January has been a time for resolutions, trying new things and starting new behaviors. A perfect activity to try with the kiddos any time is cooking. Encourage kids to check out some of the recipes in these cookbooks available at your local library and get together in the kitchen and whip up some new favorite dishes.
Added bonus: Research shows that children who prepare their meals are more likely to eat them, which makes preparing food a must for picky eaters.
“Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs”
by Rozanne Gold and Phil Mansfield
Bloomsbury USA, 2009; $19.99
For ages: 12 and up
This cookbook aims to be helpful and full of fresh recipes that encourage teens to eat responsibly. The author explains that FRESH represents a way of thinking about food that includes ingredients and recipes that are Farm-friendly, Ripe-ready, Easy and Exciting, Sustainable, and Honest and Healthy.
Accompanied by gorgeous, bright photographs, the recipes include directions that even a novice can follow. And, when an unusual step or ingredient is used, sidebar notes show how to handle it in more detail — for example, how to break down a mango or create pesto for use within a recipe.
These 80 recipes showcase foods teens want to eat, in ways that are healthy and engaging. They are sure to inspire anyone looking to be more involved in the way they eat.
“Teen Cuisine: New Vegetarian”
by Matthew Locricchio
Skyscape, 2012; $24.95
For ages: 12 and up
Designed for both beginners and more advanced cooks, this book offers detailed instructions for creating 50 vegan, vegetarian and raw dishes. From baking bread to making chili, stir-fry and sushi, many different types of cuisine and dishes are explored. The author inspires young chefs simply by encouraging them to think about where food comes from and how it’s prepared. The gorgeous photos of each finished plate are enough to make your mouth water.
Also included is extensive information about kitchen equipment and utensils, metric conversion charts and a glossary explaining both common and exotic ingredients.
“The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook”
by Emily Ansara Baines
Adams Media, 2011; $19.95
For ages: 13 and up
From fried potatoes to wild raccoon, recipes for dishes mentioned in “The Hunger Games” trilogy are featured in this cookbook. While there are no pictures, each recipe includes an excerpt from the books mentioning the food, along with the book title and chapter number.
Extra cooking hints are whimsically labeled as “Tips from Your Sponsor,” but recipes may be too advanced or off-putting for novices. Even so, it’s difficult to ignore the nostalgic feel of recipes labeled as being from the Mellark Family Bakery, or sweet orange cake that is purported to be as sweet as Gale’s kisses.
And, because Katniss often had to forage for her own food, the book includes a large index about plants and herbs that she may have discovered and used. (Readers are cautioned to never eat anything they’re unfamiliar with…you wouldn’t want to stumble onto those poisonous Nightlock berries, would you?)
“C Is for Cooking”
by Susan McQuillan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009; $17.95
For: kids and their families.
With an emphasis on fun, Sesame Street’s “C Is for Cooking” is all about connecting children and adults with cooking. A handy list of kitchen activities that kids of all ages should be able to accomplish helps set the pace for most recipes.
Each recipe also highlights a step that children should be able to help with — think stirring or adding ingredients. Celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray make guest appearances by contributing recipes. Recipes like Bert’s tutti frutti turkey salad are named after favorite Sesame Street characters.
Lots of colorful photographs highlight the recipes for drinks, breakfasts, lunches, soups, dinners and more. This would be a great cookbook for families with preschoolers interested in cooking adventures.
“Grandpa’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Cookbook”
by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013; $17.99
For ages: 4 and up
Lots of illustrations make this another great choice for the preschool-aged chef. Children and adults who have read the beloved picture book of the title will also love this cookbook, written by the same author. The table of contents is simply drawings of the included recipes with a page number.
Kids will love the outrageously named recipes, such as “hamburgers heading for Earth” and “Jell-O setting in the West.” Recipes are fairly simple, and several require only assembling ingredients (several sandwich and drink ideas), which can be a great way to build confidence in beginners.
Each recipe has a photograph of the finished product and an accompanying illustration by Ron Barrett. And the index and Grandpa’s Rules and Tools also have important reminders, such as stoves can get “HOT.”
“Little Cowpokes Cookbook”
by Zac Williams
Gibbs Smith, 2013; $14.99
For ages: 8 and up
Divided into sections, this cookbook teaches its readers how to eat like a cowpoke. “Breakfast at the Ranch” gives instructions for brown sugar mule muffins and eggs ranchero.
“Cowpunchers Campout” includes snack recipes like cactus kabobs and saddle up s’mores. While a few recipes are simple, this cookbook is for the advanced child chef. Texas sheet cake requires real cooking skills, as the cake and icing are both made from scratch.
Fans of Texas cuisine and culture will love the photographs, which include kitschy Western decor that will inspire many a tablescape.
“ChopChop: The Kids' Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family”
by Sally Sampson
Simon & Schuster, 2013; $19.99
For ages: 8 and up
This is a colorful and fun cookbook with lots of ideas for meal planning. Beautiful photographs of the prepared dish will make any reader hungry.
Recipes run the gamut from basic hard-boiled eggs to more advanced “not your grandma’s fried chicken.” Some recipes are labeled as expert or almost expert, which require a little more cooking experience. Variations (see the recipe for chicken stew five ways) are also included, so that once a recipe is mastered, chefs in training can experiment a little more each time they try the recipe.
Lots of the recipes are perfect for weeknight dinners — chapters on soups, salads and sandwiches are all included. An element of modern cuisine is also included with recipes for fish tacos with purple cabbage slaw and sesame crusted tofu.
Wendy Dunn is a teen librarian and Lisa Smant is a children’s librarian for the Fort Worth Library.