Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Food TPiB: Waffle It Edition

As I mentioned yesterday, right now my life is all about waffles!

And in my waffle obsessed state, I finally figured out a way that I – the person who hates to cook – can host an Unconventional Cooking Club with teens. Today, I will share with you the Waffle It! Edition.

It turns out, you can use a waffle iron to make a lot of stuff besides traditional waffles. The Teen, The Bestie, Thing 2 and I spent all of Thanksgiving week exploring – scientific method in action! – what does and doesn’t work in a waffle iron.

The Week of Waffling Dangerously

We began with cinnamon rolls.


Let’s not kid ourselves, I did not make a mix from scratch. Nope. I popped open a tube of ready made dough and we had amazing tasting cinnamon rolls in less than 5 minutes.

We moved on to cake . . .


We bought a $1.00 cake batter and a tub of icing. Mix it according to the directions. You can make a chocolate waffle cake in about 1 minute. And they taste like heaven. Seriously, we did this 3 times last week because it was gloriously good and better than traditional cake.

Then I thought we should try some real food. Thankfully, we had Thanksgiving leftovers. I made stuffing waffles, mostly because Robin dared me to and who can resist a dare. I topped than we reheated turkey and gravy and it was pretty good. The Mr. took it one step further and smothered his in mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy and this was almost better than Thanksgiving dinner.


Then I thought, I need something that is snacky to teens, so pizza obviously. We made pizza using bagels, spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and pepperoni. The teens were skeptical but impressed. The pizzas themselves were a little thick for the waffle iron and we had to hold it close because it wouldn’t latch, but this was a good moment of problem solving and creative thinking.


We made omelets, which worked. We tried cookies, which failed. Although we did end up with a type of cookie crumble that we thought would taste really good on ice cream.

And along the way, we had a lot of fun.

As I mentioned yesterday, one of my most popular programs was a play on Iron Chef. So my plan is to redo this program with a Waffle It twist. We will supply waffle irons (I have seen new ones for as low as $15.00) and a variety of possible foods. Then we’ll let the teens see what they can come up with.

Some food bases I recommend include:

  • Various doughs, such as pop can biscuits and crescent rolls (note: corn bread came out really dry)
  • Things to make pizzas
  • Things to make sandwiches
  • Things to make deserts, including cake mix and various toppings
  • Buy a lot of Pam – and I mean a lot – and remind teens to spray their waffle iron in between each use to make it easy to clean

How to Set Up Your Program

Take a page out of the Chopped book and have three courses: an appetizer, an entree and dessert. For someone who hates to cook, I watch a lot of Chopped. The rounds are also fairly quick, 20 minutes and then 30 and 30 minutes, so you can do a program in around 2 hours.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Because there is a chance that teens will over spray their Pam and it will drip – not that I know this from experience or anything – be sure and use table cloths. Preferably use table cloths AND some type of surface like a thin plastic cutting mat or vinyl place mat.

There were only four of us experimenting in my home this past week, but when I have done programs like this in the past I start out with teens and then do eliminations until there are just a few teens competing against one another. Feel out the room and see how seriously they want to compete or if they just want to play and taste things, which is also perfectly fun as well.

Keep in mind there are a variety of waffle cookbooks out there that would make great tie-ins. You could also have your teens put together their own when they find out what works and what doesn’t and share it on your social media.


And finally, share this fun YouTube video with your Teens before you begin or on your social media to promote your program:

Tomorrow, the Mug It Edition!

Food Based TPiBs

TPiB: Marshmallow Madness

Although Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever mostly involves various recipes for cooking your own marshmallows, I couldn’t help but think of all the fun programming you can do around the theme of marshmallows.  One of the most popular programs I ever hosted involved putting a buffet of various sweet food items in front of a group of teens and putting them to the task of creating a desert concoction ala Iron Chef.  Food programming can be the most fun, and can have the biggest draw.  Of course some libraries are having demonstration kitchens built in as they embrace the Makerspace idea, and I am only a teeny bit jealous.  So here is a way to have some “Marshamallow Madness” fun with tweens, teens, and families . . . .
Marhsmallow Shooters
Instructables has a step-by-step outline of how you can make your own Marshmallow Shooters.  It involves cutting PVC pipe – or finding an alternative – so you would have to pre-cut some of the pieces.  However, Spoonful has ideas for making a marshmallow catapult, which would be a great upcycled craft for Earth Day. There is another version at Rainy Day DIY.

