February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

How To Start a Baking Club at the Library

Members of the La Vista (NE) Public Library A.J., Raoul, and Audi line up to try homemade chili mac.

A.J., Raoul, and Audi are ready to try freshly made chili mac at the La Vista (NE) Public Library. Photos by Lindsey Tomsu


My personal philosophy when working with teens is that no idea is too big or too crazy. If I want to make the library a place that they can call their own, then I want to provide them with programs that meet their creative needs and interests. In other words, they give me the ideas, and I see if I can make them a reality. This is how, in 2011, the members of my Teen Advisory Board at the La Vista Public Library ended up creating the Bacon Club—eating bacon, comparing brands, comparing cooking methods, making bacon crafts, trying bacon-flavored things, and so on. With a fully functional kitchen in our library’s meeting room, I was able to make this program a reality that ran successfully for about five years.

When we were planning for the 2015–2016 school year, my teens expressed interest in morphing the Bacon Club into an actual Baking Club. As expert bacon chefs, they now wanted to branch out and try cooking real meals. We decided to spend leftover summer funds on the necessities we needed for the new club. During the school year we meet once a month, except for March and December when, during Spring Break and the holiday break, we have an all-day (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) meeting. During the monthly meetings, the teens get about two hours to experiment with various recipes, but during the all-day meetings they get to really go Top Chef and try more complex recipes that might require a longer amount of time to make. For example, during a regular monthly meeting we baked a cake, but during our all-day holiday meeting in December, we made nearly 10 recipes, everything from ramen pizza to chili to our own flavored crackers.

Getting started

Eric checks on the status of the teens' taco-flavored Goldfish crackers.

Eric checks on the status of the teens’ taco-flavored Goldfish crackers.

There are a few ingredients needed to start a Baking Club. The great thing about such supplies is that most are reusable after the initial investment. When we purchased the following supplies, it only cost around $30. Remember, you can all of this cheap at your local dollar store or in Wal-Mart (one does not need to buy fancy teaspoons—88 cent ones are fine!). These are the must-have basics:

  • 3 mixing bowls of different sizes
  • 1 set of measuring cups
  • 1 set of measuring spoons (teaspoons and tablespoons)
  • 1 set of spatulas
  • 1 set of knives
  • 1 pair of oven mitts
  • 1 package each of baking essentials—flour, sugar, salt, pepper, baking powder, baking soda

If you are lucky enough to have access to a kitchen in your library or your city’s community center where you could take the program as outreach, we also recommend the following supplies:

  • 1 medium pan with lid
  • 1 set of cookie sheets
  • 1 cupcake tin
  • 1 pizza pan

It is also helpful to have paper plates, silverware, and napkins so the teens can divvy up their baked goods and enjoy them!

What if you don’t have a kitchen?

There are a number of great recipes out there that teens can try making with a microwave or with small appliances that can be borrowed from fellow staff members or the teens’ families, such as Crock-Pots, waffle irons, mini hot plates, electric kettles (to boil water), and so on. The one rule I enforce is that if the cookery does not belong to us, we return it cleaner than we received it. Parents are also often willing to supply a small amount of an ingredient that we only need a little bit of (one teaspoon of honey, for instance).

What should the teens cook?

The club's first-ever attempt at something more Top Chef worthy—some focaccia (it took us all forever to figure out how to pronounce it!)

The club’s first-ever attempt at something Top Chef–worthy—focaccia (it took us all forever to figure out how to pronounce it!).

Well, you happen to be in a library full of cookbooks that teens can peruse to see what kinds of recipes they would be interested in trying out. My library has a lot of children’s and teen cookbooks we used for inspiration. Once we had a pile of potential recipes, we looked at them more in depth to see what supplies would be needed, what we would have to buy, how much it would cost, how long it would take to make, etc.

One of their favorite recipes that requires an oven is making their own flavored crackers. There are a number of recipes out there to consult, but they all use the same basic ingredients. Get some cheddar Goldfish and mix in seasonings of their choice, add some vegetable oil, spread out on a cookie sheet and cook at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Our favorite was our own taco-flavored Goldfish!

A great, non-oven recipe is for pizza waffles. All you need is a waffle iron, frozen pizza dough, and pizza toppings. Roll out the dough, cut into waffle squares, place one piece of dough as the bottom, insert your favorite toppings (pepperoni, cheese, etc.), place a top piece of dough, and then cook until golden brown. Dip into some marinara sauce—pizza waffle! These are fun to make and really delicious. My teens also enjoyed making their own guacamole and salsa in Crock-Pots for a Super Bowl party.

The benefits of A baking club

Such a program is both educational and fun. The teens have fun making things they can eat while, at the same time, learning about cooking. I teach them kitchen safety at the beginning (and many will refrain from a task if they do not think they can handle it, such as cutting or reaching into the oven). They also learn about reading recipes, converting measurements— and succeed in making something out of nothing. Plus, staff members benefit too, as they get to taste test all the leftovers. The teens are just thrilled to have “outsiders” try their food and comment.

Some cookbooks to check out

The Teens Cook series by Megan Carle

Yum Yum Bento Box by Crystal Wantanabe

Kids Dish series by Picture Window Books (while meant for young kids this is the series we found the pizza waffles recipe in and quite a few other cool options the teens liked!).


Lindsey Tomsu is a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker who just became a teen/YA librarian at Algonquin Area (IL) Public Library District after eight years at La Vista (NE) Public Library.






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  1. AMaryMadalin says:

    I wonder how many libraries could actually DO cooking programs on site? Where I live, the County Health Dept. is EXTREMELY health/culinary conscious. Libraries here could not even serve COFFEE made on the premises (we had to purchase coffee in boxes from local fast food places–eventually they eased up on THAT and we can now serve coffee we make ourselves). All food served at the library still needs to be cooked in a COMMERCIAL kitchen (which we don’t have, nor do most libraries in our area), then brought in in a “commercial” hot carrier. Food demos (where a chef prepares food in front of an audience) don’t allow that prepared food (not cooked in a commercial kitchen) to be served to the audience. Local schools (and not just in this county) don’t allow “home-baked” treats to be brought in for birthdays, either. In a way, it’s a good thing, what with all the food allergies kids have nowadays (we also don’t allow food or drink in the rooms where we do preschool storytime–because one child’s parent told us of her child’s SEVERE food allergies).

    Welcome to the 21st century!

  2. I think a Baking Club is a wonderful idea, especially for teens who aren’t often given the opportunity to learn how to cook. (Most of my own cooking experience came after college when I was scrambling to figure out what to make for my meals!) While you said you do cover kitchen safety at the beginning, my concern is that there could still be accidents whether a slip of a kitchen knife or even a faulty oven mitt. How do you address these issues?

    Believe me, I am all for getting teens into a kitchen learning setting if only to give them some life skills to work with once they’re out on their own. I really enjoyed this article, so thank you so much!

  3. I love this! My tween are always asking about food programs, but it has been hard since we do not have access to an oven, just a good ole microwave. Do you have any suggestions for other stove-less recipes? Or a website that you recommend?

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