I can’t remember the last time I made a gingerbread house… but Big M has become quite Christmas-obsessed this year, and taken especially by gingerbread houses. Given her propensity to meltdown over a collapsed Lego tower, I knew this could be a treacherous undertaking. So when my mom showed me the cover of a magazine on FaceTime with Pretzel Rod Log Cabins, I knew that was our solution!
Pretzel Rod Cabins: A Gingerbread House Substitute
Food coloring (if desired)
Frosting applicator, piping bags/tips
Decorations (mini marshmallows, mini candy canes, mini M&Ms, LifeSavers, red hots, sprinkles, cereal, gum drops, etc.)
Cost: Less than $20
Prep Time: 45-60 minutes (includes building structure)
Clean-up Time: 15 minutes
To build the structure, I first set up a base – I cut up a cardboard box, and to make it look pretty, put a sheet of green foil scrapbook paper on top of it, but you could easily use regular foil too.
Guru Tip/Confession: Use hot glue to build your basic structure!
Bear in mind, this was an afternoon activity for a preschooler and barely toddler, not Martha Stewart. At their age, Big M was over the moon about decorating the house (and all Lil’ M wanted to do was eat everything!!), so I cheated. I built the structure and attached the sugar cone ‘Christmas trees’ to the cardboard base with hot glue. I did not want to tempt a threenager meltdown because the frosting didn’t hold and the whole thing collapsed. Good news – Big M thought it was fabulous! While I’m sure she would have loved to help build the house as well, I didn’t want her burning herself on hot glue.
I built the basic cabin structure by stacking pretzel rods 6 high, full length for the length of the cabin, and about 1/2 length for the width of the cabin. To cut the rods to length, I found it easiest to snap them with my fingers, or bite them off to the right length… again, not Martha and house wasn’t going to be edible with hot glue on it anyway! I then stacked 5-6 more in decreasing length on the front and the back to make the peak to the roof, and attached a cardboard roof. With the tub of rods I bought, I probably could have built another 4-5 houses! Oops… always over buy.
I made a second platform with just a sugar cone ‘Tree’ on it for Lil’ M to play with and keep her entertained while I helped Big M. Then, I filled the frosting dispenser and set up decorations in cupcake wrappers on a paper plate. Note our trashable layer (1/4 of a Dollar Store table cloth) and limited materials to limit potential mess, both tips from our Crafting With Kids Guide. It’s really easy to fill those dispensers if you put the frosting in a ziploc bag first, cut off a corner and squeeze it in. I prefer these to pastry bags, especially when decorating with kids, because the frosting doesn’t squirt out the back. I got mine years ago from Pampered Chef, but you can find similar ones on Amazon.
Gathering all the materials, setting up the decorations, frosting, and building the structure took a good 45-60 minutes, including my trials and errors… but Big M decorated the thing for more than 2.5 hours, and would have kept going if I didn’t have to bribe her to stop and eat dinner!
A 16 Month Old’s Version
Lil’ M’s ‘entertainment’ tree really served as more of a snack… I put some green frosting on her tree, gave her a few mini M&Ms and showed her how to put them on. She ate them all, picked them off the tree and ate those two, and then tried to lick every speck of frosting off her tree! But she was entertained, and more importantly, not trying to grab at Big M’s masterpiece.
Big M loved every second of it, and I was totally enamored with her creativity. She was a little frustrated by the frosting dispenser at first… she called it her ‘glue’, and when she couldn’t get as much as she wanted out, she would instruct me where to place the glue and then she would place her decorations.
Other than putting ornaments on the tree, the candy cane hearts and making roof shingles out of Golden Grahams, every other decoration idea was hers. Since my assembly and preparation took longer than planned, she had just finished watching a Bubble Guppies episode in the Arctic, inspiring her building of the snowmen family and the igloo. I loved her LifeSaver wreath and windows, tree toppers, and my favorite part by far was when she asked me to put glue down to build a path!!!
She is so proud of her ‘Gingerbread House’… She shows it to everyone who comes over, explaining every piece, and gives virtual tours over FaceTime to anyone who calls. And thanks to MerMer (my Mom), she now checks it every morning for a Gingerbread Mouse, a great book to read along with this project. I may have to downsize our Candy Cane Mouse template to give our house a resident before the season is up. Big M is also quite taken with Gingerbread Friends this year… Love Jan Brett books – the illustrations are so beautiful! It’s fun too to read these now post creating our own house and hear Big M reminisce about how ‘we built a house too!’
This is definitely a new activity for us that is going to be a staying tradition. Despite the prep work involved, I can’t remember another activity she was this taken with – totally worth it! Send us pics of your Christmas Cabins on Instagram @PGPBMeghan!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Candy Cane Christmas Mouse and Cup & Jingle Bell Reindeer Game. You can find all of these, as well as our favorites from around the web on our Christmas board on Pinterest.