A celebration of children’s cookbooks

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Oh, how I agree with this quote! I think he has the order right too. 

We. Love. Food. Necessity aside, it’s important to us all. Food cheers us up, comforts us, brings friends and families together, gives us our identity (cultural and individual), and transcends language when meeting new people.

From a western perspective, it’s the holiday season, but festivals and celebrations are happening worldwide. And food is important in so many of them. Think of a wedding without food, for example, or a birthday without a cake!

But even if it’s a huge occasion or a quiet family meal on a weekday, it’s a way to be together. A bonus is if you have a knife and fork, chopsticks, or even just food,  in your hands, then you’re less likely to be on your phone.

My favourite part of socialising and food is cooking with someone. Creating something with someone that you then share, or with other people, is beautiful. Whether you’re learning or teaching or just spending quality time together, food is social. I think shopping and exploring markets together can be an adventure too. Maybe even supermarkets – I mean, who knows what you’ll find in the middle aisles of Aldi.

We can use books in all sorts of ways. There aren’t just recipe books for children, but a whole menu of them to get excited about. They can help in the classroom as a teaching resource across the UK curriculums, linking many subject areas. As you will see, books about food can be the buttercream between the layers of learning and socialising. Here are some that will make your world merrier.

Take a Bite: Eat Your Way Around the World is pretty much literary tapas – lots of variety smooshed into one meal. It’s a history book, recipe book, a dictionary of flavours, and a food and cultural atlas (remember from a previous post that an atlas doesn’t have to contain any maps). Sitting well in geography and history topics, the pages on Greece and Egypt are especially useful. What would the ancient civilisations have been without the cultivation and trading of food? The recipes are straightforward and would be good examples of instruction writing. But the most enjoyment would be through cooking and tasting the cacophony of flavours mentioned. I’m wondering how amazing it would be to do a ‘tastes of the Silk Road’ lesson.

But where will we get our herbs, spices, fruit, veg and bread? We could visit a supermarket, or we could visit a super market. Off to the Market is a tour for younger readers around the various stalls you can find on market day. Each trader is referred to by their first name, and the equally friendly illustrations show the produce they sell. The descriptions of flavours and how items can be used are helpful details. Showing “mundane” activities as exciting and adventurous will encourage children to be more observant and interested in their surroundings. After reading this, they should be able to identify many foods and ingredients. It would also lead to learning where they originate from too. 

Big chain stores are boring in comparison. Shopping with children can be a lot more stressful than idyllic, but going to a market can be an event rather than the chore of weekly shopping for essentials.

There’s been somewhat of a renaissance in baking over several years now. TV programmes, celebrity bakers, celebrity non-bakers, non-celebrity bakers, and non-celebrity non-bakers (probably), and children. And it lends itself well to this age group. It’s playful, creative, and safe for young hands to do most of the practical bits. Oh, and the delicious results too! All of these are important if you’re making things in a school. 

David Atherton’s My First Baking Book is a guide and recipe collection to keep little bakers busy all year. Thirty-four breads, cakes, biscuits, pastries, and showstoppers. The former Bake Off winner introduces children to old favourites but also bakes they may not have experienced before. Things like soda bread and focaccia, for example. It’s wonderfully encouraging children to get involved in the making process, and everyone knows that things you make yourself always taste better, with a sense of pride and achievement too.

Kids Can Bake from Button Books has similar recipes, including a marble cake I remember making at primary school. In the same series, there’s Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian. The need to reduce the planet’s meat consumption is well known, so encouraging children early on is a step to normalising it in wider society. As a pescatarian myself, I’m going to be trying many of the dishes here. There are vegetable crisps, falafel, halloumi burgers, veggie nuggets, katsu curry… it’s not shy in wanting children to try new things. Not an easy task, but having children involved in buying the ingredients and then making is a tactic some parents will use. A link of ‘green’ cooking to science and the environment might be a way in for some learners.

The picturebook A Year in Fleurville, will also encourage children to try new things. It shows a community growing and harvesting the ingredients throughout the year and gives a recipe for each month. From the title, you have probably already presumed it’s French. The food and recipes inside might be thought of as more ‘middle class’ in the UK, but those assumptions keep people from trying new things. As a result, the food doesn’t make it to children’s vocabulary, let alone their plates.

So does food make the world merrier? Yes. But let’s clarify that this means growing, buying, cooking, and sharing food. We all need to experience the world rather than just consume it. This matters because we’re much more likely to care about other people, ourselves, and the planet. Schools should be a hands-on temple of experiences… with a great cafeteria.