Family Fun with Less Sugar!
Hi! Are you a parent like me who is intrigued by the idea of building a gingerbread house with your kids, but doesn’t want all that sugar, or all those hours of baking and prep?
Read on to learn a creative solution for how to partake in the holiday tradition of gingerbread house creation any time of the year: a method which fosters family bonding through a fun activity, and also boosts STEM education by encouraging creativity, engineering skills, and healthy eating.
But first, a disclaimer: I am not a fancy food blogger. I’m a health-loving, muscular mama with a wild imagination, and the desire to influence and expand the world’s understanding of what’s possible… but I’m not polished or perfect.
This article might make you giggle with how homespun and low-tech it is. However, if you take the leap and try out this activity, it WILL provide a fun afternoon for your family. Note that some links here are affiliates which provide a commission at no cost to you. Enjoy!
“Gingerbread House” Materials:
- Sliced bread (ideally somewhat stale) for the “gingerbread”
- Peanut butter or hummus for the “frosting“
- Large thin cutting boards like these for the base
- A sharp knife to cut the bread into shapes
- A dull butter knife suitable for kids to spread “frosting” with
- Decorations like raisins, pretzels, etc. in little bowls or plates
- Optional: Bibs or other protective wear for kid clothing
“Gingerbread” Construction Instructions:
1. Use sharp knife to cut the bread into shapes useful for building. This is your “gingerbread” — except without the ginger or baking! I cut a combination of “logs” (strips) and whole slabs (for walls), but would suggest also doing triangles and bigger rectangles, or even tree shapes! Place the bread on a big plate to pull from.
2. Gather the “building materials” into bowls and plates that the kids can reach. These materials are the decorations (raisins, pretzels, etc.) and “frosting” or “cement” (peanut butter or hummus). If you are doing this activity with more than one child, I highly recommend separate bowls for each kiddo so you don’t end up with a food fight!
3. Discuss a building plan. Do the kids want to sketch out their “gingerbread village” ahead of time? If so, this will be a useful time to talk about what’s realistic within the constraints of the materials. Manage expectations about how high or wild structures can actually be!
4. Go over rules and expectations. Set the groundwork to avoid squabbles — fights are particularly undesirable when there are peanut butter bowls and knives around! Explain about being kind to each other. Ex: “Use supportive words to talk about your sibling’s structure, please,” and, “We will keep our hands in our own area.”
5. Begin building! Stand by to encourage and help the munchkins to create their structures, talking through which configurations will stand, and which are in danger of falling. Monitor the use of peanut butter or hummus so as little is wasted as possible. Did I mention you should probably use a cheap brand???
6. Quit while you’re ahead. This activity will likely be “done” before the gingerbread village looks perfect, and that’s ok! My kids lasted about an hour with active building, before nearing a meltdown… at which point we took photos of the unfinished, yet still cool-looking “gingerbread village” — and then ate it. Since this activity is so simple to set up, it can be attempted again any time in the future, meaning there is no need to push past fatigue.
7. Clean up. Couldn’t forget this step, right? If you’ve timed the energy level perfectly, the kids will help with this. (This is a good expectation to set during the planning stage.) The good news is that “clean up” in this case can start with eating the materials!
Thoughts on this “Gingerbread” Activity?
There you have it: the cheapest, healthiest, and easiest way to do a “Gingerbread House” building activity is by taking out the “ginger” and focusing on the bread: stale bread to be exact!
If you haven’t tried this yet, does it seem like an activity you’d like to do? If you have given this family activity a spin, how was it, and what would you add? Do share!
Want more creative “gingerbread” interpretations? Check out the “Gingerbread Cottages” of Martha’s Vineyard!
Want to have a fun activity with kids for family bonding and learning like building gingerbread houses, but don't want the sugar or prep time? Do this!
- Sliced Bread (ideally older and a little stale).
- Pretzel sticks (optional but can be useful).
- A large cutting board or cardboard sheet for a base.
- Small decoration items like raisins, blueberries, broccoli, etc.
- Peanut butter or hummus for "icing."
- Knife to cut the bread.
- Child-safe knives to spread the "frosting."
- Suggested: Bibs or other protective gear to guard against excessive mess.
- Camera to capture the cuteness!
- Slice the bread into different, useful-for-construction shapes. We used whole squares for walls and strips for "logs." You could also do triangles, circles, and more. Put the bread shapes on a big plate for each kid to choose from as they build.
- Put the "frosting" or "cement" (peanut butter or hummus) into a bowl for each child with a child-safe knife to spread.
- Gather the decorating materials (raisins, pretzel sticks, etc.) into separate small bowls. If your kids aren't great about sharing (aka, most kids), give each their own bowls of every building material.
- Show the kids how to use the frosting to make the bread stick. (Note: Explain that they need to use balance and careful hands because the "cement" isn't as strong as real cement. Brace them for the fact that their structure may topple over -- but that we will work together to rebuild it even stronger if that happens. We're learning engineering and what makes a strong structure.
- ENJOY BUILDING! When done, take cute photos, then eat as much of it as you want!
- Everyone help clean up. Watch out for peanut butter on elbows...
Consider what to "pre-teach" before starting this project. You might want to have kids sketch out on paper what they want their structures to look like before building, in order to discuss which houses will likely stand, and which might topple over and why.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!