What food writer, cookbook author, and Instagram star Sarah Copeland's kids taught her about holiday baking.
mom and kids dipping chocolate cookies
Greta, eight, does a quality-control check while Sarah and Mátyás, three, dip chocolate cookies in, yes, more chocolate.
| Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Creating picture-perfect food has always been part of my job. I've worked in exacting French pastry kitchens, headed up the food department of a major magazine, and written three cookbooks. And I love documenting the beautiful things that come out of my kitchen via my own brand, Edible Living. But I also have two kids.

star cooke cutter kid making face
Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

One Christmas, as a newish mother, I set out to make gingerbread houses with my then two-year-old daughter, Greta, just as my mother had with my siblings and me. I imagined us sitting side by side, piping tidy swooshes of snow along neatly gumdrop-lined rooftops. You can guess how well that went.

christmas tree decorating orange string family
Sarah likes to keep Christmas decorations minimal and natural, like this DIY dehydrated-citrus garland.
| Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Now eight, Greta is a fastidious baker, following recipes to the letter, pouring and leveling ingredients with absolute precision. But her brother, Mátyás, who is three, is a different kind of baker. He's an all-in, up-to-his-elbows kind of cook. The other day, he came into the kitchen to bake with us, and before I could blink, he had poured a pound of brown sugar, a pinch of flour, and an entire box of powdered sugar into a giant bowl. He was making a cake—obviously.

holiday tradition kids shoes below tree
Sarah’s holiday traditions include nods to her husband’s Hungarian heritage, like putting out the kids’ shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. The next morning, there are little surprises inside!
| Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Motherhood has softened the edge of my offset spatula, so to speak: Perfection isn't possible—and that's more than OK. That's where cookies come in. Cookies are forgiving (even ugly ones taste good) and they are easy to share, so you'll have something delicious to give to the neighbors. Best of all, they're meant to be eaten. You don't have to spend the next six weeks saying, "Stop licking the gingerbread house!"

mom kids wagon with neighbor gifts
Sarah and the kids load up the wagon to deliver treats to the neighbors.
| Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

When I bake with my kids, we choose recipes that won't frustrate me or them. Are there plenty of steps they can confidently do (rolling, dipping)? Are the decorations simple (powdered sugar, glaze, jam)? Here, I'm sharing some of my favorites: hands-on thumbprints; flaky poppy seed rugelach, inspired by treats from Hungary (where my husband grew up); lemon-glazed stars, a recipe that makes plenty of cookies so you can create some Instagram-worthy standouts while your kids make lopsided masterpieces of their own. Because even if the cookies you make together aren't perfect, the memories will be. 

Get Sarah Copeland's cookie recipes:

Spiced Stars with Lemon Glaze

Spiced Stars with Lemon Glaze
Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Cookies are very good at keeping little hands busy. You may not have time to frost three dozen tiny stars, but they do.

Recipe: Try Sarah Copeland's Spiced Stars with Lemon Glaze

Double Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies

double chocolate dipped shortbread cookies
Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Recipe: Try Sarah Copeland's Double Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies

Sugared Poppy Seed Rugelach

sugared poppyseed regelach
Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Recipe: Try Sarah Copeland's Sugared Poppy Seed Rugelach

Buttery Raspberry-Rye Thumbprints

buttery raspberry rye thumbprints
Credit: Photography by Melanie Dunea

Thumbprint are my son's favorite cookie-because it's the only time I ask him to stick his fingers into his food.

Recipe: Try Sarah Copeland's Buttery Raspberry-Rye Thumbprints


For more mealtime fun, check out Yum-o!, Rach's nonprofit organization. You'll find recipes, ideas for improving food in schools, and stories about people who are changing the way America eats. How cool is that?!