Tag Archives: Cooking

Cake Mix Cookies. Better Than the Easy Bake Oven

Do you remember the Easy Bake Oven?  You may even have an Easy Bake now, as they’ve been revived.  One of the clinchers for the Easy Bake is the simple mix that allows a child to pour, stir, and create all on her own, and bake…well…less than savory delicacies.  (Another downer, in addition to the finished product, is the fact that these refill mixes don’t come cheap.)  Well, here’s a baking experience that’s just as easy, but a bit more authentic, and whole lot more palatable. 

Now, before I get comments about nutrition and sugar, let me make the disclaimer that I am not advocating feeding these treats to your children for breakfast.  I’m also not suggesting you make them on a regular basis.  And if your nutritional guidelines don’t allow for a few crazy treats now and then, I admire your discipline, but this recipe may not be for you.  Ahh.  Now that my conscience is clear,here’s the basic recipe:

Cake Mix Cookies

1 cake mix

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1 cup mix-ins, optional

(In the above picture I used a Yellow Cake Mix with Reese’s Pieces, mostly because the candies had been mocking me from the pantry all day and baking them into cookies was the only way I could think of to keep from eating them by the handful.)

That’s it!  So simple!  Just mix, scoop onto cookie sheets, and bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes.

I love this recipe because many children can mix them all on their own!  My five year-old niece did just that this weekend as she asked for a baking project while visiting at my house.  I loved seeing the excitement in her face when she presented my brother with the cookies and told him she made them all by herself!  (You may need to supervise with an electric mixer if mixing by hand is too arduous, and, of course, you need to oversee the hot oven part of the endeavor.)

I also love this recipe for the versatility!  Brainstorm with your children on the many ways they could use this simple combination.  Allow them to create and experiment, even when you think the combination may not sound so appetizing!  Learning from mistakes and adapting is critical in cooking and in life!  I’m personally a bit partial to the Devils Food with chocolate chips, though you might try these combinations too:

  • Yellow with Chocolate Chips
  • Yellow rolled in Cinnamon and Sugar (a la Snickerdoodles)
  • Devils Food with Cream Cheese frosting sandwiching two cookies together like Oreos
  • White with Craisins and White Chocolate Chips
  • Anything with M&Ms!
  • Spice Cake with Nuts, Raisins, and a little Oatmeal
  • You could even set up a cookie creation center with mix-ins and let your children custom design each cookie!

While I generally advocate cooking from scratch, using a simplified recipe like this is a great way to give a child more independence and ownership in the cooking process, building self-esteem.  It also helps the child to learn a step-by-step process, when the steps have been minimized.  The versatility of this particular recipe is also fantastic for building culinary creativity and confidence in experimentation (a key part of the scientific process).  The act of cooking in general is an incredibly rich experience.  Read more about how it benefits children here.

Lastly, I like this recipe because there’s always that day when you need a last minute dessert for your impromptu picnic; or the realization that you have made a commitment to bring a baked treat somewhere in about 20 minutes coinciding with the realization that you have no flour in your house (both based on true stories). 

*Speaking of stories, you could tie this in to a literacy experience by reading the book, Mmm, Cookies! by Robert Munsch.

Enjoy some easy baking together with your little ones!



Filed under book activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, self help skills, Snack Time

Set the Table – A Preschool Food Study

FoodThere’s something about November that just makes me hungry!  Perhaps it’s the time-honored tradition of gluttony, and maybe it’s the fond association with childhood memories of loved ones around a table……or just around a kitchen counter.  Food is not only essential for fueling our bodies, it is often a hallmark of culture and a centerpiece of celebration.  This month I’ll be posting activities supporting a food theme to be implemented with preschoolers.

Objectives! You didn’t think I would post something without telling you why, did you?  That would just go against everything I believe in!  So here’s the nitty gritty.  A food study provides plenty of opportunities for children to have cooking experiences, the benefits of which I have discussed here. They also learn about the origins of food, ie that lemonade comes from a lemon not a box, milk is produced by a cow, not a factory.  There are plenty of opportunities to talk about choosing a variety of foods, trying new foosd, and the importance of healthy foods for our bodies.  I also like to take the opportunity to talk about manners a bit and give them the chance to practice and pretend in a restaurant theme.  Here are some of the activities I’ll be posting, and then linking back to this post.

