Baking Isn't Just For Girls: Here's Why I Bake With My Son

I was thrilled when I learned I was expecting a boy as my first child. But I had to make peace with the fact that I might not get to dress him up in cute little yellow dresses and put bows in his hair and put on makeup together and bake cookies.

But I thought more about it and realized it was small thinking. What would be the harm in us playing dress-up and painting nails if he wanted to, even though he was a boy? I remembered boys in my class wearing nail polish over the years, and it didn’t seem to make a difference on how they were treated or any other aspect of their lives.

Then one day, he got old enough — maybe around age 2 or so — to want to help me work on a recipe I was making. And it turned out to be a great activity to do together. I measured out the ingredients, and he dumped them into the bowl. He had fun stirring ingredients around with a spoon. The OCD part of me had to come to terms with the mess that it made. But it really wasn’t a big deal at all.

And then all of a sudden, it became one of our favorite things to do together. We baked cookies. We made bread. We made muffins. We made cake. And then he started helping me with other recipes. He would dump the rice into the rice maker. He would pour the cheese into the macaroni and cheese. Though he wasn’t exactly cooking, we were able to create lots of meals and recipes together. And I was starting to teach him the building blocks of a valuable life skill. And it was fun.

Later, we experimented with charcuterie and even tried making our own pizza dough, which turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be. He loves rolling out the dough and putting toppings on it. I was even able to put veggies on his pizza, which is how I learned he tolerates and even likes mushrooms. He’s also developed an appreciation for olives through making pizza together.

Baking has taught him to appreciate cinnamon, and I’ve learned he will eat pretty much anything with a few sprinkles on top of it. This works well for oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies, which I love making for him because I can hide spinach in them. It’s become a way he can learn about food and nutrition, and we can use it as a springboard for discussions about what a healthy diet looks (and tastes) like.

Cooking, which once felt like an annoying chore, has also become more interesting to me, and I feel more enthusiastic about it because he enjoys it. I have begun to buy more cookbooks and take more of an interest in kitchen gadgets and different cultures' foods with him in mind. I have signed us up for mommy-and-me cooking classes, which, while not cheap, he loves.

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I keep my eye out for fun, easy recipes online that he might enjoy. I have learned more about his palate and, consequently, about mine. I have become more aware of what textures and flavors and colors and tastes and foods he likes and doesn't like. It has begun to shape the TV and radio programs and music and books we consume together. Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen was a staple at our house for a while, and we began to enjoy watching short cooking videos together. He even had a cute little apron he would wear while we baked.

No one ever said anything like, “You let your son do that?” or “Baking is for girls,” or “You and your SON made these cookies?”

It always surprises me how gender expectations affect our quality of life and our actions and behaviors.

Today, he is 6, and we still bake and cook together. Now and then I can even use this activity to bribe him: "If you pick up your toys, we can try a new recipe I found ... "

Sometimes it even works.

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