Holiday Cooking : Sugar Cookies by J White

There’s something magical about decorating something sweet with something edible. “The icing on the cake” sums it up. It’s a fun project for almost any occasion – or no occasion at all.  What makes it special is that there are defined breaks in the process allowing attentions to wander in between.

Sugar Cookie Making:

A Four Stage process:

The recipe we used is in the Martha Stewart Baking Book - read my review here. The sugar cookie recipe is wonderful. A similar recipe is on the Martha Stewart website.

1. Make dough

- Break- Refrigerate

(can be overnight – or frozen)

2. Roll & Cut

Take a Break- Chill and bake and cool

(can be overnight)

3. Make Icing – Arrange Decorations.

4. Ice and Decorate Cookies

Deliver Happy Day Presents!

Why Make Cookies?

Because it’s fun to mix and roll and cut and decorate. It’s like cooking and art and science all-in-one. I usually make a huge batch of cookie dough and divide into four then I freeze three and use one fourth. When we have a slow day out comes the cookie dough from the freezer and by the time we’ve set up the decorating zone it’s almost ready to roll and cut it.

I find that the interest level of a younger child (2-5) is about enough to accomplish either making the dough or rolling it and cutting it or decorating in one sitting. You can often roll and cut and then take a break and then decorate later in the day. Doing all three in one day can be almost too much. Having pre-made dough (this is what makes those ready to bake companies rich) gives the roll and decorate a spotlight. The chilling and the baking time give the natural break needed to get the focus back to cooking.

The rolling and cutting procedure can take a while as all the little pieces are re-rolled – Trent likes to just use a bench scraper to cut dough into pieces and sometimes that’s most of the “cutting” for him. You can then chill and bake the cookies and cool them, decorating them that day or the even the next. When they are done we often take them around to neighbors and friends as a sunny day surprise.

Icing and decorating really seem to me more of a craft project than cooking. At Thanksgiving and Christmas my mother-in-law pre-cuts and bakes the cookies piercing them before baking so that a string or ribbon can be threaded through them. Then she sets up a newspaper covered table with all the decorating stuff and when the kids (and adults) arrive then can dive right in. We would make a fine mess but have a fantastic time. Icing colors are easily piped on using cones of rolled parchment paper or even food-safe plastic bags with a corner snipped off.

And Gingerbread houses too...

To me, Gingerbread houses are almost an extension of Sugar Cookies. Once rolled, cut baked and assembled they are a huge and wonderful decorating project. With a young chef you may even want to decorate a house over two days – taking on one part (like the house itself) and then the garden the next day. Trent once took a cooking class where each child was given a cake and a bowl of icing, once they covered the cake they were given an array of decorating items.

More on Gingerbread Houses

Natural Food Colors

& Better Sprinkles

While we are home cooking, I try to make sure that all the ingredients that we use are the best quality I can find – even when we are dealing with the treat category or the unhealthy category of sprinkles and icing. After I started reading labels, I realized that most of the sugar decorations which kids seems to adore (read sprinkles) have partially hydrogenated oil (PHOs) in them. As an alternative I’ve found Let’s do Sprinklez which don’t have the bright colors of other sprinkles but seem to satisfy the desire for them.

Coloring agents for icing have also been a problem in the past – Food coloring especially red and blue have had lots of studies done on them and it’s possible that have a link to cancer. Regardless – I’m not willing to wait until there is conclusive evidence – and although we all get limited exposure out in the real world – at home I’m trying to make a better choice. India Tree Sugars and Dancing Deer have both stepped up to the plate for natural food coloring.

Dancing Deer make earth grown food colors from: marigold (yellow), Sage (green), orange (nasturtium), Red (rose madder) and blue (violet). The coolest part is that all of the colors retain a hint of their original plant flavor so that they all taste slightly different – I mean shouldn’t they? I love the colors they make too – all with an earthy mellow cast. I can't find anything on their website about them right now - so I hope they are not discontinued.

India Tree, famous for their sugars, have also come to the kitchen table with a line of naturally colored decorating sugar and plant based food colors in a set of red/yellow/blue. They too retain a hint of flavor. The colors are more concentrated so a drop or two will go the mile. They are brighter and more intense colors than Dancing Deer – I recommend having them both on hand if you are going to do a lot of coloring.