Cinnamon Spice Playdough (Sensory, Fine Motor)

Pizza Shop Dramatic Play (Social, Language)- Though other ideas might include another type of restaurant,  bread store, ice cream shop, or grocery store.

Favorite Foods –  Group Collage (Fine Motor, Sorting, Literacy)

Utensil Paint (Creative, Small Motor)

Food Prints (Creative, Small Motor)

Hot Plate Art (Science, Creative)

Cornmeal in the Sensory Table (Sensory, Small Motor)

Water Moving (Science, Small Motor, Sensory)

Goopy Goop (Creative, Sensory)

Gel Molds (Small Motor, Sensory)

Popcorn Table (Small Motor, Sensory)

Cookie Cutter Art here and here (Creative, Small Motor)

Not Just Blocks (Spatial Skills, Constructive Play, Block Area)

We’re Going to the Store (Music, Language)

Apples and Bananas (Music, Language, Snack)

The Little Red Hen and Bread Making (Language, Cooking, Procedural, Science)

Making Butter (Large Motor, Science)

Making Doughnuts (Sensory, Science, Cooking Experience)

Caramel Popcorn (Cooking, Science)

Five Ways to Serve Up a Pumpkin (Cooking, Science)

Fun Food Field Trips

Book Activities:

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann   – Healthy Food Sort

Stone Soup – Making Stone Soup

Mmm, Cookies! by Robert Munsch – Playdough Cookies

Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman – Making Pink Lemonade/Whole Language

The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian – Feed the Thing

Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson (Yes, The Dutchess of York)

If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff – Syrup Painting

More Spaghetti I Say by Rita Golden Gelmen and Mort  Gerberg – String Paint

The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing  – Thanksgiving Project

Other Favorite Food Books (Language & Literacy)

As a note, I utilize these activities in this order with a large group for the progression of concepts:

Pinkalicious – Introduce Eating a Variety of Healthy Foods

Little Red Hen and Bread Making – Grains

Making Butter – Dairy and Protein- Food Sources that Come from Animals (I focus on dairy and eggs when talking about the process of getting the food from the source to the table, that’s easy for the kids to understand, but we also brainstorm other sources like chicken nuggets and tuna fish, just not in as much detail.)

Stone Soup – Fruits and Veggies

Tea for Ruby  – Good Table Manners

This is a very broad foods theme.  You may very likely want to springboard from this to create several more specific, in-depth themes, such as focusing just on fruits and vegetables, or just on breads, or just on grocery stores.  There are many food-related topics that would be great themes in and of themselves.  This broader food theme, may serve just as a jump-start for some of you!  I’m sure there will be more to come!

Top photo by Joel Terrell.


Filed under Unit Themes

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread Recipe


As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a rare thing to find a snack that every child likes.  While I hesitate to give a definite guarantee on this one, I don’t think I’ve had a child yet who has refused it!

I like to have the children help me make this on a day when we have a pumpkin cut open in the sensory table.  That way, we can easily make comparisons between the texture of the uncooked pumpkin and the cooked (and canned) pumpkin.  This is also a very aromatic recipe, and I like to take advantage of that, having the children smell the spices and the vanilla as they are added.   By taking the time to talk about textures and smells, you’re enhancing not only the child’s sensory experience, but also his language experience.  I also like to build in a literacy experience by having the ingredients listed on a poster and then having the children help me match some of the letters on the containers.  Of course there’s also the math opportunity as you count eggs and cups full of flour.  (Read this article for more ways that children benefit from cooking activities.)

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 c sugar

4 eggs

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin (or half of the larger sized can)

1 tsp vanilla

3 ½ cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 tsp nutmeg

½ tsp ginger

½ tsp cloves

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips  (Optional.  Though I suppose it wouldn’t be called Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread, then would it?)


Mix the first five ingredients.  Mix dry ingredients together and then add to the wet ingredients.  Fold in the chocolate chips last.  Divide between two large, well greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 for 65-75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

If you’re working with time constraints, you can make a batch ahead of time, and the, through the magic of television, have the bread ready in time for snack!

Enjoy one of fall’s perfect treats!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!

Top photo by shuttermon.

