Cookbooks for older children

Following my last post about cookbooks for young children, I wanted to follow up with some for older children. Except… we don’t have many. We have two “family” cookbooks and one aimed at teenagers, but in practice they’re used by adults more than children in this house; maybe that will change as the children get a bit older. I’ll tell you about them anyway, because I think they’re good books.

The River Cottage Family Cookbook claims that it’s for “anyone in the family” to use, and that children aged 10-12 and upwards (isn’t that the same as 10 and upwards?) should be able to cook from it without help. The recipes are divided onto rough groups by main ingredient – flour, milk, meat, sugar etc – and there are some useful basics in there like soda bread, pizza dough, Victoria sponge, to name just a few from the Flour chapter. Personally I think my children might be more inspired to cook from it if there were pictures for each recipe and a bit less chat in between, but as they get older they might be more inclined to sit down and read the whole thing until they find something that interests them.

The Family Cooks is aimed at parents, but I’m including it here because it’s all about food that children might realistically eat at normal mealtimes, and plenty of the recipes are extremely simple because they’re designed to be put on a weekday dinner table within ten minutes of walking in the door. Each recipe has one clear photo of the finished product, and a set of tips at the foot of the page on how you could vary the recipe and on which bits of the process are best for involving younger children. It’s very much focused on cooking from scratch using wholefood ingredients, and has been helpful for coming up with new ways to eat vegetables that we get tired of (cauliflower popcorn, kneaded kale, and sweet potato soup with miso are some recipes we’ve loved).

Cooking Up A Storm is endorsed by Jamie Oliver and has some of the same “wotcha, geezer” style to it, which grates a bit. The recipes themselves are good, though, clearly explained and realistically cookable and eatable by the target audience. There are plenty of pictures but, one of my bugbears in cookbooks, I’d rather see more photos of the finished dishes and fewer of the chef having a laugh with his mates, or juggling oranges, or dressing up for a party. Is it weird that I want all the pictures in a cookbook to at least have some food in them? Also I’m fighting the urge to go through the book with a permanent marker and cross out all the stupid banter about “girls’ food” and mums fussing about and all the rest, leaving only the perfectly serviceable recipes.

In practice, when my oldest daughter (nearly 12) wants to cook, one of three things happens. One, she decides what she wants to make and we find a recipe on the internet. Two, she wants to make one of the things that we regularly cook and eat at home, so she asks me to stay with her and give instructions, and makes me promise not to interfere. Three, she uses something from the collection of written-out recipes that she’s been collecting since she did her Cook badge at Brownies four years ago. I know there are many more high-tech ways of collecting recipes, but an A5 sized ringbinder of bits of paper with recipes handwritten on them works fine for her (and for me; I’ve got my own very similar folder, though the recipes in it are a bit different). It’s been really useful for her to have some basics written out in detail – white sauce, vegetable soup, even how to make a cup of tea. Her collection is the kind of things that I can now make without a recipe, and that I use all the time. Maybe she should compile them into a cookbook…

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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.