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Rethinking the gingerbread house

Winter is here, and with it, the holiday season! That means it’s time to think about the annual holiday traditions you share with the family. One of the traditions my family has always enjoyed is creating a gingerbread house. 

It’s messy, fun and creative… but we often don’t actually consume our confection after we’ve made it. It sits out as the gingerbread gets stale and the icing gets rock hard. We pick at some of the candies, but usually almost the entire creation ends up in the garbage.

I hate the waste, so we’ve tried several alternative ideas to make this tradition work better for our family. The fun in any gingerbread creation is the artistic creativity combined with STEM skills to create a sturdy structure.

Make one out of non-edible materials

If your family doesn’t like gingerbread and doesn’t want all the sugary decorations, why not try out a non-food gingerbread creation? Challenge your family to create a gingerbread house out of building blocks, modeling dough or melty beads. These creations can be temporary displays or you can create something more permanent that can be stored away with other decorations and revisited or added to every year. You can also combine making a gingerbread house with creating a cardboard fort to change a food-based craft into an active and imaginative one!

Make one out of other treats

Maybe you’d like to keep this annual craft food-based, but want to switch up the materials. There are so many options out there, from do-it-yourself to pre-packaged kits – and not just for traditional gingerbread. Create your own structure out of chocolate bars, crackers, marshmallow treats, pop tarts, or graham crackers. Pick something that your family enjoys eating and that meets your needs. If you have family members who are gluten-free, you can find recipes for gluten-free gingerbread or choose to go with pre-purchased gluten-free cookies that you enjoy. We like to use chocolate melts (available in a variety of colors) to draw out walls on parchment paper using piping bags. Let them harden and create whatever structure you can imagine!

Thinking beyond the house

Maybe a traditional gingerbread house isn’t for you. You can create trees, gingerbread trains, castles, forts, log cabins, sleds, villages, etc. The beauty of the craft is that you can make almost anything using gingerbread or by branching out to alternate materials. One of my favorite alternative shapes (and it’s so easy!) is to create an evergreen tree out of stacked cookies. The beauty of this idea is that you can use whatever cookie recipe your family enjoys, or even combine different types. It always turns out looking great! For the best effect, use star-shaped cookies in varying sizes and stack from largest to smallest. Decorate your tree with piped icing and candies, if you want.

Gingerbread houses don’t have to remain a ‘stale’ tradition. There are lots of ways to enjoy family time together building and being creative.

Trista is a stay-at-home mom and loves to share her discoveries about how to make life in Calgary work for families of all kinds.


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