The India Tree Natural Decorating Colors colored sugars are also wonderful pantry additions – I started with just one or two colors which got me through most holiday and now have them all. The colors are softer than the standard counter parts and as a result you may need to alter your icing colors to match. One of the sugar colors they offer is a "Spring Green", which I love. They say is just for food service but I've found it at Whole Foods on the shelf.

New! India Tree Nonpareils - Nature's Colors: I've been searching all over for non-PHO sugar decorations and India Tree has stepped up to the plate. They offer a lovely array of pastel colors (all-natural coloring) and brighter orange and yellow as well as Party decoratifs: white string of pearls and white snowflakes which are fantastic for chocolate icing and holiday decorating projects. Buy India Tree Non-Pareils

Some Tools of Cookie Making:

An Offset Spatula (Makes it incredibly easier to lift cookies onto the sheet pan.

Rolling Pin (any sort will do - I use a French style lighter one for these cookies)

Assorted Cookie Cutters - copper or tin or plastic (I find that plastic doesn't work as well)

Bench Scraper (Optional - but again I use it all the time)

Silpat Baking Sheet (Or equivalent. I have 3 and use them for everything)

1/2 Sheet pan (The only ones I ever use - I got mine (2) at the local restaurant supply)

Cooling Rack (I use this for everthing now!)

Making a Mess

Getting messy is part of the fun of cooking and icing and decorating – and they are all very creative outlets for your little cook. If you are worried about a mess you can even decorate outside or put a washable drop cloth on the floor before you start. I’m not suggesting you make sugar cookies everyday, but once in a while it’s great fun made even better by having natural colors to decorate with – and your young chef will likely look on making the treat as a treat in itself.

Other Resources:

Martha Stewart onDecorating Sugar Cookies usingRoyal Icing.

Cooking With Kids: Real Pretend Cakes by J White

When our little chef "pretend cooks" he usually uses real ingredients like spices, flour, salt, etc. If you catch a pretend cooking session early you can sometimes steer it to a real result, which makes for a different kind of fun.

Twice now, we’ve turned Trent’s “cheese soufflé” (usually he starts with flour and some secret ingredients) into an impromptu cake by adding milk, baking powder and an egg. We then poured it into a 4” extra deep springform pan and baked it – but any springform pan will do. (The mini ones usually come in a set of 4 – here’s a link.) It turned out into a dense tea cake. Edible and even tasty – he was so proud. Trent doesn’t like to follow recipes right but he will follow basic directions. He (usually) doesn’t want help actually measuring anything – that’s okay.

The basic plan is to “help” your little chef by making up the recipe differences, such as if the cups are not full or by adding more flour, etc., to offset too much sugar, etc. Just make a suggestion to add a bit more of something if it’s lacking. If there is any discussion about adjusting it, just go ahead and bake it anyways and ice over the mistakes.

Don't fret if your child doesn't eat his creations: Trent is not really interested in eating his creations but he loves to make them and decorate them. He especially likes to give the final result as a gift. (And it's not like any child needs to eat more cake. - Jack)

We've a real disaster recently with too much baking soda/powder making the cake truly inedible. While it distressed me - it didn't really matter that much to Trent - he just liked the idea of baking it and having it look like a cake. When he enquired as to how it tasted I explained the problem and we agreed we'd make another one soon and be more careful in our measuring next time. Granted it's better if the cake turns out somewhat edible.

In the end it doesn’t matter even if it comes out lopsided or burnt or whatever. If it’s dry you can slice it in half and fill with a favorite jam (like the cake we made above – which was very dry and thin, so we filled it) or make icing to cover it. Too Thin? Make a "halfmoon" cake and cut it in half fill it and ice it.

... and Milkshakes

Milkshakes and smoothies are a favorite of Trent's – it really doesn't seem to matter that much what's in them as long as a blender is in use. Our little chef loves to pour things into the blender and punch the buttons.

Of course, real blenders need a parent's assistance and the milkshake can turn into more of a smoothie if you wish. Milk, yogurt, fruit (bananas are a favorite), and any number of secret ingredients like fruit juices, a scoop of ice cream, sorbet or gelato, frozen fruit, fruit syrup, jam, cinnamon, cocoa powder can mix up the results.

