Cookbooks for young children

I’m cross-posting this with my other blog, Lick The Plate, where I write about food. I haven’t posted here much recently because I’ve been writing a Have The Fourth One First book, so all my best ideas were going straight into there, but I’m on my final proofread so hopefully I can get back to posting on this blog more regularly soon. If you’re interested in simple, practical cookery, particularly cooking from scratch and reducing food waste, you can follow the other blog and get nearly-weekly blog posts delivered straight to your inbox.

I’ve always been keen to get my children involved in cooking, both to get them engaged with food and to get some extra help in the kitchen, though it takes a few years of not-very-helpful help to get to the point when they’re actually helpful. Mostly they join in with whatever I’m doing, but as they’ve got older they’ve wanted to use recipes and cook more independently. Ordinary cookbooks often don’t give enough detail for anyone who isn’t used to cooking – when I’ve tried writing recipes down for them, it’s really shocking how long it takes to spell out the steps involved in doing something like “heat the stock” or “dice the onion”.

Rrally good children’s cookbooks are hard to come by. The recipes are too simple, or too complex, or not well explained, or heavy on cupcakes with little everyday food in them. I’ve picked out a few that have really worked for us: the ones I’m listing here are great for young children just starting to cook, and next week I’ll suggest a few for older children.

The Usborne First Cookbook

Our copy of this is the one I had as a small child, now in tatters and still in regular use. By the age of 12 I had cooked basically everything in it. I love how it has really simple recipes (suggestions for sandwich fillings, ice cream sundaes, stuffed jacket potatoes) sitting alongside things that even adults find a bit intimidating (soufflé, profiteroles, pizza from scratch), without any flashing warning signs that we’re now Doing Something Difficult. There are some useful basic recipes in there, and it’s still my go-to source for chocolate brownies, chocolate mousse and the aforementioned profiteroles. It has line drawings rather than photos, showing all the intermediate steps. It does use some cookbook jargon but has a glossary, so older children (maybe 8+ if they have some cooking experience) can use it independently.

Pretend Soup and Salad People

These are aimed at very young children (4+) cooking under adult supervision. Every recipe is written twice: first as a regular recipe, then over the page a children’s version, with each step simply explained and illustrated with a drawing. You do need to look through the adult version first to get some of the specifics, but once that’s done and the ingredients and equipment are ready, a child who can read can follow the steps unaided. The recipes are a useful mix of main dishes, vegetable sides, puddings and drinks, though this often means that my daughter (recently six) wants to cook four different recipes simultaneously to make a full meal, which complicates things a bit. Still, to get a really young child to feel they’ve cooked some proper food, which other people actually want to eat. As a UK reader I do sometimes have to translate the US terms and swap ingredients for what’s available here.

Honest Pretzels

Another book by the same author, aimed at slightly older children. This is my nine-year-old’s preferred cookbook, and the style is the same: full recipe on one double page, followed by a step-by-step illustrated version on the next double page. The recipes are more ambitious, for example quite a few variations on making bread dough.

How To Cook In Ten Easy Lessons

This is such a great idea, and would work really well for anyone starting to cook, child or adult. Each chapter introduces a new cookery technique – chapter one is “using knives”, chapter two is “peeling and grating” and so on. The technique is introduced with photos and drawings and text explanations – so for example “using knives” tells you about safety, and shows in detail how to chop and dice and julienne. Then there are a few recipes using the new technique to make some sensible everyday things, like minestrone, hummus or pavlova.

Children’s World Cookbook

This is less of a “what’s for dinner?” cookbook and more of a “let’s have an adventure”, though no worse for that. It takes one country at a time, tells the reader a little bit about the place and its food, then for each country there is one simple recipe. It works well when children are doing projects on other countries, or when the World Cup or the Olympics has got them interested, and could be a great starting point for finding out more about a particular place. The individual steps are illustrated with drawings, and there are wonderful bright photos of the finished dishes and of each country’s landscape and culture. Unfortunately it’s wildly northern hemisphere-centric, and I have a huge issue with “Africa” being a single entry, and “the Middle East” another, when for example Sweden and Norway get an entry each. The recipe element is good, despite the problematic geopolitics.

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