was a sign of how far he’d come. After years of fighting and fleeing, he finally had a hearth — a place to raise a family, let dough rise and set.
There are so very many reasons why we should keep baking with our kids. Here are my top five:
Bonuses of baking with kids
Patience: Baking takes time; it’s the perfect moment to show our kids what it takes to make something from scratch. The work that goes into it. That waiting doesn’t have to be boring: We can teach our kids to clean up while we wait, and to set up for the next step. It really allows us to go through the a, b, c motions of steps and really see things through from beginning to end. Life lessons if you ask me.
Speaking of life: When baking bread, I always tell my kids to listen to the bread while it’s rising and resting. You can hear the yeast sometimes. It crackles and “whispers.” I tell my kids the bread talks, which allows me to talk about what “life,” means. What it means to breathe. Animals breathe, and we breathe, and so does bread. And you know why it talks? Because it has so many stories!
Stories: When the dishes are all washed and there is still waiting to be done, that’s when the storytelling comes in. We all have a story. I use the time to tell my kids about Papan, who passed on the recipes I share with them to me. I tell of adventures I’ve gone on too, and they tell me about their week or day, and their hopes and their dreams. So much gets revealed. Generations of stories make their way into the dough this way, literally and figuratively. That’s why bread tastes so good!
Self-sufficiency: Teaching a child to cook is a tool they’ll have for life. They’ll take it with them when they’re in their 20s, trying to make their own way, and they’ll take it with them on the dates with people they want to impress. And, they’ll share it with their own families, ensuring a beautiful generational web.
Pride: There’s nothing like reaping the fruits of your own labor, and if your kids stick with it, which you can guide them to do, they will see how simple, basic, truly rustic ingredients can make one of the most fulfilling joys, one of the most delicious smells, and one of the most shareable foods – you’ll teach them the pride of work and the joy of breaking bread.
What I learned in those sessions with my grandfather is at the core of who I am. My roots. The building blocks of my identity were molded out of dough. Which is why I feel so strongly now about sharing this tradition with my own children. I know what I learned in that kitchen with my grandfather, and no one can ever take that away from me.
Vanessa Garcia is a screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and journalist/essayist. She has written and worked for “Sesame Street,” “Caillou,” “We Are Family” and “Dora the Explorer.” Her first picture book for children, “What the Bread Says,” came out in October 2022. Vanessa also hosts a podcast about family with her own sister and mother called “Never The Empty Nest.”
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