Cookbooks for Kids: 6 Books Reviewed

We first began cooking with Zayden and Esmé when they were each around 18 months old. We started out with baking because it afforded us many opportunities to let them pour ingredients into the bowl and stir things up, which was about all they were capable of at such a young age. Even then they needed lots of supervision or we would end up with flour all over everything. But now Zayden is four-and-a-half, and he has progressed quite a bit in his cooking abilities, so we have been taking a lot of kid-friendly cookbooks out of the library for a test drive before adding a few to our cookbook library. Here’s what we think so far:

kids-kitchenKids’ Kitchen
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

This was the one that got it all started. Kids’ Kitchen contains 4o recipes on colourful, oversized cards. The images of the food are cartoony and don’t really give the kids a sense of what the finished product will look like, and we have learned that pictures of the actual food are very important. If they can’t see what it is going to look like, they can’t decide if they actually want to eat it. Given that getting the kids to help pick out the recipes for our menu each week has really helped us combat a lot of their picky-eating issues, this is a big failing of this book.

The instructions are quite good. All ingredients and equipment are listed on the front and detailed, step-by-step instruction are on the back.  An older child who is a strong reader could probably use these cards to prepare a simple meal independently, but younger children will need help from an adult every step of the way. The trouble is that the recipes themselves are not that exciting and some offer no real challenge (e.g. recipes for mashed potatoes and baked potatoes).

What Shall We Cook Today?
Rating: 4 stars what-shall-we-cook-today-84331l1

Of all the kid-friendly books we have tried, this one feels the most “grown up.” It has beautifully photographed images of the food in each recipe, and the recipes themselves are more sophisticated than the usual pizza and pasta recipes found in most children’s cookbooks. Another unique aspect of this cookbook is that the recipes are grouped by season, which is helpful if you are trying to teach your children more about where food comes from and how different types of food are available in different seasons. If you love local, seasonal produce, but are short on inspiration, this is a great book.

We do love this book, but it is probably not the book I would start with if you are just starting to cook with your kids. The recipes are a little more complex, and many of them may not appeal to a picky palette. For foodie families who have been cooking together for awhile, this is a great choice.

children-cookbookChildren’s Cookbook
Rating: 5 stars (for most books in the series)

DK Publishers have a number of cookbooks targeted at kids. We have tried the Canadian edition of their Children’s Cookbook (pictured) as well as their Kids’ Fun and Healthy Cookbook. Both feature not only photos of the final product, but also step-by-step photos that will help even kids who cannot yet read participate actively in the cooking process.

When considering adding a DK kids’ cookbook to your collection, look through the book carefully. We left some of their books at the library because they were very heavy on dessert recipes. The ones we do like, however, have a variety of tasty, yet simple recipes that cover the full range of meals and snacks.

emiril-soupEmeril’s There’s A Chef In My Soup
Rating: 3 stars

If you are a huge Emeril fan, you may already know about his kids’ cookbook: There’s A Chef In My Soup! I am on the fence with this one. No real pictures, just drawings. The recipes aren’t that exciting either. Mostly the pizza and pasta recipes you might expect from Emeril. But the recipes, while pretty standard, would definitely appeal to kids.

The steps for each recipe are also very well described, so as long as you are cooking with your child or your child is a strong reader, they would be easy to follow.

I don’t think we would add this one to our personal collection, but I think it would be a good choice for Emeril fans or for families that are just starting to cook together. Given the kid-friendly nature of most of the recipes, I also think this is one of the safest choices for picky eaters.

ella-cookbookElla’s Kitchen: The Cook Book
Rating: 1 star

I could not have been more disappointed in this cookbook. I found many of the recipes very involved, which meant they were not conducive to getting the kids to help, and they were not practical for a weeknight meal. On top of that, the ones we tried were all very bland. I also found that categorization of some of the recipes a little confusing. I am a traditionalist and prefer Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert and maybe Snacks. But they had a category for weekend food, bbq, baking as well as dessert–it was hard to figure out where you would find the recipe you wanted to try unless you marked the page the first time you saw it. Overall, not the most realistic cookbook for busy families.

What Are Your Favourite Kids’ Cookbooks?

