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?

The PlanetBox Rover Makes Lunches Fun

Aiden will be heading to Kindergarten in September and I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what and how I’ll be packing his snack and lunch. I’ve been lucky to stay at home with Aiden, so his options for lunch have always included the ability to warm up, toast or cook something. Even at preschool, he’s offered a hot lunch each day. All of that will soon change. 

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PlanetBox Rover Lunchbox Review

I have been testing the PlanetBox Rover Complete as our lunch solution for a couple of weeks now. My Journey to choosing the PlanetBox is included below, but now I’ll share with you how the choice solves many of my lunch planning challenges. 

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PlanetBox makes a variety of lunch and snack boxes, the most popular being the Rover. If you purchase the entire PlanetBox Rover Complete, you get the carry bag in a choice of colours. The carry bag has a generous pocket for a water bottle, a strap and handle for carrying, and a large velcro pocket (which I plan to use for the school snack). The interior of the case has a pocket where you could place an ice pack.

The interior of the PlanetBox is very generous, rounded on both top and bottom so you can even fit bulky items like bagels. The capacity of the box is one of the highest on the market. While it may be more than a Kindergartener will need, lunch is Aiden’s biggest meal of the day and I’d rather pack too much than too little.

The Complete set comes with the Dipper set, for wet or messy foods. The Little Dipper is perfect for dressings or dips (we’ve used it for honey for apples) and the Big Dipper is perfect for yogurt or wet fruit. Both Dippers can fit in the box when closed, though I’ve also used the Big Dipper in the exterior case pocket. 

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The PlanetBox Rover is a single piece made from stainless steel. The exterior comes plain, though you can buy a variety of Rover Magnets to decorate them (the Complete comes with one set) – I’m pretty sure the Train design will be going in Aiden’s stocking next year! We also added our Mabel’s Labels to the magnet. 

The clasp on the lunchbox is easy for Aiden to open and to close. He can also open and close the Dippers with ease. The entire box easily slides into the lower rack of our dishwasher for cleaning and the rounded corners of each compartment seem to help it get really clean. 

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Does Aiden like it? YES! He always asks for lunch in his “tray”, and it really forces me to give him a greater variety of food. Typically his lunches had 3-4 items on it (he’s never loved leftovers for lunch), so this usually gives me an excuse to add in the extra veggie or fruit. 

Do I like it? YES! I love having things organized and the tray forces me to be creative, which I enjoy. I know school lunches will become boring all too quickly! The smallest compartment is a nice place to add a treat – it’s the smallest portion, to remind you to balance the meal. I was very pleased that our entire bread fit in the largest compartment, as I know some people have trouble with that. Will we use it every day for school? We will see. I expect that on days I send hot food in a Thermos, I’ll still use our other lunch box and containers. 

Purchase Details

The PlanetBox Rover Complete, the full set, sells for USD$59.95, plus shipping, and is one of the more expensive bento sets on the market. That said, I think the size and sturdy construction makes it something that our kids will be able to use for years to come. 

If you are looking for meal ideas, PlanetBox has a fantastic meal planning app on their website, though you can also find inspiration on Pinterest or Instagram (I love the weelicious lunches). 

My Journey to the PlanetBox

For years, we’ve been packing our snacks or lunches into our Pottery Barn lunch boxes in a variety of containers, mostly using the Wean Green containers since they arrange well and can be opened easily by little fingers. That said, I was TIRED OF ALL THE DISHES. The top of our dishwasher is perpetually crammed with containers and trying to find the right combination of containers to fit the lunch box can be annoying. 

For many months, I’ve been researching bento boxes to offer a better alternative to lunch packing. Most bento boxes, however, didn’t solve the CONTAINER OVERLOAD I was feeling, as many still involved the arrangement of smaller containers into a larger tray. The ones that did work, like the Pottery Barn Bento that I was considering, had reviews of the plastic breaking and I couldn’t figure out how to insert items that may be wet (yogurt, watermelon). Some bento boxes seemed to big or oddly shaped or too small. I worried about how to pack lunch and snack – in one box? A second container? I spent far too many hours researching options and reading reviews. 

