Nutrition Activity Booklet: Gingerbread

Children will delight in this unit featuring stories of The Gingerbread Man, while building their enjoyment of cooking. The recipe is a healthy twist with less sugar and whole-wheat flour.
Nutrition Activity Booklet: Gingerbread - Articles


A Message to Those Who Care for Children

Children will delight in this unit featuring variations of stories on The Gingerbread Man, while at the same time building their enjoyment of cooking. The gingerbread cookie recipe is a healthy twist on an old recipe but with less sugar and added whole-wheat flour. Children will have fun as you help them with measuring, mixing, rolling, cutting, decorating, and eating. All five senses are used during this fun adventure with gingerbread cookies.

Jill Patterson, Ph.D., Dept. of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State

Storybooks on Baking Gingerbread Men

  • Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999) Find out what happens when Matti opens the oven door before his gingerbread is finished baking. A new twist on the traditional tale.
  • The Gingerbread Man retold by Eric A. Kimmel (Scholastic with Holiday House Inc., 1993) The classic tale of the gingerbread man who runs away to escape being eaten only to be tricked by a fox.
  • Maisy Makes Gingerbread by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick Press, 1999) Maisy the mouse enjoys mixing up a batch of gingerbread cookies to share with her friends. (Note: Remind children that when they help to bake cookies, they should not lick the spoon. The raw eggs in the batter could make them sick.)
  • Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington (Scholastic with Dutton Children’s Books, 1992) A simple story about a day in the life of a baker and his cookie shop.

Sensing the Kitchen


Use one of the storybooks listed below to introduce the five senses during your group or circle time. Be sure children understand what each sense does and how important they are in helping us learn about the world around us. Make a recording of many sounds you would hear in a kitchen such as running water, a can opening, mixing with an electric mixer, a timer ticking, chopping with a knife, a toaster popping, popcorn popping, or something frying in a pan, or other kitchen sounds. Play the tape, stopping after each sound so children can talk about what they hear.


Get several black film canisters. Punch holes in the lids of the canisters using a hammer and nail. Place an scented food or spice into each container. Some suggestions would be coffee, cocoa mix, pepper, peanut butter, onion, orange extract, cinnamon, and ginger. Children will have great fun guessing what is inside.

See and Touch

Gather pictures of various kitchen appliances and tools such as a mixer, a toaster, a microwave, a blender, and a stove. Also have on hand several kitchen utensils for children to handle such as a wooden spoon, a slotted spoon, a spatula, a wire whisk, a ladle, measuring cups, and a rolling pin. Talk about what each object is and how it is used in the kitchen. Allow children to share their experiences with using some of the kitchen items. Talk about kitchen rules such as always asking an adult for help in the kitchen.

Taste and Smell

Raisins are a healthful decoration to put on gingerbread cookies. Do your children know that raisins are dried grapes? Drying fruits preserves them. Ask for help from families for this tasting experience. Ask families to donate fruits and dried fruits such as grapes and raisins, apples and dried apple rings, pineapple and dried pineapple rings, etc. You only need a small amount of each item for a tasting activity. Allow children to taste each fresh fruit followed by its dried version. Do they taste similar? Are some more sour or more sweet? Which do they like? Have each child hold his nose and close his eyes before tasting a fruit. Can he guess what it is? A fun variation is to use gourmet flavored jelly beans to try tasting while holding your nose. Smell is very important for tasting flavors

Books for the Senses

  • Busy Bunnies’ Five Senses by Teddy Slater (Scholastic, Inc., 1999). Little bunny characters introduce all five senses with simple, easy text and bright colorful pictures.
  • Your Five Senses by Bobbi Katz (Scholastic, Inc., 1995). This book tells about all the “super-duper things” your senses do for you. Questions posted throughout the book encourage children to talk about each sense. The last pages lead to a matching game between pictures and their descriptions.

Gingerbread Cookies

Prepare to use all of your senses while making gingerbread cookies. You may want to spread this activ-ity out over two days; one day for mixing and chilling, the next for cutting out, baking, and decorating. During the entire process be sure to help children use their senses. What are they hearing, smelling, touching, seeing, and tasting? You may want to make a chart that lists some of the children’s comments to share with families. Do not forget to send a copy of the recipe home for families to enjoy.

You will need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup shortening (or 2 sticks margarine)
  • 2 eggs*, or egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole–wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together sugar and margarine. Then add the eggs and molasses. In a separate bowl sift the dry ingredients together. Then mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Cover and chill about 3 hours or until the dough is easy to handle. If doing this over 2 days, remove dough from refrigerator 1 hour before children begin to roll it out.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to an 1/8 inch thickness. Using your gingerbread boy (or girl) cookie cutter, cut dough into shapes. Place 1 inch apart onto greased cookie sheets.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets for 1 minute. Remove cookies and cool on wire racks. See the upper right-hand column for decorating ideas.

Makes 36 cookies. One cookie provides 130 calories, 2 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, and 6 grams fat.