Here’s hoping y0u find a cookbook or two that works for you, and that it is the beginning of some wonderful culinary adventures. Do you have a favourite kid-friendly cookbook that you would recommend?

Baby Shower Games

Zayden at his one month partyI am now at the stage in my life where I have to throw/attend/be-the-guest-of-honour-at baby showers. Part of the baby shower tradition is the playing of (usually cheesy) baby-themed games. For those of you in the midst of planning a shower, here is a list I’ve compiled of all the baby shower games I have ever played with instructions and an entertainment-level rating.

The Rating System:

♥               This game is boring, overplayed and/or just plain gross.

♥♥             This game is worth playing though it may be a bit challenging to organize.

♥♥♥          This game is easy to organize and pretty fun to play.

 

DON’T SAY “BABY” (♥)

This game has many variations popular at various types of showers. In the case of the baby shower, guests are all given a diaper pin or similar object and forbidden from saying certain “taboo” words (e.g. baby, diaper). If someone overhears you saying one of the taboo words, they get to steal your diaper pin and any of the diaper pins you have collected so far. The winner is the person with the most diaper pins at the end of the shower.

This game is overplayed, and most guests don’t seem to enjoy it. I’ve actually had people walk right up to me, say “baby” and willingly hand over their diaper pin because they find it so ridiculous.

 

BABY POOL (♥♥♥)

Guests contribute a predetermined amount of money to the pot in and guess any number of things about the baby. Popular options include birth date and time, weight, length and gender of the baby (if not already known). The person who is the closest to being right wins the money. Alternatively, if a large amount of money is contributed, a portion of the pot could be given to the new parents to buy essentials or put into an RESP for the baby while the remainder is given to the winner.

Super easy to organize. Even the most unenthusiastic shower guest is usually willing to play.

 

BABY PHOTO GALLERY(♥♥)

The main drawback of this game is that it requires some serious pre-planning to work well. Essentially, guests submit a baby photo before the party and they are each marked with a number and displayed on a wall. Throughout the party, guests are asked to examine the photos and guess who`s who.

This game is especially fun for co-ed showers and for showers where the majority of the guests know each other well. It is also one of the only games I know of that doubles as decorations.

 

PIN THE DIAPER/BIB/BOTTLE ON THE BABY (♥)

This is just the baby shower version of pin the tail on the donkey. A cartoon image of a baby is hung on the wall. Guests are blindfolded and must try to attach some baby related item to the correct part of the baby (e.g. place a bottle near the baby’s mouth). The person who gets closest to the correct area wins.

This game isn’t much fun as chances are most of your guests have played some incarnation of it before.

 

BLINDFOLDED TASTE TEST (♥♥)

There are a couple of variations on this game. In one version, shower guests or the father-to-be are blindfolded and fed some of mom-to-be’s strangest pregnancy cravings. They then have to guess what they are. The person who guesses the most correctly wins a prize. Alternatively, volunteers are blindfolded while the mom-to-be or other guests feed them samples of baby food and they have to guess the flavour.

This game gets mixed reviews, especially if baby food is involved. Usually the people doing the feeding have a good laugh while the blindfolded taste testers are unimpressed with this game. I find it works best at co-ed showers with the women feeding their significant others. This game is not recommended if anyone on the guest list has food allergies.

 

BELLY MEASUREMENTS (♥♥)

This game is easy to organize. All you need is a measuring tape, a pair of scissors and a spool of string or ribbon. Guests then cut a length of string that they feel is equivalent to the circumference of mom’s belly. The different lengths are then measured against the real thing, and the person who comes closest wins. This game is not recommended if you are hosting the party for a mom-to-be who is self-conscious about the size of her belly.

 

INVENT A CELEBRITY BABY NAME (♥♥♥)

This game is super easy to organize and usually results in some good laughs. Guests are given pens and scraps of paper on which to create the most outlandish celebrity baby name they can think of. Mom-to-be then reads them aloud and determines the winner based on which name she finds most amusing. It is a good idea to have some samples of some of the bizarre names real celebrities have given to their babies.

