By Jeanne Huybrechts, Chief Academic Officer, and Keira Pride, Library Services Manager, Stratford School
Preschool classrooms are nearly always equipped with miniature kitchens featuring small-scale appliances, pots and pans, and baskets full of plastic food of all sorts. These mini kitchens are universally popular with children, who love to imitate “grown-up” activities and are entirely familiar with food-preparation and serving rituals. We love them in schools, because while children are engaged in imaginative play, pretending to cook and serve, they are learning new vocabulary, discerning shapes and colors, perhaps counting and measuring for the first time.
“Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.” – Guy Fiery, Chef and Television Personality
It is not always practical or safe for children to help with meal preparation in real kitchens, but it is certainly worth the effort to involve them whenever possible. Even the youngest children can rinse vegetables, tear lettuce, stir a solution, or add ingredients to a mixture. Once children can read, even modestly, they can contribute to meal preparation by reciting the ingredients in a recipe — perhaps encountering abbreviations and fractions for the first time. Following a recipe from start to finish bolsters planning skills. Making a shopping list is an un-intimidating and purposeful way to practice writing. All contributions to meal preparation foster healthy relationships with food and engender justifiable pride.
Many children also love to listen to or read stories about food preparation — or food, in general. For all the “foodies” in your families, we have curated a list of books they might enjoy. A personal favorite of mine is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which I have read aloud in many Stratford School classrooms. I always close the reading by asking the little ones what food they would most like to see rain from the sky and am always charmed by their answers, which range from the predictable to the truly exotic – from French fries to pheasant gumbo!
How to Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman
What do you do when you want to make an apple pie but the local food market is closed? Why not take a trip around the world in search of all the necessary ingredients? This quirky story is a great way to talk to children about where our food actually comes from, challenging them to think beyond the grocery store. I love that the book incorporates geography, too! There’s also a great recipe for apple pie included in the book. If you like this book, try the sequel, How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the USA!
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Dragons love tacos, but they don’t like spicy salsa–it gives them “tummy troubles.” At his dragon taco party, a boy inadvertently serves up mildly spicy salsa and his guests (dragons) accidentally burn his house down. This light-hearted, slightly absurd dragon story makes you want to read it aloud to a bunch of children making up all sorts of weird voices for each character. If you love tacos too, this book is most definitely for you. There is a sequel and of course, a toy dragon clutching a taco.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
There are only fifty different words in this 1970 Dr. Suess silly classic about learning to try a new food. Dr. Suess was one of the first authors to create books that not only can be read by young students due to their limited word count, but also contained an important life lesson for the reader. Should we automatically hate all weird foods? And one step further for discussion while reading this classic; should we judge something (or someone) on their appearance?
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola
An absolute gem from the author/artist of Strega Nona. The illustrations are so well done that words aren’t needed. The story follows an older woman who wakes up wanting to cook pancakes for herself and her pets. She grabs a recipe book but then realizes that she has no eggs. She walks out to her chicken coop and gets eggs. Next comes the milk; same problem, and similar solution. As all of the ingredients are gathered, the cows milked and the butter churned, there are many clues about what is happening in the story. The conversation with your reader can be about the true origin of the ingredients of our foods: farms, not grocery stores or pantry shelves. Will she make her pancakes? Turn the pages and see! Afterward, use the simple pancake recipe included to make your own.
Grades One to Two
Yasmin the Chef (Series) by Saadia Faruqi
Yasmin is planning a party for her friends, but doesn’t like the spicy food her Pakistani family serves. Yasmin puts on her chef hat and plans to make her own amazing, fantastic recipe…as soon as she figures out what that is! This amazing eighteen book series has the main character trying out all sorts of challenges, such as being a singer, a soccer player, a writer, and even a librarian.
Grades Three to Five
Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich, Illustrated by Amy June Bates
This charming biography follows the story of Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, a very fortunate Parisian feline who comes to live with renowned chef Julia Child and her husband. Minette will delight young children with the way she pounces, jumps, and rolls around the Child’s home, and with the way she waits patiently as Julia cooks special meals. Julia knows she has a great recipe if Minette loves it! All of the quotes in the story are drawn from Julia Child’s writing and correspondence. The book also describes the markets, cooking smells, and ambience of Paris so well that it is easy to see how Julia Child was inspired to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Illustrated by Ron Barrett
This classic story starts with a young boy and girl eating pancakes with their grandparents. As one of the flapjacks flies through the air, grandpa is reminded of a tall tale about Chewandswallow, a town where soup rained from the sky, the snow was made of mashed potatoes, and the wind blew in storms of hamburgers. All the townspeople were happy, and well fed, but then, the town had pancake storms, covering the school so no one could get in. Tomato tornadoes occurred, along with other food-related natural disasters, including giant meatball hail, ruining houses. How do the townspeople survive? Read this very silly, wonderfully illustrated picture book and find out.
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
It’s time for the annual candy making competition! At the “Life is Sweet” candy factory, things are definitely much more exciting. Four 12-year-olds with their own stories to tell: Logan; the Candymaker’s son, Daisy; a girl with a huge secret, Miles; an innocent thoughtful boy with a hidden past, and Phillip; a young contestant seeking revenge. This book has a few sweet lessons on friendship, honesty, and being courageous enough to be yourself, mixed in with lots of candy! If you like this one, read the sequel, The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase.
So if your child loves to cook and baking is a favorite weekend activity, then they may discover that they have something in common with the characters in these stories. Each book in our collection is filled with cooking adventures, and some even include recipes for you and your children to try! So what are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking!