Panera Bread Cooks up a Winner with Its “Bakers-In-Training” Program

Last week T and I went with our play group to Panera Bread in Lakewood (CA) to participate in one of their “Bakers-In-Training” classes.

Coastal Cuties' "Bakers-In-Training" at Lakewood (CA) Panera Bread!

Coastal Cuties’ “Bakers-In-Training” at Lakewood (CA) Panera Bread!

From Panera’s website: “Our Bakers-In-TrainingΒ program is a great way to get kids interested in kitchen essentials and the fundamentals of baking. Designed for children ages 5–12, Bakers-In-TrainingΒ walks children through a Panera Bread bakery-cafe while teaching the basics of baking. We’ll (also) spend some time talking about how hunger and food insecurity affects our community and what all of us can do to help.”

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Panera Bread’s “Bakers-In-Training” class focuses kids on giving back in an age-appropriate way. This was our hand-out at the start of class with search words and a crossword puzzle centered on baking and hunger facts.

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We began our afternoon at a welcome table set by Panera staff just for our group. As kids arrived they were invited to color, play games, and doodle until the start of class. Each child also received a VERY cute apron and baker’s hat to outfit them for their new role of chef. This all was an excellent introduction to the day ahead of us. The handouts also included facts on baking bread and hunger statistics in easy-to-read and age-appropriate mediums (crossword puzzles, etc.), again tying in education and philanthropy seamlessly.

The kids gathered in the kitchens for a tour behind-the-scenes at our local Panera Bread bakery as part of their "Bakers-In-Training" class.

The kids gathered in the kitchens for a tour behind-the-scenes at our local Panera Bread bakery as part of their “Bakers-In-Training” class.

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Once we were all gathered, staff welcomed us into their kitchen and prep areas for a tour. The kids loved going into the walk-in refrigerators and freezer, and they loved seeing staff prepare food live for restaurant patrons.

The kids got to feel the difference between all-purpose flour and the rice flour that Panera uses as part of their bread baking process. They were shown the difference in how the rice flour is softer and also leaves less char marks and residue on the loaves during the baking process.

The kids got to feel the difference between all-purpose flour and the rice flour that Panera uses as part of their bread baking process. Staff showed the kids how the rice flour is softer and also leaves less char marks and residue on the loaves during the baking process, inviting them to touch the two flour types to feel the differences.

Fidelvia (Panera Lakewood GM) cleans the ovens before the kids started baking!

Fidelvia (Panera Lakewood GM) brushed out the ovens before the kids started baking!

My own Baker-In-Training. Ah, T, would it kill ya to smile?!

My own Baker-In-Training. Ah, T, would it kill ya to smile?!

T gets to work stretching and scoring his baguette.

T gets to work stretching and scoring his baguette.

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T popping a bubble in his dough. If left the loaf would bake unevenly and with a large hole inside, so the kids were encouraged to pop all the bubbles before their loaf went into the oven.

T popping a bubble in his dough. If bubbles are left in the dough the loaf would bake unevenly and with a large hole inside, so staff showed the kids how to pop all the bubbles before their loaf went into the oven.

This young girl wants to be a police woman in a bakery when she grows up. I am not kidding! Thanks to my friend for allowing me to use a photo of her daughter as that story is just too good not to share here.

This girl wants to be a police woman in a bakery when she grows up. I am not kidding! Thanks to my friend for allowing me to use a photo of her daughter. Given the circumstances, it’s picture-perfect.

Dough going into the ovens!

Fidelvia puts the loaves into the ovens. Baking time is around 22 minutes give-or-take.

The kids watched the start of the baking process, which involves a steaming process.

The kids watched the start of the baking process, which involved a steaming-off process.

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Next, we gathered in a corner of the kitchen reserved just for our group to start baking. Panera staff had already prepared and proofed baguette loaves for all the kids, which set them up to stretch and score the loaves before staff placed them into the ovens. Given we had 16 kids in our group, this was a perfect way to allow all of the kids to get their hands in the dough for at least part of the process but not have it so it was too time-intensive. The kids all stayed focused on not just their own loaf of bread but were having a great time watching friends prep theirs as well.

What's this coming out of the oven?!

Wait, we just put the bread in the oven, so what’s this?!

T decorated a cookie as his bread baked.

T and all the kids decorated cookies as the bread baked.

This girl was the oldest of our group (12), and Panera staff were ready to hire her on the spot. Check out her beautiful cookie!

This girl was the oldest of our group (12), and Panera staff were ready to hire her on the spot. Check out her beautiful cookie!

Some more class members showing off their cookies.

Other class members proudly showed off their cookies.

As the bread baked, Panera staff gave the kids cookies to decorate and eat (or take home). The cookies had been baking all while the kids were prepping their baguettes. Again, the staff did a great job in helping our kids pass the 22 minutes of baking time by keeping them busy otherwise with yet another fun (and tasty) activity!

Bread's ready!

Bread’s ready!

The kids were so proud of what they'd made during their Panera Bread's Bakers-In-Training class.

The kids were so proud of what they’d made during their Panera Bread’s Bakers-In-Training class.

My crazy T with his baguette hot out of the oven.

My crazy T with his baguette hot out of the oven.

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Once the bread was done, staff bagged up each child’s loaf to take home to share with others. We’d planned our class for late-afternoon, so sending them home with hot, freshly baked bread at around 5:30 p.m. was fantastic (and helped us parents get a head start on our own dinner prep, too!). The kids were so proud of what they’d made and couldn’t wait to head home to partake and show off how they’d spent their afternoon.

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This class was also a wonderful way to involve kids in giving back locally. Before the class ended, the kids all signed a card that would be sent that evening with a second batch of baguettes to local hungry children. Again, another great job by Panera staff in tying in our kids’ newly learned skills with hands-on philanthropy at an age-appropriate level.

While the Bakers-In-Training classes are new to the company (we were the third class this store had hosted under this program), Fidelvia (general manager of the Lakewood bakery) and AJ (the other staffer involved) did an excellent job in making us all feel welcome without feeling rushed or in the way. Parents were welcome at any time to enter the kitchen to observe, help, take pictures, or otherwise just hang out – or not stay at all! Our group also was the largest and youngest average age they’d taught to date, which meant it did run slightly over the 90-minute time frame advertised (we were there about two hours).

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I strongly recommend Panera’s Bakers-In-Training program. Made for groups of 10–15 (I recommend sticking with a limit of 10 if your group’s average age skews younger from our experience), this is a great activity for your play group, scout troop, club, birthday party, and/or pretty much any other group of boys and girls ages 5-to-12 years that you can imagine. Everyone had a blast, and Panera definitely rose to the occasion when came to hosting our group. Thanks again, Panera Lakewood!

To schedule your own Bakers-In-Training class at your local Panera Bread bakery, please go online to sign up here. Cost is $20 per participant, with $5 of each fee (25 percent) giving back to “Share Our Strength” as part of their “No Kid Hungry” campaign.