My son has developed a love for cooking. He is only seven, but he loves pouring through recipe books and seeing familiar and not-so-familiar foods prepared in a new way. Don’t get me wrong: he is not a particularly creative eater, but he certainly is creative in thinking about preparing food!
Over the years, we’ve seen our share of cookbooks. I’ve come to recognize great children’s cookbooks when I see one!
What I Look for in Great Children’s Cookbooks
Here’s what I look for in a great children’s cookbook.
1. Directions for children. I love when the directions are accessible to the children: an illustration to help guide them, or at least very clear directions. It is especially important that the child’s cookbook mention remind children to “ask a parent for help” when using sharp knives and ovens or stoves.
2. Interest for kids. To get a young child interested in the recipes, it must have some aspect that appeals to kids. This could simple be bright colors or illustrations, or a picture of the finished food. It could be clever names for otherwise normal foods.
3. Substantial and healthy recipes. There are a fair number of cute preschool cookbooks, but many have cute recipes, like bread cut in an animal shape, ants on a log (raisins in peanut butter on a celery stick), or otherwise prettily-arranged food. If I’m handing my kids a recipe book and suggesting that they select a recipe, I certainly don’t want it to be something I’m not interested in making with them!
Some of Our Favorite Great Children’s Cookbooks
My son is beginning to branch out of the children’s cookbooks. As I prepared this post, I asked him what his current favorite cookbook was. (Note that affiliate links follow.) He said it is the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the one for adults). He likes how many recipes there are to pour over.
That said, I’ve been keeping track of some of our favorite (and most successful) cooking times together. Here are just a few of the books we’ve loved and why we loved them.
While Pretend Soup does include some “decorated” food (“Bagel Faces,” decorated with vegetables, for example), the emphasis in the entire book is different. Katzen and Henderson assert that for a preschooler, the fun part of cooking is the actual act of cooking. Watching my kids with it, I believe it.
The introduction provides numerous safety ideas (such as mark the handle part of the bread knife with masking tape to remind the child where to hold it), as well as ideas to ease the stress of cooking with a child (such as keep a baking sheet under the mixing bowl, so clean ups will be as painless as putting the baking sheet in the sink). Cooking with children will certainly be messy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a no go.
Further, each recipe is written twice, once for the adult in words, and then illustrated in a two-page color spread so the child can “read” the recipe himself. My preschoolers both have loved this!
And then the “critics” (i.e., preschoolers) also provide hilarious reviews of the food they’ve created.
“I wish I could have two bunches of them!” says Nathan, liking his plate after the “Zucchini Moons”
“This is so good, I can’t even say a word.” says Matthew about the “French Toast”
“It tastes so good, I’m gonna eat it ALL UP!” says Jessica on the “Oatmeal Surprise”
“Good! Very good! So really very good!” says Sammy about the “Pizza!”
What I like best about Pretend Soup is not necessarily the recipes. No, what I like most about Pretend Soup are the tips and ideas for making the process fun. Cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating, and Pretend Soup makes even the most basic dishes into a game. I think the kids praised the end results (even the pretty ordinary sautéed vegetable dishes) because they had made it themselves. It was their creation: of course they liked it.
This definitely wins in the “appeals to young children” category! When Grover and Cookie Monster are the ones recommending a particular recipe, kids are sure to be interested. The titles of the foods are also appealing. A few years ago, my son enjoyed one that was Grover’s favorite. Raisin never would have suggested it, I don’t think, if he’d realized it was a tuna salad sandwich recipe, but since it was Grover’s Mom’s something-or-other recipe, he was excited.
Besides, the obvious kid appeal on each page, this was a real cook book with good recipes in it! We enjoyed doing them together.
Because these are “real recipes,” however, it also means that this was the cookbook in which Raisin found that he did not always enjoy the foods we prepared from recipes in cookbooks. Nevertheless, he still is on a hunt for more great cookbooks that might have the recipe that he does love!
We take the series of books that Raisin is interested in, and we find the books to go along with them. Here are some we’ve explored in the past few years.
- The Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook.
- The Little House Cookbook.
- Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake
- The Boxcar Children Cookbook
- The Star Wars Cookbook
We are always on the lookout for more fun cookbooks that bring cooking to a child’s level. Granted, some of the “novelty” cookbooks I mentioned are a bit difficult for children, but the amusement factor is not to be ignored too! The goal is help kids be excited about food, and give them a safe environment to explore and learn about new foods.
Do you cook with your kids? Which cookbooks have they enjoyed browsing through?