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?

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory a Perfect Chapter Book Introduction

We recently read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Aiden, after which we watched the classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

At age 4, Aiden has both the interest and the attention for longer stories, so we figured we might as well graduate from some of the long but boring stories we already had into a chapter-style book. This would allow us greater freedom in choosing more interesting stories, reading them over several nights. We still read other books, but this has been a great experience so far. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a perfect book for the 4-year-old set, both easy to understand and exciting to read aloud. In fact, I think the book is better read aloud. It was hilariously funny, flowed really well, kept Aiden super engaged (and asking questions, which is rare for him!), and we just loved it. 

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We chose the classic movie as opposed to the remake since, well, it’s less creepy. I mean, it has its own level of creep, but it’s not so bad. There were moments that Aiden was nervous, anticipating the fate of each child, but he tends to be quite sensitive to tension in shows. Overall, I think he enjoyed the movie, though it’s not one that will be on repeat for him yet. 

If you are interested in keeping in the loop on some of the better books we’ve read, I’ve recently created a 4+ Shelf on my Goodreads account to review some of the books we read to Aiden. Considering he has well over 100 books on his shelves and we take a couple of dozen books from the library each week, I don’t anticipate I’ll be reviewing all we read, but rather just the gems or the complete busts or the books I thought would be good but weren’t. 

Children’s Train Books in Review

Aiden is obsessed with books and with trains. We have come across a number of train-related books at swaps and library sales and have supplemented our library with several other train books. Based on my research, we’ve covered pretty much every well-known train book, plus a few others.

If your toddler also loves trains, I hope you’ll find these reviews helpful!

Chugga chugga choo choo Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo – this has been a favourite of Aiden’s for a long time. Written in a sing-song style, the book is easy to read and fun to listen to: Aiden loves to chime in on the “whoo whoo” parts. The story is of a train that needs to pick up and deliver its freight through city and country alike before the train goes to the roundhouse… using toys to build the scenery, it’s also a story of the boy who imagines the world for his trains.

When he was younger, we used to elaborate on the characters of the book and often stopped to talk about them or sing about them (such as Humpty Dumpty). Even though his reading level is much higher now, this continues to be a favourite.

Also fun by the same author is Tugga-Tugga Tugboat.

2 4 the little engine that could

The Little Engine that Could – a classic story about a train that breaks down and needs another engine to help deliver toys and food to deserving girls and boys. Several engines refuse to help before the little blue engine comes along – though she’s small, she believes in herself and the cause and makes the long ride up the hill. It’s a sweet story.

Aiden is able to recite a great deal of this book from memory and loves the pictures. He often pretends some of his trains are the characters from this book, with “shiny new engine” being his favourite character.

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Busy Trains – this was our first non-story-based book about trains and we were tired of it long before Aiden was. The book itself is ‘busy’ in its complexity of detail, which toddlers seem to adore: there’s always something new to look at and talk about.

The book introduces kids to different kinds of trains and what jobs they can do. Aiden’s favourite page is the one where the engineer needs to tell the cow to get off the track. He thinks cowcatchers on trains are fascinating.

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Train Song – even though our copy of this book is missing a page, and is a little worse for wear, it is nonetheless a fun read. I made up a tune that seemed to fit the ‘song’ and do actually sing the book to Aiden whenever I read it.

The story tells of a little boy eagerly awaiting the arrival of a train each day, as well as the components of the train and where it travels. The book is bright and simple but compelling from its use of rhyme.

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Two Little Trains – also written in a sing-song manner, this book compares a toy train with a shiny train, both heading West. We watch as they pass through tunnels (a book tunnel for the toy train) and rain (a shower for the toy train) to head out West. It’s a fun story that shows how a little child could bring a story to life in his own home.

This is one of my favourites, even if the story is not as relatable now.

Train: Eyewitness Books – this is our first ‘encyclopedia’ for trains. Though there are many 9780679916840pages that “Aiden no like”, since they show details of train interiors rather than exteriors, this book has taught us a lot about trains. We’ve been able to impart a lot of knowledge to Aiden about how trains work and how they’ve evolved.

Aiden’s favourite activity is to read this book and tell us that “One day, Aiden will go on this train with ___ [insert chosen person}”. Perhaps one day he will.

Thomas and Friends Series: we are big fans of Thomas in this house, so it should come as no surprise that we own many Thomas books.

We have the Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection, a huge anthology containing several dozen stories and their original artwork. While not as vibrant as most kid books, Aiden is still mesmerized by the stories of all the Thomas characters. He’s able to identify most of the trains thanks to all of these stories!

To supplement our collection, we have some of the newer stories including Thomas Goes Fishing, a fun story about Thomas’ wish to fish, Hero of the Rails, a fun story that goes along with the movie about a lost train named Hero who is found again. Our first Thomas book was the Thomas & Friends Musical Treasury: Really Useful Engines book with a built-in music box that plays the theme music. Aiden went through stages where he was obsessed with this book, though this is the first time I’ve been able to find it online to write about it. Our most recent purchase is Blue Train, Green Train, a story that incorporates the rhymes of Dr. Seuss. Though this book is very simple, I thought Aiden would enjoy it as he’s just beginning to enjoy Dr. Seuss books.