In steps the PlanetBox, the only bento that met all my requirements: easy to clean, multi-compartment, decent size, easy for kids to open and close. As a bonus, it came with several other amazing features, as you could read above. I am actually looking forward to testing out the lunch box properly once Aiden goes to school in September!

Want to check my progress? Follow me on Instagram as I share some of our more fun lunch creations. 

Disclosure: I received the PlanetBox Complete for a review, though I was already planning on buying it! All opinions are my own. 

Sili Squeeze vs. Little Green Pouch

In the battle of the food pouches, which will reign supreme? The contenders… on the left, the Little Green Pouch; on the right, the Sili Squeeze. Both contenders are filled a homemade smoothie. So, how do the contenders stack up?

Food pouches

Filling

Both the Little Green Pouch and the Sili Squeeze can be filled without the need of any added tools. The Sili Squeeze comes in a variety of sizes, from 2oz to 6oz, while the Little Green Pouch comes in a single 7oz size.

The Sili Squeeze stands easily, with no need to prop the opening to fill the pouch. The opening actually is perfect for fitting in the spout of my Vitamix, so filling is very easy. The Little Green Pouch was a bit more finicky, and I found I spilled along the zipper opening, requiring clean-up. I also didn’t have a perfect idea of when it was “full”, since you have to squish it a bit to close it. I felt like it held less than the Sili Squeeze, despite its larger capacity.

WINNER: Sili Squeeze

Portability

Both have caps that close to prevent spilling. The Little Green Pouch lays more flat, so it fit nicely in our lunch box. That said, it got squished and the zipper seal failed, so that created quite a mess. We’ve never had a leak with our Sili Squeeze.

WINNER: Sili Squeeze

Drinking

The spout on the Little Green Pouch is more like store-bought food pouches, so little ones can easily manage the transition. The flexible plastic packaging made it easy for my toddler to squeeze out the smoothie until it was almost done.

The thicker silicone of the Sili Squeeze makes it harder for my little one to squeeze out. He usually finishes half the smoothie before he needs assistance, though admittedly he often forgets to tilt it up. The Sili Squeeze has two spout options, one faster than the other – we use the free flowing option, which works well.

WINNER: Little Green Pouch

Cleaning 

Both products are dishwasher safe, though the lid of the Sili Squeeze needs to be cleaned by hand. The Sili Squeeze comes out of the dishwasher perfectly clean, since it retains its shape, but the Little Green Pouch never gets completely clean.

When washing by hand, I struggle to get my bottle brush into the bottom crevices of the Little Green Pouch, making me feel it’s not entirely clean or free from bacteria growing. Both bottle lids are a bit annoying to get clean, even with a variety of cleaning tools, though the Sili Squeeze lid is the hardest of the two to clean. I find I wish I had something like a Q-tip that was small, but sponged on the end to get into tight spots.

The Little Green Pouch is advertised to last 50 uses each. The Sili Squeeze has no advertised maximum use.

WINNER: Sili Squeeze

Price

The online retail price for the Sili Squeeze with Eeeze is USD$14.99 each. The Little Green Pouch is $14.99 for a set of 4.

WINNER: Little Green Pouch

Which Food Pouch Reigns Supreme?

Despite the higher price, my overall winner is the Sili Squeeze, by far. The ease of filling and cleaning far outweigh the benefits to me of the Little Green Pouch. I was so disappointed with the blow-out zipper and so worried about the potential unclean crevices of the Little Green Pouch that I’ve gone back to exclusive Sili Squeeze use.

Damien Loves to Eat

Damien began eating solids about a week before he was 5 months old. Just like Aiden, he began showing early signs of being ready. If a baby could demand to be included in mealtimes, that’s exactly what Damien would look like. We began with a few simple foods, but he really just wanted to eat what we were eating. So, although we felt we were pretty liberal with Aiden (who also started early) in terms of texture, Damien tops him in terms of variety. 

