That sweet, golden-brown building material—gingerbread—seems omnipresent around the winter holidays. It’s been baked and eaten for centuries, but I, for one, never tasted gingerbread until I was an adult. That’s because the houses we made out of it as kids sat around “on display” until every last gumdrop was as hard as a stone. I remember once trying to gnaw some cemented white frosting off of a wall panel around New Year’s Day. Not tasty.
Looking back, I realize what my sly parents were doing. Now that we’re the ones fighting the battle against holiday sugar overdoses, we can take a page from their book. One way for us nerdy parents to keep our kids from eating too many sweets is to help them construct gingerbread dwellings that are way too cool to eat. To help get you going, here are a few nerdtastic gingerbread house ideas.
In honor of this week’s release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, craft your own hobbit hole in a hill. This is a pretty easy design. All you need is a couple of gingerbread pieces for the front wall and roof, frosting to cover it, and bam! The rest is just decorating. You could also do a chocolate cake/g-bread combo, starting with a cakey hill and digging in from there.
Tips: For grass, try muddling a small bit of spinach and then mixing it into some shredded coconut. You’ll have green ground cover without using weird food dye, and I promise it won’t even taste like spinach. For soil you can use crushed chocolate cookies, but mix in some seeds and nuts for visual variety and vitamins.
Geodesic dome house
This is probably the most challenging gingerbread domicile on our list, but also the most likely to withstand earthquakes. Teach your kids about geometry and architecture, or just make a big mess. Both are fun. This website shows you how to use a cardboard template to form your gingerbread pieces and also has the how-to video.
Tip: Use really thick frosting as your glue so your pieces stay in place.
Okay Whovians, you have no excuse not to do it—this is the easiest structure on the list. All you need to create this tall, rectangular box is four sides and a top and icing for decoration. That means it’s probably spot on for your younger lads and lassies too. Then, if you do it right, you’ll have tons of extra storage space.
Tips: If you finish early, bake a batch of gingerbread men and everyone in your family can decorate his or her doctor. If you don’t want to use artificial dye, here is an interesting recipe for blue cabbage-based food coloring.
Your kids are muggles without access to the assistance of magic, so they may find building a gingerbread house of this caliber a bit labor intensive. Fortunately, the Internet showcases examples from varying levels of gingerbread skill, ranging from a detail-perfect diorama to a cube that’s frosted to look like Salvador Dalí is the new Hogwarts potions professor. Since this is a more complicated design, you’ll probably want to get the whole family involved in designing it, and then break the school down to simple structures like individual towers and buildings for your kids to work on.
Tips: Use pointy-bottomed ice cream cones for tower spires. You can also make edible magic glitter by mixing sugar with food coloring and baking at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. We prefer using fruit and veggie juice-based dye. You could also make “edible” glitter out of salt, but that’s just mean.
For even more quality family time, try watching the related movies or shows while you build and decorate together. You could even throw in some enrichment like researching R. Buckminster Fuller while building the geodesic dome house.
If none of these ideas appeal to your kiddos, just give them the materials and tell them to build their dream houses. Spend some time looking at different architectural designs for inspiration. You might just be nurturing future world-famous architects.