Baking with kids

Itty Bitty Bakers teaches children more than just recipes

by Lauren Dowdle, content director, JBMC Media
photos courtesy of Itty Bitty Bakers

Anyone who knows how to crack an egg, measure a cup of flour, half a recipe, or decorate a cake wasn’t born with those skills — they learned them. Children around the Birmingham area can learn their way around the kitchen, while having a lot of fun, by going to an Itty Bitty Bakers class.

Jessica Hamby, founder of Itty Bitty Bakers, discovered her love for baking at a young age — and a little out of necessity. Diagnosed with celiac disease at 3, Hamby had to follow a gluten-free diet through her childhood.

“My mom would make me a rice flour cake every year on my birthday, but other than that, I didn’t have anything baked to eat,” she says.

By middle school, Hamby wanted to start using rice flour to bake dishes like muffins and bread — and that’s when she began baking from scratch.

“Thankfully, gluten-free flours and gluten-free products have evolved tremendously since then, and many gluten-free baked goods can now be bought at the local grocery store,” she says.

She took that passion she found in the kitchen and became a registered dietitian with a masters in health education. Hamby worked as a clinical dietitian for 11 years, the latter portion with a specialty in oncology nutrition at a cancer center.

Jessica and Mark Hamby and their son, Luke.

Originally from Mobile, she moved to Birmingham after marrying her husband, Mark, where she worked as a corporate wellness analyst — before becoming a stay-at-home mother. And it was their son, Luke, who became her reason for starting Itty Bitty Bakers.

“When he was a toddler, I became interested in doing hands-on learning activities, sensory awareness experiences, and other early education interventions with him — just for fun,” she says. “Since I loved to bake, I naturally started getting him involved with me in the kitchen. One day, he had a friend over for a playdate, and I let them pipe frosting onto cupcakes together. I watched their three-year-old little hands squeeze a piping bag, as well as their focus and determination on their task, and realized all the developmental benefits of such an exercise.”

Hamby shared the idea of baking classes with the playdate friend’s mother, and she loved the idea — and is now her business manager. Not only would the baking classes be beneficial for her son and his friends, but it would also allow him to meet new friends. Though, the business has certainly evolved since then.

Itty Bitty Bakers has classes for ages 2 through 15, and the classes are currently all held from the teachers’ homes.

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“For many parents, teaching kids to cook and bake is either not in their wheelhouse, or they simply don’t have the time,” Hamby says. “We’d love to help take the load off.”

They try to choose recipes that go along with the seasonal calendar or other current events. For example, they have done dishes like Elsa’s braided bread when Frozen 2 came out, mini blueberry Bundt cakes to kickoff summer, spider cupcakes for Halloween, and star-spangled blondies to commemorate Veteran’s Day.

This February, they will create chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes, and in the fall, they plan to bake football brownies. Itty Bitty Bakers has also done savory baking recipes like basil cheddar crackers, pizza bombs, whole-wheat soft-baked pretzels, and homemade bagels.

With a health and nutrition background, Hamby says some people may wonder how that fits in with baking, which is generally perceived as eating sweets. However, baking includes both science and math, and the kitchen is a wonderful classroom, she explains.

“Teaching children to bake, even if it is sweets, helps them become comfortable and skilled in the kitchen, which lays a foundation for food and meal preparation into adulthood,” she says.

In addition to classes, they also offer baking or decorating-only party packages for children ages 5 and older who want to celebrate their birthday doing what they love with friends.

“We come to the child’s home or party location with all the supplies needed,” she says. “Our packages include a paper chef’s hat the kids get to color and decorate, as well as either a recipe keepsake card or sprinkles mix for party favors.”

While they haven’t ruled out offering large baking camps this year, right now, Hamby says their goals is to keep class sizes at eight children or less and offer them out of homes.

“Parents can drop their kids off at a baking class and know they will be having fun while also learning something new,” she says.

With home economics programs dwindling in schools, children often enter adulthood without knowing how to use kitchen utensils or read recipes. Baking is also a great hobby with both emotional and psychological benefits. And of course, it’s fun.

“We hope children will come away from our classes with a love for baking, confidence in the kitchen and in themselves, and an experience where learning something new was a ton of fun,” Hamby says. “We also hope they come away with a new friend.”

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