This is a time of year when practically everyone is thinking about food. Whether we’re preparing for holiday feasts and parties or donating items to those in need, we’re thinking about entrees and side dishes, beverages and desserts. Whenever possible, I’ve involved kids in my cooking endeavors, whether it was my own daughter and her friends or children at the Library. We’ve shaken up homemade butter, fried green eggs and ham, decorated gingerbread houses, and simmered stone soup. We’ve concocted all sorts of things with fresh fruits and veggies: berry smoothies, spicy salsa, herbed cream cheese and even a tasty pasta sauce. In every activity, the children learned a bit about nutrition, practiced math skills by measuring ingredients, observed chemical reactions, and produced something good to eat. Cooking together teaches about food, creates memories, and provides hands-on learning activities for children of all ages.
Experts tell us that cooking with kids is a perfect way to develop language skills. By taking a cue from TV cooking show hosts and describing every step of the process, we help preschoolers develop vocabulary skills in a fun, engaging way. Older kids can also take the role of chef, narrating their own culinary activities and discovering new talents in the kitchen while increasing fluency with language. Why not whet their appetites with some great reading before rolling up the sleeves to cook, bake, slice and dice?
Fabulous Food Fiction
Some of my favorite food-oriented stories for little ones are cleverly written picture books, incorporating a tantalizing variety of vocabulary words into the mix. Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett is a whimsical retelling of the gingerbread boy folktale. Kids will delight in Brett’s intricate illustrations as well as the humor of the story. They may also be begging to make and decorate some cute cookies after reading this delightful tale.
Bread and Jam for Frances, an all-time favorite in my family, tackles the problem of a young badger who refuses to eat anything but bread and jam until her mother comes up with a smart solution. Frances’ expanded culinary tastes just might help other picky eaters increase their food choices. An amusing tale that will stand up to repeated readings for adults and children alike.
Bunny Cakes not only demonstrates basic steps of making a birthday cake, it reveals the power of persistence. Max’s efforts to obtain Marshmallow Squirters to decorate his grandma’s birthday cake will charm adults and children alike. Fans of Max and Ruby will eat this one up!
Peeny Butter Fudge is the rhyming tale of a grandma who stirs up memories with her grandchildren by making the family fudge recipe, ignoring the list of healthy foods their mother wants the kids to eat. This is a sweet, humorous story that will have you searching for your family heirloom recipes and digging out the pots and pans.
Children who read independently might be tempted to try books that offer not only absorbing stories but inspire their own efforts in the kitchen. A few that deserve a place on the reading menu include:
Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley tells the inspiring story of Edna Lewis, the daughter of an emancipated slave who grew up to become a famous chef, and includes several appealing recipes for a budding culinary artist.
Pie by Sarah Weeks is a quirky story in which 10-year old Alice’s aunt leaves her award-winning pie recipe to a cat. The girl, the cat and, in fact, the entire town go pie-crazy trying to find that recipe and win the Blueberry Medal. Enticing recipes for a beginning pastry chef are sprinkled throughout this tasty novel.
Redwall by Brian Jacques is a fantasy peppered with scrumptious feasts served up for mice who battle against injustice in the medieval forest. These brave warriors always celebrate their homecomings to Redwall Abbey with a mug of October Ale and an astonishing array of dishes sweet and savory! Your school age child will be fascinated by the story and will most likely want to try a few of the foods, and fortunately, there is a companion cookbook to help with that.
Starting from Scratch…or not
Inspiring resources for mixing up deliciously simple fare are abundant in print, on video and even digital formats. Overdrive for Kids offers a great selection of e-cookbooks for kids, and Hoopla features instructional cooking videos, all available with your library card and a few quick clicks.
National Geographic Kids’ Cook Book: A Year-Round Fun Food Adventure provides delicious recipes for every month, including dishes from many cultures as well as plans for entertaining. Easy instructions and tantalizing food photos will have inspire young chefs to try new flavors and food combinations.
Chop Chop: the Kids Guide to Cooking Real Food with your Family explains the basics like oatmeal, hard-cooked eggs and pan-roasted green beans, but also brings multicultural flavors to the kitchen with recipes for Matzo Balls, Mexican-style Hot Cocoa and Hummus.
No-bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids. This how-to book is sure to be a source of inspiration for building beautiful edible houses at home. Mermaid palaces, tiki huts and other fantastic structures made from graham crackers and candy are sure to intrigue any child who has ever been interested in cookie and cake decorating, or even building and construction.
Food Fun at the Library
Consider taking part in the gingerbread house programs at several of our locations if you like to share the experience with lots of friends. And for a little food fun outside of the kitchen, bring the kids to a Library for a giant-sized game of Candyland!
Whatever your plans are for the next few weeks, I hope they’ll include cooking up a little food fun with the children in your life!
-by Jeanne, CLP – Knoxville