Following more of a ‘baby led weaning’ technique, I have not been as concerned with introducing multiple foods at once. I keep track of what he eats so I can back off several items if an allergy appears. His first foods were apple, banana and rice cereal, though he is not a fan of bland or mushy food. I only mushed his banana twice before he was totally fine chewing or swallowing lumpy pieces. He’s totally off rice cereal and even baby oatmeal got a big ‘No’ from him this morning. Who can blame him, really, when his other meals include tasty things like lasagna or meatballs?

Feeding Damien table food that is well cooked / soft has made it possible for him to eat almost everything we do with no extra preparation. He eats chunks of chicken (which I recall briefly making into a chunky puree for Aiden), rice and pieces of vegetables with no issue. 

In the video above, Damien is enjoying two of his favourite foods: chicken and mango. 

Toddlers are Picky Eaters

Toddlers are picky eaters. It’s one of the only things in their lives they have control over, so you really can’t blame them. As a baby, Aiden would eat almost anything I put in front of him (except fish). As a toddler, not so much.

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Though he does like his food with some pizzaz (heck, he’ll ask for hot sauce on a quesedilla), he has definite preferences for types of food and how its presented to him. He also goes through food phases where a much beloved food (butter chicken) can suddenly become one of the many foods on the “no yike it” list.

Though we try not to cook for Aiden, our cooking choices are definitely impacted by what Aiden will or will not eat. We try to offer him a variety of healthy foods, so we tend to cook meals where we can set aside items he may like before mixing, saucing or spicing them up for ourselves, if necessary. We will also less frequently make foods he has never enjoyed, which is kind of a pity when we like those foods ourselves.

Aiden likes foods unmixed. He prefers his vegetables steamed only (no sauces of any kind) and doesn’t like most foods that group together (stir-fry, casserole, etc). In some cases, we can deconstruct the meals, taking out the food items he’s likely to eat and presenting them separately. I recently discovered that he will in fact eat fruit salad – if I re-separate out the constituent parts. Go figure.

I wish feeding a toddler was a straightforward thing, but it’s not. There are mysteries to every food critic, including mine, such as:

  • Why will Aiden only eat cheese that is melted? Or Babybel (sometimes)?
  • Why will he eat Mexican rice, with carrots and corn, but not other rice dishes?
  • Why will he eat skin on apples but not touch fruit like kiwi or strawberries (because they look like they have seeds)?
  • Why will he eat steak with a sauce on it but not the broccoli with the same sauce?

Our Picky Eater Tactics

We’ve tried many things to get Aiden to eat a more varied diet. Some of them have worked. For example, I can get Aiden to eat more fruit if I offer peanut butter for dipping. The same trick has not worked for vegetables or other food, however, as he doesn’t like other dips of any kind or even ketchup.

I’ve found that if I offer a plate of food with at least one food I know he likes, in a smaller quantity, that he will sometimes continue after that food onto others. Sometimes cutting food into new shapes, or involving him in its preparation, will work – but mostly not. Bribery (yes, tried it) works to get Aiden to eat more of a certain food, but won’t compel him to eat other foods he’s rejected at that particular meal.

We repeatedly offer Aiden new foods to try. To give him credit, he does try a lot of foods – some of them are just spit out after a few chews or rejected after a couple of bites. Other times, persistence pays off. This past week, Aiden has tried a strawberry, ravioli, oatmeal and brussels sprouts. He’s been offered these many times before, and even used to like some of them, but had rejected them for a long span of time. We typically just place the food on his plate – a verbal question on trying the food will always be met with a ‘No’.

We will continue to make progress, and have set-backs, I’m sure. This piece of advice has helped me a lot in struggling with this issue: consider a toddler diet as a week-long balancing act. Some days they may eat a lot of protein, others a lot of fruit. So long as the week seems to balance, don’t worry too much about the day-to-day.

Is your toddler a picky eater? In what way?