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Filed under language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, sensory activity, Snack Time

Baked Doughnuts-Fit for a Parade

DSCN1467Ahh, doughnuts.  Few treats get children so excited!  I’m personally not a fan of deep fat frying.  My body doesn’t react well to the smell and when I eat it much my stomach feels unsettled.  That, and my hips and thighs swell in a strange sort of allergic reaction.  At any rate, when I’m the cook at the wheel, I prefer this healthier recipe for baked doughnuts.  If you want to, have your little chefs assist you through the entire recipe.  It’s not too difficult, and those little hands always get a kick out of kneading and rolling.  Observing first hand the effect of yeast is a science project in itself.  And since these are baked, not fried, they’re not only healthier, but you also have a little less to worry about in the burn department.  As another option, you can have the doughnuts ready, and just let the children help with the topping.  Either way, this cooking activity is sure to excite your little ones as they personalize each doughnut.  Turn it into a literacy activity by reading a good book like The Great Doughnut Parade beforehand, or while the dough rises!

Here’s the to-do and to-what list:

2 pkgs (or 2 Tbsp) dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup vegetable shortening, margarine, or butter

1/4-2/3 cups sugar (depending on how sugar-free you’re trying to be)

2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Toppings (melted butter, cinnamon sugar, sprinkles, powdered sugar glaze, etc.)

Mix half of the flour, the yeast, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Melt the shortening in the water (but don’t get it too hot).  Add the water, milk, vanilla, and eggs to the dry mixture and mix well.  Slowly add in the remaining flour until you have a soft dough.  Turn onto a flour dusted surface and knead just a few times.  Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a towel.  Let it rise in a warm (not hot) place for 30-60 minutes or until doubled in size.  (I find that if I turn my oven on at 200 degrees for about 1 -2 minutes, then turn it off, it makes a perfect warm spot to speed up the rising time.) 

Punch down the dough and turn it onto floured dusted counter again.  Roll out about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut out the doughnuts and place them on a greased cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart.  Allow to rise for about 20 minutes while your oven preheats to 450 degrees.  Bake about 10 minutes, but watch them closely because all ovens cook a little bit differently, and at 450 degrees a little extra time makes a big difference!  When they are just a bit golden, remove from the oven.

Give each child a doughnut to first “paint” with a pastry brush and melted butter, or powdered sugar glaze (mix powdered sugar and milk until it is about the consistency of Elmer’s glue).  Then they can either shake on sprinkles, dip in cinnamon sugar, or top in whatever other way you can imagine!  Serve while still warm!  Then maybe you can have a doughnut parade of your own!

**Don’t be afraid of yeast bread recipes.  As I mentioned before, it is a great science experience and it doesn’t have to be complicated.  I prefer SAF yeast.  You add it directly to your dry ingredients, and don’t have to mess with the whole warm water and sugar concoction.  Give it a shot!

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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, Recipes - Edible, science activity

Caramel Popcorn….It’s in the bag!

Photo by bgraphic.

caramel-popcornCooking is a great activity to do with kids!  There are plenty of ways children can help with almost any recipe, but some recipes just lend themselves to increased interest and participation from your little culinary artists.  This is one of them!  Caramel popcorn… in a bag… in the microwave!  It’s almost magical! 

(*As with any recipe be sure to know the limits of your children and your facility’s policies for safety if applicable.  Popcorn in particular may not be suitable for certain children or allowed in specific programs.)

Start with 8 cups of popped popcorn in a large paper sack (grocery store size).  I’ve found that 1/2 cup of kernels popped in my air popper equals about 8 cups, or a little more.  (Typically I’ll sneak in some extra popcorn just to “stretch” the recipe.  That’s what growing up in a big family will do for you!)
In a microwavable bowl, combine:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Karo syrup
1/2 tsp salt
Microwave for 3-4 minutes, until frothy.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp soda
Stir to combine well, and then pour over the popcorn in the bag.  Roll down the top to seal and shake to coat.  (When microwaving and shaking the bag, some of the melted butter will seep through.  Just be sure to avoid touching those parts, and particularly point them out to your little ones that might be shaking the bag.)
Microwave, the bag and all, for 30 seconds and shake again.
Repeat until you have done a total of 2 minutes in the microwave.  (The original recipe says 3-4 minutes, but that was always to much in my micro.  If you do 2 minutes and the caramel corn still looks too sticky and thick, repeat the 30 second micro and shake sessions until it looks well coated.)
When it’s done, pour the popcorn into a large bowl, and let it cool.  Enjoy!  (When we had it along with apple slices recently, the combination was a tasty caramel apple sensation….and it got some fruit in!)