*Use caution with raw eggs. There is a small risk of salmonella (a bacteria) contaminating raw eggs, so no one should lick the spoon. If you feel children cannot follow this rule, use powdered egg or egg substitute.

Baking Tip: Use parchment paper (found in the baking section of the grocery store) so that you can label and separate each child’s cookie while baking.

Special thanks to Birgit Patterson for recipe testing.

Decorating Ideas

  • Plump up raisins in hot water to decorate cookies before baking. Nuts such as almond slices and walnuts can also be pressed into cookies before baking.
  • After cookies have cooled, children can spread a thin coating of frosting, cream cheese, or peanut butter. Add nuts, raisins, or dried fruit pieces for the face and buttons. Eat soon if you use cream cheese.
  • Omit decorations and dip cookies into yogurt, pudding, or applesauce at snack time.

Makes 36 cookies. One cookie provides 130 calories, 2 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, and 6 grams fat.

Note to adult: Be sure to have children wash their hands before handling food. Always watch children during meals and snacks. Young children, ages 2 to 3 especially, are at risk of choking on food.

Mix Cooking with Storybooks

Cooking and Storybooks are a Good Mix

There are many versions of the story “The Gingerbread Man.” Visit your local library and check out a few. Start by reading a traditional version, such as The Gingerbread Man by Eric Kummel, where the gingerbread man is made by an elderly couple and in the end is eaten by a sly fox. On another day, after reviewing the previous day’s story, read a version that is slightly different, perhaps one which takes place in a different setting, such as The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egieslski, or one that involves different animals than the first version. After reading the second story, ask children what was the same about the two stories. Be sure to have both books available to refresh memories. After hearing several answers, ask children to name what was different between the two stories. If time and attention spans permit, you may want to chart the children’s comparisons. Finally, read a version on the third day that has a totally different ending such as The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett.

Now for the really fun part!

Have children create their own gingerbread story. This is an activity that may last many circle times. Have children choose which characters they want. Be open to ideas other than those that were in the books you read. Brainstorm an ending, then have each child draw pictures on each page of the book. You write the words on each page as told by the children. Laminate the pages and bind it together for your library. It’s sure to become a favorite. Don’t forget to share it with families.

Why Cook with Kids?

Cooking allows children to use their senses, improve their fine motor skills, be curious, and try new foods. It also allows them to observe food changes (“It looked different going into the oven than it does coming out”), build self-esteem (“Wow, I made it myself”), and learn new words and skills.

Involve families

Ask families to prepare a favorite dish or recipe with their children to bring to childcare. Let each child share with the class what she did to help her family member make the food. Encourage children to try a taste of each food that has been brought for sharing.

Family Nutrition News

On-the-Go Kids Need Healthy Snacks

Snacks are especially important for two- to six-year-olds because their stomachs are small and hunger comes often. Snacks between meals fill in gaps for needed nutrients such as vitamins A and C and calcium. Surveys reveal that many children do not get enough of these nutrients so snacks are the place to sneak them in.

Plan snacks at least one hour before mealtime. Snacks or sweetened drinks too close to meals can depress the appetite for an upcoming meal.

Give them choices! Let your child choose her snack from a few healthy foods. This way she feels she has some control and ends up with a healthy snack no matter what she chooses.

Hunger in the car? Have a plastic baggy with ready–to–eat cereals, raisins, or crackers, plus a bottle of water, to pacify hunger if dinner is going to be a while.

Snack Combos

Offer two or three food group choices for snacks to get vitamins, calcium, and fiber.

  • For calcium, offer milk most often. Low fat yogurt, pudding, or cheese are good choices, too.
  • For vitamins A and C and fiber, fruits and vegetables are super choices.
  • B vitamins and fiber are from breads, crackers, and cereals, especially those labeled whole grain.
  • Nuts, peanut butter, beans, or hummus is a healthy snack idea loaded with protein.
  • Less often choose cookies and sweets. However, read the label for healthier choices with less sugar and fat, or more fiber.
Guard against choking. Watch children while they eat.

Cooking and Snacking with Children

Children can have fun taking part in simple cooking activities. Helping in the kitchen can help their reading and math too. The wow of “I made it myself” may improve the acceptance of new foods by a fussy eater.

What children can do:

  • Help pick the menu.
  • Set the table.
  • Cut soft foods, like bananas, with a butter knife.
  • Measure ingredients, like flour, and add to bowl.
  • Stir and mix.
  • Rip lettuce or spinach into bite–size pieces.
  • Knead and shape dough for breads, biscuits, or rolls.
  • Help clean off the table.

What you can do:

  • Don’t worry about messes.
  • Share a special moment with your child.
  • Be a role model. Eat nutritious meals and snacks with your child.

Prepared by Jill Patterson, assistant professor of nutrition, Kathy Gorman and Carol Lebold, project specialists, and Julie Haines, assistant director, Nutrition Links Program