Trent has some new "toy" kitchen additions which have been a big hit:

Berchet Moulinex Blender – This battery operated blender manages any sort of liquid and will handle yogurt fairly well. It will not “chop” fruit or ice. Milkshakes, all liquid smoothies and and whipped juices are now frequent, almost independent, cooking projects. Even leaving the top off seems to work - you can watch the whirlpool effect but the liquid doesn't spray from the container. The blender seems very safe for the 3+ age group it has a plastic coated "blade" which stirs the ingredients. The unit is one piece so it is not dishwasher safe.

Berchet Moulinex Mixer – Tthis mixer will manage eggs or plain liquids, and it does a great job of blending dry ingredients. It will not cream butter and sugar. The only drawback is that you have to push on the powerbutton lever to make it go which is tiring. It is not dishwasher safe (the beaters are not removable).

Real Pretend Cakes "Recipe"

Preheat oven 350°F

Using scoop measures - Let the child measure

2 x 1/2c of flour – approx 1c

2 x 1/2c of sugar – approx 3/4c

3 tbsp of butter (1/3 of a stick)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1x 1/2c milk (++ add more milk to make the batter work with whatever was put into it)

Optional Additions aka “Extra Ingredients”:

Chocolate cake add 2-3 tbsp of hot chocolate or cocoa powder

Mexican Hot Chocolate cake: Cinnamon or cake spice and chocolate powder

Vanilla Cake add real vanilla extract

Lemon Cake use lemon zest

Orange Cake use orange zest

Banana Cake - Add a banana mashed up

Resistant Chef?

If your child is resisting adding more milk try something more exotic like yogurt, crème fraiche or sour cream, which he can dollop in. We call them "secret ingredients." If you need to add more flour - add some whole wheat, cake flour, pastry flour, rice flour - whatever your little chef will go for.

If you don’t have a small springform pan then turn the mix into cupcakes using a muffin tin or a mini muffin tin. Two big springform pans resulted in a cake that bakes really quickly but is drier and very thin - we fixed this by filling it with Raspberry Jam and pouring icing on top (the purple cake shown above) but 2 large springform pans are not recommended.

Quick Icing:

Icing sugar/Confectioner’s Sugar

Butter – softened

And a little milk

Flavoring if desired (vanilla, etc.)

Natural Food Coloring/Cocoa Powder optional.

Favorite Kids Food Themed Books by J White

Just like there are great food movies, there are also some very good young children’s books that are Food & Garden oriented. Here are the ones we’ve found so far. - Joanne & Jack

(And please email your recommendations!)

Children's Books to Read

Strega Nona

by Tomie de Paola

This new addition to the favorite Strega Nona series is bound to be a seasonal favorite. The emphasis is on the garden and the harvest = and sharing the bounty.

A Seed Is Sleepy

by Dianna Hutts Aston, Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Gorgeous, breath-taking illustrations, make this a winner. Each page offers a gem of information pertaining to seeds. It has a really good overview of seed germination in pictures. Also, an interesting selection of seeds, such as devils clan, Texas mountain laurel pod and turpentine bean. A great little chart shows different germination times for seeds inciting discussion. Not so great: There is not much text; mainly a picture book.

Fairy Tale Feasts

by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Philippe Beha

The Great: I love the idea of this book. First, a story somehow food related and then a recipe. The stories are good choices from a selection of tales from around the world. I like that there are offerings in breakfast, lunch, dinner, soup and dessert categories. The illustrations by Philippe Beba are really modern and fun and add to the enjoyment of the story. I also like the “historical tidbit” sidebars. Recipes and stories one novel takes on the families.

The Not So Great: A lot of white space and large font size makes recipes break across multiple pages. Some of the stories are very short. Stories like Seven Hills of Sweet, Diamonds and Toads, The Magic Leaves, Cinderella’s Stone Soup. Recipes like Sweet Chocolate Mouse, Very French Toast, Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Pumpkin Tartlets and Stone Soup.

The Apple Pie Tree

by Zoe Hall & Shari Halpern (illustrator)

This is a lovely picture book, with minimal text, which covers the seasons of an apple tree and the growth of an apple.