 

FAMOUS BABIES QUIZ (♥♥♥)

Test guests’ baby name trivia knowledge by compiling a list of questions about famous babies and their parents. Can they name all of the Jackson family? Do they know which two celebs are parents to Apple and Moses?  Who are the parents of Pebbles and Bam Bam? The quiz can be as short or as long as you like. Several versions are available online or you can make your own. It is recommended that you set a time limit to complete it. Guests can compete for a prize or the game can be a fun icebreaker.

MOM/DAD-TO-BE QUIZ (♥♥)

Before the shower, send out a questionnaire to the grandparents-to-be asking for details about the guest(s) of honour. You stick to a baby-theme and ask questions about first words, favourite toys, etc.  Then handout the same set of questions to the guests at the shower and see how many they can get right. It is often interesting to see how many the mom/dad-to-be get right (or wrong). Again, guests can compete for prizes or the game can simply be used as an icebreaker.

 

ADVICE FOR THE NEW PARENTS (♥)

People love passing on free advice to new parents and this “game” gives them the opportunity to do just that. Guests may write helpful tips and words of encouragement into a keepsake book, on recipe cards or even on little note cards hung like ornaments from a decorative tree. The guest-of-honour may the read them aloud as part of the party or simply take them home to read later.

While this game often produces some useful and some amusing pieces of advice, it is a bit cliche and some party guests may find it boring. Guests without children of their own may feel put on the spot. Reading out all the advice is not recommended if a large number of guests have contributed.

 

BABY GEAR OLYMPICS (♥♥)

This game is quite fun if the people organizing the shower have children of their own and have some essential baby gear handy.  A large room or outdoor space is recommended. Set up various stations as an obstacle course (e.g. setting up a portable crib, collapsing a stroller, changing a diaper, getting a baby in and out of a baby carrier). Divide into teams (boys vs. girls is fun if it’s a co-ed shower) and give each team a doll to take with them to each station. The team whose members each complete all of the tasks first is the winner.

 

MYSTERY BABY ESSENTIALS (♥♥♥)

Purchase a series of small must-have baby items (e.g. baby nail clippers, diaper cream, booties) and seal them inside brown lunch bags with numbers on the front. Guests pass each bag around and try to guess its contents. They can shake, squeeze and sniff the bags, but can’t look inside. They record their guesses on a piece of paper. After everyone has had a chance to guess, the bags are opened and the person with the most correct guesses is the winner. The mom-to-be gets to keep the contents of the bags, so this game can also double as a baby gift from one of the hosts.

 

POOPY DIAPERS (♥)

Buy a variety of chocolate bars. Break off a piece of each bar and place the pieces inside different disposable diapers. You may want to use a hair dryer to help you melt the bars to get a more realistic baby poop effect. Guests will then sniff and examine the diapers and try to guess the type of candy bar that was used.

This game is an excellent game to play if you are on a diet because it will seriously impact your ability to each chocolate ever again. If the mom-to-be and most of her family and friends really enjoy toilet humour, then this game may go over well, but in my personal experience, most people find it pretty disgusting.

 

BABY PORTRAITS (♥♥♥)

Give every guest a pen and a paper plate. They must place the paper plate on top of their head and, without looking, draw a picture of what they think the baby will look like. The honoured guest chooses the winner.

This game is super easy to throw together and usually results in a lot of laughs, so it is a great game to kick things off.

 

NAME THAT NURSERY RHYME (♥♥♥)

Guests can play this individually by writing their answers on a sheet of paper or they can play in teams as a trivia game. The host reads out a portion of a famous nursery rhyme or children’s song and guests have to either finish the line or give the title. You can also give a short synopsis of a fairy tale or other children’s book and have guests guess which one it is. Many versions of this game are available online, but it is also easy to make your own.

This game is a good alternative to a celebrity baby names trivia game if many generations will be at the same shower. Grandma may not be able to name all of Brangelina’s brood, but she is probably as familiar with Humpty Dumpty as everyone else.

The Alligator Song

ZaydenZayden has never been a big fan of personal grooming. You know the kid with the perpetually runny nose? The one with a little bit of his lunch still stuck to his face? The kid that you see and think, “Why can’t his parents just wipe his face?” That’s my kid. We try to keep his face clean; we really do, but it is hard because he hates having his face wiped. He screeches, cries, and violently slaps our hands away whenever he sees a cloth or tissue coming towards him. He also puts up a fight when it comes to brushing his teeth, changing his diaper and putting on his shoes and coat.

