Making a gingerbread house has never been an important Christmas tradition in our family. My mom bought the grocery store kits a few times when my sister and I were teenagers, and we’d mess around putting it together. But we thought the pre-packaged candies were mostly gross, and no one ever ate it.
When I had kids of my own, I thought it would be more fun. We bought the standard $10 kit, unpacked the rock-solid gingerbread panels, the candy packets, and the icing that tasted like cement. It was going to be a new tradition!
And guess what happened? I ended up trying to stick the gingerbread house together myself, while my son and daughter ignored the creative process and went crazy gobbling the candies! “They’re for the HOUSE!” I kept reprimanding. Two seconds later, they’d pop another fistful of gumdrops into their little mouths. You guys, we ended up with the saddest, plainest gingerbread house you’d ever seen.
So although I’m not a fan of the real deal, I liked the idea of a non-edible gingerbread house. They’re a great option for kids with food allergies — as well as kids with food dye sensitivities or dietary restrictions — because they remove the food aspect and leave the creativity.
Here’s how you and your family can make an adorable non-edible gingerbread house …
- Grab a plain cardboard box and cut it into the following pieces:
- Two rectangle walls for the sides
- Two longer rectangles for the roof
- Two square walls with peaked tops for the front
- Secure the four walls together with hot glue, then add beads of glue to the roof line and attach the panels. There should be a slight overhang so it looks like a real gingerbread cottage.
- Hot-glue on a few cotton balls as “snow” on the roof. You could also make a snowy lawn out of cotton balls.
- I had the brilliant idea to try white toothpaste as “icing” (I mean, it dries nice and hard on the bathroom sink, right?) but it was a gloppy mess and wouldn’t stick to the cardboard. So I found an old tube of bright white adhesive caulk, and it worked much better. Squeeze it along the edges of the cardboard to hide the corrugated edges, and make swirly patterns on the roof. It looks and feels exactly like the cheap icing that comes in those grocery store gingerbread house kits.
- The most important part of a gingerbread house is the candy, but you can easily make fake candies from polymer clay like Sculpey or Fimo. Break off a small piece and start squishing it around in your palms to warm it up. Once it’s nice and soft, roll it into balls (gumballs), flatten it into circles (M&Ms), or shape it into red-and-white twists (candy canes). The kids found it hard to manipulate the clay, since it’s tougher than Play-Doh, but they loved sticking on the “candies.”
- Normally, you bake polymer clay in the oven to harden it, but there’s no need for this project — just squeeze a blob of caulk onto the back of your “candy” and stick it right onto the house. It looks just like a candy stuck on with white icing.
- Mix it up by adding some foam candy shapes (I found mine at Michaels for less than $5). Many of them have adhesive backs, so it’s safe for kids to apply without touching hot glue or caulk.
- Dig around in your craft supplies to see what else you can add! You could glue on foam letters, wooden shapes, beads, or tiny Christmas ornaments to personalize it. We chose to add a glittery silver “Elsa” snowflake to the front, since my kids are obsessed with Frozen.
- Once the house is sufficiently decorated, you might want to add a little sparkle to make the cardboard look a little less … cardboard-y? I brushed a thin coat of Mod Podge over the entire house, and then shook on some white sparkles.
Our non-edible gingerbread house has a place of honor on our dining room table, and the kids are already talking about making gingerbread people to live inside it. Because it’s made of cardboard, glue, caulk, and clay, we’ll be able to store it away for future Christmases, too.
But the best part is that no one suffered a sugary high as a result of making it!
Tell us: How do you replace food-focused holiday activities?