The concept is that an apple tree is in fact a glorious tree, which produces the essential ingredient in apple pie. A recipe for apple pie and a quick overview of pollination concludes the book. It’s true that “there’s nothing as good as an apple pie you grew yourself”.

The Paper Bag Prince

by Colin Thompson

The illustrations in this story make it wonderful. It’s largely about garbage dumps, with an underlying message of recycle and re-use, and a more specific bittersweet story of an old man who lives with his lot in life and is rewarded with a new friend (a stray dog) at the end. The old man has leased his property to the garbage dump. All kinds of animals live in the dump. The man gets the land back, the dump is closed, nature starts to reclaim the land, and the man makes his life more comfortable.

It’s a picture book that encourages discussion about garbage and pollution. My son adores it. The illustrations hide all kinds of little creatures many of whom have found homes in things people throw away. The ending for the man is happy. Age 4+

How to Make An Apple Pie

and see the world

by Marjorie Priceman

This is a really fun picture book, for ages 4-8, that follows the travels of a young lady questing for apple pie ingredients around the world. What I really like, is the message underlying, which is that only the best ingredients will do and they are worth seeking out. Very fun!

Magic School Bus - Gets Baked In A Cake

A book about Kitchen Chemistry

by Joanna Cole

& Bruce Degen (Illustrator)

I love that this book equates cooking with chemistry. The story really touches on the concept of chemical reaction, but it will likely elicit more discussion. The experiment offered at the end is a fun one, with easy ingredients. This book is part of the TV series Magic School Bus books which doesn't have quite as much detail and extra reading as the classic series but offers enough information to get kids interested in the science of the project. The illustrations are lively and the text is enjoyable to read to them. The suggested age is 5-7 but curious pre-schoolers will enjoy them, too.

Also highly recommended are other The Magic School Bus books on Cooking & Gardening:

The Magic School Bus Meets the Rot Squad: A book about Decomposition

(A wonderful kids book about rotting and decomposition is a nice introduction to compost)

The Magic School Bus In a Pickle: A Book About Microbes (about fermentation and how food is preserved in this way - really good!)

The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: A Book About How Living Things Grow

(about how things grow from seed)

Walking the World in Wonder:

A Children's Herbal

by Ellen Evert Hopman

The Great: It is a simple format, which is organized as a dictionary or encyclopedia of herbs, alphabetically by season. Every entry has a color photo of the plant and the facing page holds the description. The narrative is in first person-from the plant's perspective. Many of the entries include a recipe or directions for use. The material is presented in a young person's easy tone.

The not-so: Only a small selection of herbal plants is offered. The photos while attractive do not in some cases lend themselves well to in the field identification - a line drawing would be more helpful. There is no alphabetical index so "look ups” are cumbersome. Some potentially toxic herbs like hemlock and sumac are covered, so there are cautionary notes, but I don't think toxicity is handled exceptionally well.

Overall: It's a nice reference and good library choice for a young forager but fails to hit the mark for a primary herbal for Kids.

A Kid’s Herb Book

by Lesley Tierra

I bought this book for a 4-year old knowing that this is a kid-friendly herbal book. It has lots of open space, large print, and black and white drawings, which makes it accessible to a younger audience than the one which it is likely intended for.

Unusual herbs are covered in detail, such as slippery elm and plantain. There’s a lot of learning and educational opportunities, with mini projects, recipes, tips, remedy recipes, as well as stories and songs. There is a chapter on gardening. The main intent of the book is exploration, to make the herb garden a friendly place to visit, and to increase herb awareness.

Projects can certainly be done with the under 6 age level. The stories and songs are accessible to most kids, but the 6+ will benefit the most.

There's a Hair in My Dirt

by Gary Larson

While not exactly a "children's" book and given a definite caveat to parents - (the theme of the book is DEATH and it's slightly grisly), Gary Larson's wry humor is beautifully showcased here in a Worm's story of how hair got into his dirt and how dirt comes about. A really interesting take on the cycles of things. We bought our copy at Blue Hill Stone Barns. I love this book. Definitely in the 9-12 age category for most parents.

