Want Your Child to Learn to Cook the Family Dinner? Give Him a Cookbook

Chow on 03.26.11
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Getting your kids into the kitchen and learning to cook is a great goal, and just like adults, it helps if you have a bit of guidance along the way in the form of a recipe. A really good cookbook is in order, and it's important that they have one that appeals to them. When my kids were little, my sister-in-law gave them Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual, which you can still buy. They absolutely adored it, and both of them would pore over it, deciding what things they were going to make. I recall the "put back potatoes" were a favourite of my daughter.

When you look for a cookbook there are a few things to think about:

1. First off, is it really a cookbook or do the ingredient lists call for a can of this and a can of that. It should use fresh ingredients that show your child how to really cook something. I would suggest steering clear of cookbooks put out by food  manufacturers. My daughter bought a copy of The Jello Cookbook at a garage sale for a laugh, but it's really a bit scary.

2. It should be age appropriate. The Amazon listing says Kids Cooking is for ages 9 - 12, but I know my kids weren't anywhere near that age when they got it. I actually think a 12 year old would find it a bit babyish. Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes is aimed at children 3 and up. The recipes are presented twice, once in text for the adult supervisor, and also in pictures for children to follow.

3. It should have clear, easy to follow directions. It should also point out where care needs to be taken and state steps which the adult supervisor should be performing, rather than the child, such as draining pasta, or using sharp knives.

4. Personally, I like the idea of drawings, rather than photos to illustrate a children's cookbook. Anyone who has ever cooked anything from a cookbook or a magazine, knows the end product never looks like the photo. With a drawing, they won't be disappointed comparing it to the photo, but they'll get the idea or what it's like before they start.

5. Look for something that suits your family's eating style. If there aren't enough recipes in the book to appeal to your child's palate, they won't be interested in cooking from it.

6. I am lucky enough to live in Toronto which has the largest public library system in the world. After years of having weird cookbooks, I now never buy a cookbook without getting it out of the library first and trying it out. If you can do that, it's worth it. You have the opportunity to try a number of books, and see which one suits your child best.

7. Go online and look at book reviews for cookbooks you are interested in. An astonishing number of cookbooks (for adults as well) don't actually test the recipes before the book is published. Some cookbooks are fantastic and you go back to them over and over again, and some are, well, lousy. My mother always says she's happy if she gets one good recipe out of a cookbook, but I'm not. Checking out the opinions of other moms and dads on the usefulness of a book can help you make a choice.

Once you have chosen a cookbook, let your child choose what it is they want to cook. It's a great idea to start this cooking project on the weekend, because you need a lot of time and patience. If you need to shop for the recipe of choice, take them with you and let them take the ingredients off the shelf, and choose the meat and vegetables themselves. Let them do as much of the cooking as they can, stepping in only when you need to do something that isn't safe for them to do. I can guarantee you that your child will be bursting with pride when your family sits down to eat something that they made themselves, and so will you.

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