Involving children in making this recipe, exposes them to math concepts as you measure together, motor skills as you both stir and shake, science concepts as heat changes the properties of matter, and certainly sensory experiences as they hear, smell, see, and taste their creation!  Cooking is a great cognitive activity in general as it demonstrates cause-effect and ordered procedures.  Most of all, it’s a great activity for bringing everyone together in a positive social interaction!


Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible

Book Activity: Mmm, Cookies!

mmm-cookies1This fantastically fun read is by one of my favorite authors, Robert Munsch.  He began as a storyteller who always knew how to get and keep a child’s attention, and was later convinced to put his stories into print.  This silly tale follows a little boy through his mischief as he makes pretend cookies out of playdough and serves them to his unsuspecting family and friends.  It’s sure to grab the interest young children as they join in the repetitive text and absorb the outrageous illustrations of the characters’ outlandish reactions to eating playdough.

Each time Christopher makes a new cookie, this book implements a fantastic use of onomatopoeia with a repetitive text that just begs for kids to join in.  Here’s how I do it (words in italics from the text):

“He whapped it in his hands-Whap, whap, whap, whap.”  (Have everyone join in the “whap’s” and clap your hands together like you’re patting dough.)

“Made it nice and round – Swish, swish, swish, swish, swish.” (Make the “swish’s” together while rubbing hands together in a circular motion.)

“Sprinkled it with sugar – Chick, chick, chick, chick, chick.” (While saying “chick”, rub fingers of one hand together above the other open hand, as though sprinkling the sugar.)

“Covered it with yellow icing – Glick, glick, glick, glick, glick.” (With each “glick”, rub one hand on the other as though spreading something thick.)

“And put some raisins on top – Plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk.” (“Plunk” pretend raisins by poking the pointer finger and thumb into the other palm.)

This pattern repeats several times.  The first time you may need to be explicit with the children, inviting them to join in with you, but by the end they’ll know just when to come in! 

After reading this story, make some playdough cookies of your own using the classic playdough recipe, along with some glitter sprinkles, beads, or whatever comes to mind!  Just make the children promise they won’t feed them to their parents like Christopher did!  You may also want to check out this edible playdough cookie recipe for real cookies that only LOOK like playdough for a fun twist on the story!

Developmental Objectives:  Language and Literacy Skills, Creativity, and Small Motor Skills

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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Recipes - Edible, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah

Photo provided by  Swat Ka So

Buried Treasure Muffins, Grandma’s Cookies, and of course, scrambled eggs, were some of the first things I learned to cook as a child.  Chef Brockett was my mentor along with my own mother, who endured eggs broken on the floor and failed experiments the dog wouldn’t even eat.  Really.  These early experiences may have led me to become the culinary genius that I am today (well, at least the dog will eat my failures now, that’s improvement), but the opportunities also served to build basic developmental skills that many do not immediately associate with cooking.

The Culinary Scientist

As children participate in a cooking experience, they are enveloped in a rich sensory world.  The whir of the mixer, the texture of bread dough, the smell of cinnamon, the observed change to golden brown in the oven, and of course, the sweet taste of cinnamon rolls all feed and fine-tune the child’s five basic tools for gathering scientific information.  Other science experiences are also prevalent as they observe physical changes like melting chocolate and cooked noodles, as well as chemical reactions from yeast or baking soda.


Along with developing science and sensory skills, children hone their motor skills as they stir, scoop, knead, and sprinkle.  Add to that the benefit to their math skills as they measure, consider fractions, see a visual times table in muffin tins and cookie rows, and count ingredients. Cooking is also an excellent activity for building language and literacy skills.  Reading is enhanced as they read recipes and find letters on labels, and vocabulary is developed when they learn words like “sift”, “whip”, “spread” through actions and personally experience the meaning of descriptors like “tart”, “rich”, “crisp”, and “bitter”.

Compliments to the Chef

One definite benefit to bringing kids in the kitchen (besides the chance that you may never have to cook again once your child becomes a gourmet chef) is the fact that children are often more enthusiastic about devouring one of their own creations than eating the chore presented to them on a plate.  They also gain independence and decision-making prowess as they plan and prepare the family meal with you.

Family Ties and Apron Strings

Cooking is also a way to pass on family lore as you make “Sheepherder Potatoes” like Grandpa would eat on the ranch, or the chicken rolls Dad made for Mom on their first date.  Perhaps the most valuable benefit to cooking with young children is spending time with loving adults and the message that sends to them about their value and competence.  The vital ingredients, are time, togetherness, and talk!


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