From Panera’s website: “Our Bakers-In-Training 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-Training 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.