As a child, I never had a cookbook. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t into cooking — on the contrary, I spent countless hours helping my grandma making gnocchi or watching my mom prepare our dinner. It was a time when adults more often than not didn’t have cookbooks. Recipes were just passed down from memory; they were family heirlooms just like the porcelain flatware set from grandma’s wedding or the backpack grandpa brought back from the war.
Nowadays, however, there are countless cookbooks geared towards children, many of them bearing the signature of celebrity chefs. Getting kids interested in cooking and nutrition at a young age means not only that your child might become the next Thomas Keller, but that he or she will grow up to be an adult who makes sensible decisions about food and leads a healthier lifestyle.
“Kids are our future, so I think that it’s very important that we react to serious problems that we have in this country,” said chef Emeril Lagasse during his recent trip to Naples. “One [problem] obviously is obesity, especially in young people. The quality of school lunches is another. And what we are putting in our bodies — all this processed stuff — it’s not good, and we have to change that.”
But how do you approach the subject with kids? You do it with cookbooks that are fun to read and use, so that they will absorb the knowledge about cooking, nutrition and health without even knowing it.
New Junior Cookbook from Better Homes & Gardens Cooking (Wiley, 2004; $16.95)
Since the first cookbook I ever bought was the classic red-and-white checkered spiral bound BH&G book, it was only natural to pick the kids’ version of it when it came time to buy a gift for the little chef in my family, my 9-year-old nephew. The book includes safety tips for kids in the kitchen, an interesting overview of easily understandable nutritional goals and mouth-watering art that is a combination of real food pictures and fun, comic-like graphics.
The recipes, too, are great. They cover every meal of the day, from a hearty egg breakfast to chocolate desserts.
“Emeril’s There’s a Chef in My Soup!
Recipes for the Kid in Everyone” by Emeril Lagasse (HarperCollins,2005; $22.99)
Kids love Lgasse: he’s energetic, he’s lively, he has a contagious smile — and he shotus “BAM!” and makes them laugh. It’s no surprise that he has written three cookbooks geared toward children in the past five years. “There’s a Chef in My Soup” was the first one; it features 75 recipes kids and adults can make together and have fun with: from “Baby bam burgers” to “Grill-it-up-a-notch ham and cheese sandwich,” there are plenty of children’s favorites, to be prepared with a twist.
“The Children’s Quick and Easy Cookbook” by Angela Wilkes (DK CHILDREN, 2006; $17.25)
Most kids — and many adults — prefer cookbooks that feature lots of pictures, ideally one per recipe. What about one that offers multiple photographs that illustrate the ingredients, the step-by-step preparation and the finished result? The “Children’s Quick and Easy Cookbook” is just that: a beautifully illustrated book that will make everyone want to get cooking. The recipes are easy to follow and are more interesting than the usual chicken nuggets and the like, ranging from homemade soups to crostini, and from chicken curry to lemon cheesecake.
“Williams Sonoma Kids Baking” by Abigail J. Dodge (Oxmoor House, 2003; $19.95)
Some of us are natural born cooks. Some of us are better bakers. The exact science behind the kneading and the raising of baked goods was sometimes lost on me, until I bumped into this book that explains, to children and adults who can’t bake, how to become a successful baker. It’s a book written for kids -the instructions are crystal clear and each term is described and fully explained in the glossary- and kids will have fun using it to make cookies, pies, pizzas and breads. And maybe some adults will, like me, overcome their fear of baking.
“Kids Around the World Cook!: The Best Foods and Recipes from Many Lands” by Arlette N. Braman (Jossey-Bass, 2000; $12.95)
If you want your kids to get a taste for international foods, this is the book for you. From Japan to Jamaica and from Ethiopia to Egypt, kids can learn not only what the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also interesting tidbits of history that will deepen their understanding of other cultures.
The book isn’t as graphically appealing as some others, but the recipes are so good and diverse it’s worth a try. Who wouldn’t love Polish strawberry soup or a sweet lassi from India?