Apparently this is a common toddler issue as they begin to assert their independence and their new found love of the word no. But we have finally found something that gets us a little extra cooperation when it comes to cleaning his face and hands: The Alligator Song.

It is a song I made up on the fly one day while struggling to clean him up after a particularly messy lunch. Zayden loves music, so he responded well and we now sing it whenever we need to clean him up from a meal. He’s so familiar with it now that he will, on occasion, hold out his other hand to be cleaned at the appropriate point in the song. He still turns his face away when we clean his face, but at least he doesn’t cry anymore.

So if you’re like us and have tried everything to get your toddler to cooperate with basic personal grooming, here’s one more thing to try: The Alligator Song (to the tune of The Wheels On The Bus).

(While washing his hands)
The alligator goes chomp chomp chomp
Chomp chomp chomp
Chomp chomp chomp
The alligator goes chomp chomp chomp
And eats up all of the crumbs
(While washing his face)
The alligator goes lick lick lick
Lick lick lick
Lick lick lick
The alligator goes lick lick lick
And cleans up your dirty face

Working Mama

aquariumI returned to full-time work in January (I am a high school Social Studies teacher), a bittersweet milestone to begin my second year as a mother. The transition was easier than I had thought it would be. I love my job and was excited to be working with my students again. The mental challenge of preparing and teaching lessons was wonderfully stimulating after living by a baby’s routine for a year (wake up, eat, diaper change, chew on some toys, etc.). I think I also had an easier time transitioning back to the world of work because I had never allowed myself to imagine an alternative. I knew our family financial situation wouldn’t allow me to stay home full-time and the nature of my job makes a part-time schedule challenging. I also knew, after my first few months at home, that I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time homemaker.

But being back at work meant being away from Zayden for most of the day. That part of the transition was harder. Luckily, my job is a pretty high energy one with plenty of distractions that keep me from missing him constantly. I put a picture of him on my lectern in my classroom; it made me smile in the midst of a stressful class, but could just as easily make me miss him all the more.

We are very lucky that Justin’s mother is retired and willing to take care of Zayden full-time while I am at work. Flexible childcare is amazing, especially considering the realities of my job. I rarely leave work at the same time everyday. From tutoring students to play rehearsals to photocopying, I can leave the school anywhere between 4 and 5pm, and I don’t have to worry about getting charged extra for a late pick up. I also know many teachers who pay for a childcare space they don’t use in the summer or over spring break just so they don’t lose their child’s place at the daycare. It is also comforting to know that my son is being taken care of everyday by someone he loves spending time with and who loves him in return. We never had to deal with the heart-wrenching first days of daycare with a little guy crying and clinging to us. Instead Zayden was excited to be at his grandparents house; some days, when I come to pick him up, he doesn’t want to leave. But most of the time I get an excited “Ma ma!”, a happy smile and a hug when I come through the door, which is one of the best moments of my day.

Overall, going back to work has been a good experience. The only downside is that I have a lot less downtime in the evenings because I now have to juggle getting a toddler fed and ready for bed with my usual evening chores and any work that I have brought home (marking, lesson prep, etc.). But it’s manageable. Besides, no one has ever said that being a working mom is easy.

The Most Important Lessons From My First Year As A Mother

1st birthdayZayden is now officially one-year-old, which means I have also survived my first year in the trenches of motherhood. It is a journey that has changed me profoundly and that has brought more love into my life than I can even fathom. There are incredible highs and frustrating lows, but every moment has taught me important lessons about myself, my son and parenthood in general. Here are a few of the biggest lessons I learned. I figured these all out the hard way; hopefully you won’t have to.