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The polar express

The Polar Express – this is a seasonal favourite of Aiden’s. Though I put away Christmas books in the off season, in part to retain my own sanity, we read this book nearly every night for 2 months. We also watched the movie dozens of times.

I definitely prefer the book over the movie and love the tradition of reading Christmas books each year. The fact that this book ties in with an adventure in Squamish means that this will be a go-to book for several years for us.

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All Aboard Trains – also a recent purchase, as above. I purchased this book because the reviews indicated there was a great balance between pictures and information, allowing Aiden to grow into this book as he gets older.

I think he will probably outgrow this book before he outgrows the Eyewitness Book we have (featured above), as this one is not quite as comprehensive. That said, it did contain more information on the types of cargo cars that a train can carry, so those facts are new and appreciated.

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My Train Book – based upon some research I did online, I recently purchased this book for Aiden. The book was a little more sparse than the online reviews had indicated, which is rather a pity. He will likely outgrow this book soon.

The trains featured are varied and colourful, but the text is very limited and random. This is probably my least favourite of all train books we own at the moment.

Do you have other favourite books involving trains for your toddler or elementary school-aged child? If so, do share!

We Love Books

Aiden loves reading. He can (and has) spent hours in a row reading. Most other parents call us “lucky” for having a child who loves to read. Indeed, in many ways we are. But, until they’ve spent several hours every day reading books… well, we set limits. ;)

We have a set of shelves in our living room that organizes most of Aiden’s toys and has one shelf that can hold about 15 books. I rotate books into this shelf every few months, as these serve as Aiden’s primary reading when he’s downstairs. He would prefer to read (or watch tv) to playing with toys, so we often negotiate that he play before he reads, or he reads X number of books then has some playtime.

Aside from this unscheduled reading time, Aiden reads 1-2 books before his nap, spends about 30 mins reading after his nap (most days) and reads 4 books before bed. All of this reading is in his room where most of his books are.

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As much for our own sanity as for Aiden’s benefit, we have a large collection of books. Most of our books have come from swap meets or library book sales, though many have been purchased or given new as well. We tend to be overwhelmed when we get new books, as Aiden wants to read them constantly, so I actually visit the library very infrequently. We’ll see if that changes in the future.

Aiden’s new bookshelf arrived just today – I’m SO happy with it. It definitely beats having some books up too high on his hutch, stuffed into his side table, or simply piled up on the floor. I’ve taken away a few dozen baby books, moving them to baby #2’s room, and now have a fairly organized system for his books. He has a dozen or so anthologies, which I’ve organized into his side table shelf, and the rest have a new home on the above shelving unit. Off-season books, or books he’s not ready for, are up on his hutch.

I <3 organization.

Aiden’s Astounding Memory

Aiden has an astounding memory. He wants to know the details of everything – every kind of tree, kind of car, kind of dinosaur and part on a train. He never stops asking questions and is great at showing off his skills by retaining an endless stream of facts.

Not only does Aiden have a great memory for facts (which he gets from Ianiv), he also has a fantastic situational memory (which he gets from me). He loves to tell stories of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. We have always encouraged Aiden to talk about his day, but it goes far beyond that. Aiden will talk about things he’s done a LONG time ago.

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Aiden continually talked about how Babby had “forgotten” money for the tractor at his last visit to Maplewood Farms. This time, there was no getting around renting that tractor.

Some examples of Aiden’s memory in action:

  • He talks about Hawaii all the time. In detail. He recounted, unprompted, how we took a green bus to a cruise ship where we saw girls wearing flowers dancing. All of this was correct. His most common things to bring up are the airplane, the penguins, trolley busses and swimming.
  • We recently went to a butcher we hadn’t been to since last summer. Aiden immediately remembered that we bought crackers last time we were there and asked for them again. This was nearly a YEAR later.
  • He brings up and compares different situations. He will tell you how the sloth in his Animals Encyclopedia (he loves this book) is the same as the blue sloth in the Dora video.
  • He told me about a birthday party 6 months after we went there, out of the blue. He told me how much fun the bouncy castle was and that he liked the goldfish snacks.
  • He recently told me the entire plot of a book we’d only read 2 times. He was really looking forward to reading said book before his nap.

There are endless examples of Aiden’s memory in action. I am daily astounded by the things he talks about with me and how he shares not only his current day but events in the past that really made an impression on him.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Aiden has begun calling out the names of logos he recognizes of stores, restaurants, cafes and delivery trucks (as examples). In the same way he insists on knowing the title of every book we read, to ask for it by name, he also wants to know the names of every place we pass or go to. ;)

I’m already finding myself having to research things to fulfill Aiden’s desire for facts. Crazy!