So much of instilling a love of cooking to children is have them in the kitchen with you when you’re cooking. It is, as any dad knows, the unspoken jackpot of parenting to have your kid love what you love and it is one of fatherhood’s sweetest pleasures that sometimes they actually do. (That is, until they become teenagers and order from GrubHub through some weird face technology we can’t even comprehend.) Nevertheless, there is a genre of cookbooks for kids — explicitly for them — which can catalyze the process.
By cookbooks, we mean just that. Not assembly books. Putting shredded cheese on a chip and throwing it in the toaster oven is not cooking. It is assembly. What a cookbook for kids should do — and what the seven below accomplish — is get kids jazzed about things like ingredients, get them thinking about flavor and texture and technique. Will they be earning a Michelin star anytime soon? No. But with these books, they’ll be on their way.
The original Silver Spoon Cookbook came out in 1950. It is to Italians what Betty Crocker is to Americans. This edition, made with children of ten years of age and older in mind, selects 40 of the more than 2,000 original recipes, simplifies them somewhat — mostly for language than technique — and offers them with whimsical illustrations. It also includes easy-to-follow directions for making pasta, which is so mind-blowingly easy and fun it makes you wonder why you ever bought Barilla.
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In the 1960s and 1970s, Alice Waters was the free-loving, free-wheeling, boundary-breaking, meat-shaking mama at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Now she writes children’s cookbooks told from the point of view of her daughter, Franny. Apart from the recipes included, these beautiful books are packed with stirring but not infantile illustrations, which help prepare children to understand that food should be held in as high esteem as art. The book is a little bit twee, true, but it’s worth it for the 46 recipes which include everything from roasted chicken, in which the child’s participation is mostly gestural, to green apple sherbet, which can be easily prepared.
This board book, only 16 pages long, is made for the wee-est chefs, ages 2-4. It’s visually compelling, simplified but, and this is important, accurate. You’d have to be nuts to let your kid chop up raw chicken unaccompanied. But with a little bit of supervision, your little future Rosio Sanchez will be churning out top-notch guacamole, sans peas because we are not monsters.
Jacques Pepin is known as the father of French cuisine here in America. But around his house, in Connecticut, he’s known as Papa. At least by his 13-year-old granddaughter Shorey with whom and for whom he wrote his latest cookbook. Not all of the recipes — really none — can be prepared completely without adult supervision. But they are playful, fun, and delicious. Before gaining fame as a master culinarian, Pepin worked at Howard Johnson’s, and from those days of comfort food he draws some of the most fun recipes and tricks, like cutting a hot dog such that when cooked it creates a wheel, a wheel you then fill with relish and put on a hamburger bun.
From 1994, this is the OG children’s cookbook and still the absolute best. Written by Mollie Katzen, whose Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook all of our mothers had, Pretend Soup has 17 recipes which includes quesadillas and noodle soup, each written twice, one for adults and once, in pictures, for children. What’s wonderful about this approach is that, unlike the other books here, there’s no splitting the difference. The adult version has suggestions and asides — adults serve mostly as safety monitors — whereas the children’s versions contain instructions and quotes, like Yelp from yore, including insights like “I thought it was going to be gross, but it turned out good!”
No child will cook out of this beautiful gold hardcover reissue of Salvador Dali’s 1973 masterpiece. On the other hand, no adult will either. But this is the single book that has had the biggest effect on my household. My older son, Tony, absolutely loves paging through Dali’s somewhat scary illustrations and photographs of absolutely batshit crazy recipes like toffee with pine cones and Veal cutlets stuffed with snails.
Ah, the 1970s. Ah, Boston. Who knows which one of those two accounts for this wonderful little book. It was written in 1974 at a co-op preschool in Boston with the help of Roz Ault. These recipes, from homemade granola to a three-day process of making gelatin out of pigs feet, aren’t for nightly use. They were originally meant to be used as part of a unit on cooking. But there’s so much here to love, from the vintage illustrations to the descriptions. It’s a rare gem, but a gem indeed.