One of my favorite holiday traditions growing up was making a gingerbread house.
We had a heavy duty cast iron mold that my mom baked gingerbread in. My dad always assembled the house, and my sisters and I would decorate it with candy (and eat a ton in the process). It was a fun, creative, and delicious way to spend an evening together as a family.
When my oldest was a toddler, I wanted to introduce him to the magic of making a gingerbread house but didn’t want to take on quite so much prep work.
I found the inexpensive and awesome Trader Joe’s gingerbread kit. While it’s a little light on the decorations, it’s still a thrilling gingerbread house experience.
Food Allergies and the Holidays
Fast forward a few years, and little sister is at the age where she’s able to experience the magic of gingerbread house making. However, due to some potentially life-threatening food allergies, I needed to make sure that there was a way she could still participate and keep everyone safe.
With all our cardboard crafting, it occurred to me, why not make a cardboard gingerbread house?!
Late night stress crafting during the 2020 election gave me time to cut out cardboard pieces and hot glue them together.
Then I painted peppermint stripes onto wine cork slices to make peppermint candies (it was actually a very calming and therapeutic activity).
I remembered a fun puffy paint recipe from Crafty Morning that I thought just might work as a royal icing replacement. So I mixed ¼ cup of shaving cream with ¼ cup of white craft glue in a plastic bag, mixed it together, and then cut the tip off a corner of the bag to use it as a piping bag. And it totally worked!!!
Here’s a picture of the big cardboard gingerbread house, frosted and pre-decorated.
We also made little trees from recycled egg carton pieces. They were as much of a hit as the gingerbread house.
Cardboard gingerbread houses are the perfect, allergy-safe holiday art activity and holiday decoration. And I just love that they are made from mostly recycled pieces.
Winter Botanical House
With our abundant garden herbs, I also decided to make a cute winter botanical house using the garden herbs rosemary, sage, and oregano.
More Ways to Play
What I especially love about this project, is there are a ton of recycled things that can be used as decorations!
I could see using applesauce pouch lids to make a fun pathway, bread ties as house shingles, cut up cardboard or recycled artwork as stepping stones, painted popsicle sticks as a picket fence, really the options are endless.
And once the puffy paint fully dries you can paint over it, glue more stuff onto it, and really get wild with the decorations.
The shaving cream/glue combination also holds up pretty well and the kids had fun playing with the little houses too. There are Winnie the Pooh figures napping inside this particular house.
The cardboard gingerbread house makes a great activity to add to your Christmas Countdown Calendar this year! Check out my blog post about how to create a magical calendar to build excitement and fun this holiday season.
Allergy Friendly Treats
When I told the kids my cardboard gingerbread house idea, my son was a little skeptical since there wasn’t real candy to eat. I reassured him that we’ll have some safe treats to eat when we decorate the big cardboard gingerbread house I’m making for them.
In case you don’t know about Thrive Market, it’s a wonderful online grocery store chock full of healthy and allergy friendly foods, cleaning supplies, health and beauty, and more. Their boxes are sturdy and great for recycled projects too!
We also like the Yum Earth Candy Canes and treats too! And you can get them at Thrive Market as well.
And for a super simple, allergy friendly Christmas cookie idea, check out Sweet Loren’s Sugar Cookie dough! It is so incredibly tasty and a healthier, allergy friendly cookie.
If a full on gingerbread house is a little too much for you this year, you can always cut out a gingerbread person or one dimensional house from cardboard and use the puffy paint icing recipe to decorate it. Mad Mini Things has a fun collage house post for inspiration!
By the way, even if your family doesn’t have food allergy issues and loves making real gingerbread houses, I still think you’ll enjoy creating a recycled version too!
I created a gingerbread house template that you can print it, cut it out and put it on cardboard. Then trace around the template and cut out the shapes to make a mini house. Or you can use this as a general guide to make a larger cardboard gingerbread house.
If you’re planning to make several houses, you might play around with the angle at the top of the house and the size of the roof. You’ll notice in the picture at the very beginning of this post that my houses are a little different in shape. I think it adds some interest to the overall look if there’s more than one!
Supplies For the House
- Cardboard Box
- Cardboard Scissors – regular scissors will work too, I just love these cardboard scissors!
- Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
- Shaving Cream
- White Craft Glue
- Plastic Bag (for piping the glue icing)
- Bits of plastic straws or other small recycled pieces for sprinkles – We used upcycled Bunch O Balloons
- Corks cut into small circles and painted to look like peppermints – to make these, I carefully cut the corks using a sharp knife and then painted each cork slice white. Next, I dipped a toothpick in red paint and pulled it through the white to create the marble effect
- Recycled paper punch out shapes – we have a punch similar to this one
- Other colorful recycled materials like pouch lids, bread fasteners, painted popsicle sticks, etc.
- Fresh herbs, flowers, or other items found in nature
- Egg carton centers cut out and painted to use as trees
Step By Step
- Cut gingerbread house pieces out of cardboard – template here
- Hot glue house together along edges. You can mount the house on a small cardboard box if desired
- Mix 1/4 cup shaving cream with 1/4 cup of white craft glue in a plastic bag. Knead together to mix. Close bag and cut corner. Pipe glue icing onto the cardboard house.
- Decorate wet icing with recycled candy, items found in nature, etc.
- Enjoy! (but don’t taste, obviously!)
It would be so cool to make a seaside house using sand and seashells from the beach. If your kids are into LEGOs, it might be fun to use spare parts in the decorations too.
You could even use acrylic paint markers and just draw onto your cardboard gingerbread house. Straight up craft paint would be fun too. And if you want a true candy experience, you can even decorate your cardboard house with real candy (just don’t lick the glue icing)!
If your kids are sweet treat obsessed like mine, The Story Orchestra, The Nutcracker book is one of our all time favorites! I love that it introduces them to the actual music from the Nutcracker too. There’s nothing cuter than a toddler humming the Nutcracker Suite.
And if you shop for books through Bookshop, you are able to support local bookstores. If you shop using my links, I also receive a small commission and appreciate your support!
What Will You Create?
If you try the cardboard gingerbread house, please share your pictures and experiences with us. We’d love to see what you create!