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Tips and Tricks for Decorating Gingerbread Houses With Kids

Tips and tricks for decorating gingerbread houses with kids.

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

I’ve learned a few things through decades of gingerbread house decorating! Here are some favorite tips and tricks:

How to Decorate Gingerbread Houses with Kids

  • Only make it from scratch if you will truly enjoy that part of the process! I’ve made gingerbread houses from scratch before, even with kids, but have since decided that gingerbread kits are the way to go – at least until my kids are old enough to be more involved with the baking process! Especially $4 kits from IKEA that smell amazing!
  • If you do make your gingerbread from scratch, refrigerate the dough before you roll it out. It makes all the difference!
  • Meringue powder makes awesome royal icing – and since it doesn’t have raw eggs in it, you won’t have to worry about your kids licking their fingers. Our kit came only with the house pieces – no candy and no icing. The royal icing was super easy – I used roughly one tablespoon per cup of powdered sugar, and may 1.5 tablespoons of water per cup of powdered sugar. You’re supposed to whip it, but we don’t have a food processor so I just mixed it up and the kids had glossy – but still very sticky – frosting.
  • Make the houses and then let them sit for at least an hour before letting your kids decorate them. This allows the frosting to set enough that the house won’t collapse when they press a little too hard while adding candy. I took the kids to Costco, because the easiest way to keep them from touching a project is to have them out of the house! Plus, it was both sunny and warm (50 degrees in Massachusetts in December!)
  • If the house pieces DO crack, remind your distressed child that fixing cracks makes for extra icing on the house. My kids loved this idea!
  • Royal frosting is easier to clean up if you let it dry – for non-porous surfaces. We let it dry and swept it off our smooth-finish wood floor; the table has more of a grain and so it was easier to clean it off of that before it dried.
  • We put the icing in a bag and cut the tip off to build and decorate the houses. And we used a knife to spread icing on the roof.

On to the actual decorating!

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

Lily decided to add texture to the frosting on her roof. Although, I suspect this decision had more to do with loving the icing than artistic motivation…

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

Johnny had a very specific plan for his house. He was also a pick icing thief:

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

The IKEA gingerbread smelled AMAZING. It tasted pretty amazing, too! It was cracker-ish, which I think might fare better in humid climates than more cake-like kits.

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

Lily immediately knew to put candy along the roof-line of her house. I had wondered if she would do all right decorating a house all on her own, but should have known that she would keep up with her siblings as always!

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

The project took a good three hours of my time, but it’s a fun memory – and the kids are immensely proud of their creations – which they have been consuming in bits and pieces every day!

Decorating gingerbread houses with kids

Do you decorate gingerbread houses? We made them every New Years’ in my family growing up – from scratch! Obviously, we didn’t wait until New Years’ to decorate ours – so do you have a fun New Years’ tradition my kids would enjoy?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

40 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for Decorating Gingerbread Houses With Kids”

  1. We cheat and hot glue the house together. Then the kids can decorate away.
    My boys only want to eat the candy. They never eat the gingerbread part so the hot glue doesn’t matter.

  2. Since we don’t eat the houses anyways, I always hot glue them together and just let the kids decorate. No falling apart. Much easier! Also I get the Halloween houses and extra 90% candy after halloween for candy.

  3. These are super tips and how cute are those houses! I’m not a good cookie baker so I totally stay away from making the house from scratch.

  4. Those look great! I have a kit that has cookie cutters that supposedly make it easy to make gingerbread houses, but even with chilling/etc. the cookies spread and the pieces did not fit together. Frustrating. I heard they are going to build a new IKEA a little closer to me (though we go to Stoughton sometimes), so I’ll have to keep this in mind!

    1. I would LOVE an IKEA in southern N.H., if that’s what you’re talking about? I hear rumors of that every once in a while…

    2. I wonder if you could use the cookie cutters to cut the pieces from freshly-baked gingerbread, before it cools down?

  5. Grumpy Grateful Mom

    Those pictures are so cute!!! We’ve had the worst luck with gingerbread houses, though my kids still have had fun. I loved you tips–we’ve never let the houses sit before decorating them. I think that would be hugely helpful.

  6. I needed to read this post earlier today. We decorated gingerbread houses (mid morning today) that came in a kit. In our excitement we left out the part about waiting for the house to set. Just as I started taking photos, our house was collapsing and caving in! Ahh well you live and you learn – sometimes it just so happens that you learn the hard way :)

    Our gingerbread house decorating was certainly one of those projects where it was all about the process (which was heaps of fun) and the product didn’t really matter. It still tasted yummy and our cherubs were super excited about decorating the house, more so than eating it (probably because they consumed enough while decorating).

    1. This was the first year I thought to let the houses sit, and it made all the difference in keeping them standing during the decoration phase!

  7. Those are cute! Abby and Dave do a kit every year. I usually get them the year before at WM after Christmas, when they are on clearance!

  8. They did such a good job! I tried making one from scratch one year in S. Africa and it was a disaster. The cheap kits are definitely easier and I don’t mind since the kids actually don’t eat it!

  9. Wow, those houses look amazing. Lars and his daddy friend have a tradition decorating gingerbread houses with kids every year – they were doing it since the kids were 2. In fact, the decorating day is today, and Anna is very excited :)

  10. My sister and I have made gingerbread houses from scratch for the past few years, but neither of us is in grade school any longer. If I was planning to decorate with kids, pre-made would be the way I’d go.

    1. I hope you find a good recipe! If not, my kids have had fun in the past using royal icing to stick together different candies to create a “candy village” – not quite the same, but easy to make gluten-free!

  11. I’ve always thought gingerbread houses looked neat, but I’ve never made one. My family’s new year’s tradition was NOT one I recommend: black-eyed peas and cabbage. Some sort of detox… ??! It was SO bad that we actually dreaded the first of each year. LOL!

    1. Black-eyed peas and cabbage is a tradition in my family, too. You are supposed to eat them on the first of the year, black-eyed peas for luck, cabbage for money, so that you’ll have a successful year. I was not a huge fan of either, but I’d be willing to eat a bite of each for tradition’s sake.

  12. Those are great! And wonderful tips too. I did gingerbread houses one time with a class of fifth graders. I vowed to never decorate a gingerbread house again as long as I live. Now that I have my own kids, I may have to break that vow.
    For new years, we had so much fun last year copying an idea that (I think) came from JDaniel4smom blog. They celebrate the new year at noon on New Year’s eve– when it is the new year in China and they eat chinese food. We decorated in the morning, ate chinese food, and had a dance party planned for the afternoon. Then, we got a TORNADO through our area and we had to move the dance party to the basement! I really hope that tradition doesn’t continue!!

    1. What a fun tradition – minus the tornado! Maybe we’ll do that this year – especially since I have a sister who lives in China!

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