  1. As long as it’s safe, do whatever works. Everyone—book authors, family members, perfect strangers—will have free (and often unwanted) advice to offer on how to raise your child. While these tips can be useful on occasion, more often than not they are an annoyance that can sometimes make you feel like you must be doing something wrong. As often as possible, try to ignore unsolicited advice and remind yourself that you know your child best and persevere with what works for you and your family. As for those well-intentioned advice givers, keep a few comeback at the ready to politely deter any further suggestions. My two favourites were: “Thanks for the tip, but we already tried that, and it didn’t work.” and “This is what our doctor advised us to do.”
  2. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The only trouble is, you’ve never been through the tunnel before so you don’t know when it’s coming. In the midst of your 900th mid-night feeding or 84th explosive diaper or 22nd day of teething hell, it is hard to believe that the torture will one day come to an end, but I promise you, it does. I think that’s why second babies are supposed to be “easier”; because you’ve been through it all before, you have more faith that you can survive it a second time.
  3. RELAX! Easier said than done, right? This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. In fact, I’m still learning it. It is really easy as a new mom to start to obsess about tiny details until you drive yourself crazy. Look back on some of our ActiveMama posts and you will see that Arieanna and I have stressed about everything from how often we needed to shampoo our little guys’ hair to how many ounces of milk they consumed in a day. Sometimes you need to relax about the big things too. I drove myself mad trying to “fix” Zayden’s sleep “problem” when he was only a few weeks old and perfectly normal. When I gave him the time to develop and figure things out on his own, both he and I got more sleep with less stress.
  4. Don’t allow yourself to become trapped in the house. This means finding activities to do with your baby in the community to help break up the day and to keep you both happy and stimulated. Social time with other moms and babies is a key ingredient to actually enjoying your maternity leave and to helping your child develop. But getting out of the house also means making time for date nights with your partner and making time for a few solo excursions as well.
  5. Laugh. For me, the fastest way to combat the stresses of parenting is to laugh about them. When Zayden farted poop on the wall mid-diaper change, we laughed when it might have been easier to get frustrated, angry or tearful. Laughing your way through it also helps you to find and to focus on the tiny and often overlooked  joys in your day—the funny oatmeal beard at breakfast, the drooly hug, the sheer delight in throwing every toy in the toy box all over the room.
  6. Record it when it happens. Taking pictures is the easy part. We have lots of those, but if I tried to fill out Zayden’s baby book right now, I wouldn’t be able to remember half the stuff that happened this year. At least a few times a month, sit down with your baby book or journal and record some of the milestones and memorable moments from your baby’s first year.
  7. See milestones as a guideline not a a checklist. Don’t worry, your child will get there. Sometimes your baby will be the first to achieve a milestone in his group of baby friends and sometimes he will be the last. Zayden was one of the first to roll over in our group, but he is quickly becoming one of the only ones who can’t walk. But I know it will happen when he’s ready. A week or two can make a huge difference in a child’s development at this age, so your little one may catch up with his buddies before you know it. And doctors usually wait months, not weeks before worrying about missed milestones.
  8. Never be afraid to ask for help. We have some trusted family and friends on speed dial to help us cope on overwhelming days and to babysit when we need a baby-free night out. We also hired a housekeeper instead of continuing to fight and stress about the state of our home. And when sleep issues started to rear their ugly head again, we went to a talk with a professional sleep consultant that helped us get things back on track.
  9. Think ahead. Don’t commit to anything you wouldn’t want to do longterm in order to cope with a parenting challenge; it can be very hard to go in reverse once a habit is developed. Before Zayden was born, we talked about our childrearing goals and the pitfalls we wanted to avoid. We decided against bedsharing for numerous reasons because we didn’t want to wake up one morning with a 2-year-old lying between us. We also made it a priority to take turns putting Zayden to bed so that he never became dependent on one person to help him fall asleep. But the biggest goal we stayed committed to was our plan to leave him with a sitter as soon as possible because we didn’t want to reach his first birthday without going on at least one date. Now that he is used to being cared for by others, we can enjoy date nights without worry and feel much more confident about leaving him with his grandparents when I go back to work.
  10. Be flexible. Babies are unpredictable, so you need to learn to go with the flow. In case Plan A fails, make sure you have a Plan B and sometimes you may need to develop a spur of the moment Plan C. It’s all part of the fun of parenting. While it can be frustrating, an unexpected change of plans can turn into a cherished memory—like the day Zayden rejected the lunch I had prepared, which resulted in a walk to the Lonsdale Quay, the purchasing of some Mexican food and an impromptu picnic in Waterfront Park in the August sunshine.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in your first year as a parent?