Marshmallow Fling
There are instructions for a game called Marshmallow Fling available at PBS.  It basically involves flinging marshmallows into a designated space – say a cup or paper bag – using a plastic spoon.  There are more marshmallow games available at 33 minutes, a youth ministry site (youth ministry sites are actually a really good place to find games).

Marshmallow Designs
Using a variety of marshmallows in different sizes and colors and some toothpicks, you can have tweens create marshmallow creations of all types.  For example, here are some marshmallow animals that appeared in McCall’s Magazine in the 1970s (I found the picture at Candyprofessor.com: Things To Do with Marshmallows and they state it is from The Happy Apple via Flickr).  You wouldn’t have to do just animals, however, as you could get into some engineering and ask your participants to build larger structures or create whole scenes.

Source: Best Friends for Frosting

You can also use edible markers – yes, these things exist – and color marshmallows to make creations.  Put your marshmallow on a skewer to make designing and coloring easy to manage.  And to avoid smudges.

You can also decorate marshmallows using some royal icing as “glue” and various small candy, like Red Hots and such.  It’s the marshmallow version of the Gingerbread House.  You can have a type of Iron Chef program using marshmallows as your secret ingredient as we discussed these food based programs earlierBest Friends for Frosting shows how you can use frosting, sprinkles and more to create fun marshmallow pops – which coincidentally will also work for an On a Stick program or Sprinkles program (which we will talk about in the next few days).  They also tell you how you can make these fun Snowmen pops, which, you know, this is a good time of year for.

Doctor Who fans are familiar with Adipose, little creatures that look like cute little marshmallows.  Because they look like marshmallows, they are easy to make out of marshmallows.  Funny how that works out that way.  Cookfiction has instructions for you.

Peeps Dioramas
Perhaps no marshmallow is more famous than Peeps.  Well, maybe the Stay Puft Marshmallow from Ghostbusters (“Who you gonna call?”).  Libraries near and far have had great success hosting Peeps Diorama programs. Pink and Green Mama created this amazing Goodnight Moon inspired Peeps diorama. I heartily recommend seeing what your tweens and teens can create.

From Pink and Green Mama

The Tween went through this book and her 5 favorite recipes include:
1) Kool-Aid Marshmallows (page 66)
2) Root-Beer Float Marshmallows (page 69)
3) Bubble Gum Marshmallows (page 70)
4) birthday Cake Marshmallows (page 72)
5) Mallow Cones (page 74)

As part of Quirk Books Week, Quirk Books has generously donated a prize package for one lucky winner that will include 2 of the above cookbooks, a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, the first book of the Lovecraft Middle School series, and a copy of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. I’ve tried to give you as many ways as possible to enter so pick the one (or ones) that work best for you and do the Rafflecopter thingy below.  The giveaway closes on Saturday, December 14th and is open to U.S. Residents.  The books will be sent to you from Quirk Books and they are worth it.

TPIB: Extreme Gingerbread Challenge

Sugar + a festive spirit + teens = program success in my book.  This is the third year in a row I’ve hosted a “Gingerbread Challenge” and though each year plays out a little differently, every program has been a fun one.

How much fun?  THIS much fun!

This can be adapted to run any time of year – you could do haunted houses at Halloween, beach shacks in the summertime, or make it a green home design for Earth Day.  Our library is part of a community wide holiday event, so our program happens just before this event, then those teens who want to do so enter their confection in a contest.  We display the houses and let visitors vote on their favorite.  The winner gets a small gift card donated by a local ice cream shop.

The kids visiting the library LOVED seeing what the “big kids” did.  This is a great way to show your community how valuable, creative, and engaged the teens in your library are. 

Building and decorating gingerbread houses isn’t a new or revolutionary idea for a program, but here are some tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Forego gingerbread; buy graham crackers.
Buy name brand, and buy them soon before you use them.  This is not something to buy on sale months before your program because stale crackers mean crumbly crackers, and that’s no fun.  A regular sized box of Honey Maid graham crackers has three packages of 9 crackers each.  Family sized boxes have more packages, but I have had bad luck getting fresh unbroken crackers in family sized boxes.
To make a traditional house shape, you need six crackers: two cut for a gabled front and back, two for sides, and two for the roof.  So one box of Honey Maids is enough for four houses, plus a little left over, IF all of the crackers are unbroken.  Plan accordingly and plan for extra.

How to cut the graham cracker.  Use a serrated knife and a sawing motion; don’t press too hard or it will crack.

Check labels, do some advance work

Food allergies can be a big issue.  One package of gumdrops was made on machinery that also processes peanuts, another brand was not. With any food related program, I send an email to participants ahead of time.  In most cases, for middle schoolers, I find it’s actually their parents that receive the email.  In it, I describe the program and request that they contact me if they have any food allergies or other issues that I should be aware of.  When I set out the decorations, I used a different color of bowl for items that mentioned common allergens on the packaging.  I save all of the packaging in case a teen needs to check on an item.

The blue bowls on the foil means the package mentioned common allergens.

This looks like frosting, but it’s really glue
Aside from actual glue, the best thing to use for building the structure is royal icing.  And it’s not cheap.  I make the royal icing for my programs, using cartons of pasteurized egg whites and powdered sugar.  I preload Ziploc bags that teens can then snip a corner from and use as piping bags. Many libraries have a policy against providing homemade treats at programs, and for good reason.  Whenever I do this, I remind the teens this has raw egg in it – it doesn’t taste great – and it’s the GLUE for your house.  It’s not meant to eat.  Do some of them still eat it?  Yeah, but for real – it doesn’t taste that great.  Buy a can of frosting for each table to use for the decorating.  Bring food coloring and little paper cups for mixing additional colors.

The best way to get the frosting into the bags: scoop some up on a curved spatula, shove it into an open bag, then use your hand to squeeze the frosting off the spatula as you remove it from the bag.  Push the air out and seal the bag.  Store in the fridge till you’re ready to use it.

You can’t do it all
Ask everyone to bring a cookie sheet or tray to carry their creation home.  The first year I gave them Styrofoam plates and it was just not quite good enough.  Have some cardboard boxes on hand that you can cut apart and make trays out of if someone forgets.  Cover the trays with foil.

Consider your setup
The first year I did this, each participant got a plate with all of the pieces precut and ready to assemble.  Although there were additional graham crackers on the table if they wanted to build something other than the classic design, everyone’s house was identically shaped.  In subsequent years, I put all of the supplies on a main table, demo how the angled pieces work to support the roof, and let them have at it.  This results in a little more chaos and a lot more creativity.

Traditional style

Environmentally friendly house (wind turbines were my favorite part)

Zombies invade gingerbreadland

Plan cleanup time  
Give yourself at least half an hour after the end of the program to clean up, and don’t even think about running this program without paper or plastic covering the tables!  Even tidy teens will generate mess here.

Less is more
If your budget doesn’t allow for buying out the candy store (and whose does?) force your teens’ creativity by providing a limited number of decorations.  It’s fun whether you just have gum drops and coconut or if you’ve got a wide variety of options.

My favorite decorations
There are lots of great lists out there with decoration suggestions, but these are my favorites.  If I were going bare bones, the ones marked with an asterisk are the ones I would use.

*Skittles (cheaper than M&Ms)
Licorice – red and black/brown
Ice cream cones – make great trees
*Coconut for snow
Frosted mini-wheats
*Pretzel sticks

Other supplies you’ll need
Table covers
Ziploc bags (buy freezer quality bags)
canned frosting
pasturized egg whites and powdered sugar to make royal icing
serrated knife
cutting board
a pan or plate for graham cracker pieces
spoons or plastic knives for stirring colors
plates, bowls, or cups for gathering toppings
paper towels
water & cups – kids will eat the sweet stuff and get thirsty!

The total cost of supplies for this program, for sixteen people, was $132, though I could’ve been more economical with the toppings or asked participants to each bring something and done it for less.  Dollar stores are a great place to find a lot of the toppings.

Do you do this program?  Any ideas on streamlining it or making it more fun or different?