How Groundhog’s Garden Grew

by Lynne Cherry

A young groundhog is told not to steal food but instead to grow his own garden. A squirrel takes him under his wing and they do just that. The book follows from how to save seed to planting to harvesting the food. For ages 3-7, maybe 2-8 if strong interest in gardening and animals. This book is inspiring, with gorgeous illustrations (including ones showing seed growth in steps). Highly Recommended.

Great Gardens for Kids: Imaginative Ideas To Entertain, Education and Delight

The British publisher, Hamlyn, offers this book, which is extremely attractive in both its photographs and content. Lots of ideas for play areas in gardens, large and small, and instructions on how to make them, illustrated in step-by-step form. The book makes projects look easy and attractive. My son likes to look through it on his own as the photographs are lovely; in fact he picked out the book himself at the bookstore. Ideas range from pots of potatoes, flowering hideaway, rill, wildlife container pond, crocodile garden, to larger scale play areas, such as “a relaxing retreat”. My absolute favorite is the daffodil maze which can be planted in any lawn. I haven’t made it yet, but hope to! There are lots of great ideas I’ve bookmarked. A wonderful book to look through, and refer to for small project ideas.

Not So: Certainly not a must-have and would be better received by those wishing to expand their gardens or re-landscape. Projects range from inexpensive and simple, to potentially expensive and time-consuming.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children

by Sharon Lovejoy

This is a fun book for winter to plan your spring and summer project. A companion to Lovejoy's Sunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden - A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups, I found that the books have quite a bit of overlap so you probably only need one. Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots will give you the steps for planting a Sunflower House among other fun parnet and child gardening projects. Fun! Ages 5-10 with an adult.

Jack’s Garden

by Henry Cole

This is all about planting a garden and then watching what happens. Lots of seeds, sprouts, beetles, worms, bugs, wild flowers, garden tools, etc., are identified. Well done! Best for ages 2-5.

Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes: How to Grow a Rainbow Garden

by Rosalind Creasy, Ruth Heller (illustrator)

What I loved about this book was that it focused on “unusual” colored food, making it interesting to children, and adding fun to gardening (plus cooking) with heirloom and rare vegetables.

The text is aimed at older children, but parents can interest younger children. The illustrations by Ruth Heller are lovely, making the book lively.

The first half of the book covers general gardening, the last half is rainbow vegetables, specifically offering a recipe for each vegetable profiled. Short, but sweetly done. I love the “How to request a seed catalog letter”. Age 6-8+

Pancakes, Pancakes!

by Eric Carle

A young boy learns that if he wants pancakes, he has to gather all of the ingredients himself. From a request for flour he learns to cut, thresh and grind wheat. This hits a home run for showing a child that food is a lot more complicated than something from a box at a supermarket. Best for ages 3-6.

The Rose in My Garden

by Arnold Lobel, Anita Lobel (Illustrator)

Teaches how to identify about a dozen flowers a la This is the Garden that Jack Built - style ABC book.

Best for ages 2-4+.

Alison's Zinnia

by Anita Lobel

ABCs with

gorgeous floral illustrations.

Ages 2-4+

Molly and Emmett's Surprise Garden

by Marylin Hafner

Now out-of-print but a really fun book from the creator of Molly & Emmett (who appear on the back of Ladybug Magazine). Grandma sends seeds to Molly for a spring garden and Emmett tries to help - voila a surprise garden is born!

Tops & Bottoms

by Janet Stevens

A Caldecott Honor Book. The story of a clever rabbit who grows a garden for lazy bear each year, keeping the tops and bottoms and finally middles. Bear learns a valuable lesson that growing food takes work and that some crops produce edible tops, bottoms or middles. Fun!

The Best Children's Cookbooks

There are not a lot of great Kids cookbooks. Often I just use an adult recipe and make it kid-friendly. Little cooks like to have their own cookbooks, and especially like illustrations and photos. The biggest problem I have with many of these kid's cookbooks is that they choose to include recipes for “kids food” like chicken fingers, mac and cheese, etc. (“Bad, bad, bad,” says Jack.) We’ve started to make a point of collecting the good ones.

The Silver Spoon for Children : Favorite Italian Recipes

by Phaidon Press

Phaidon Press' Silver Spoon for Kids. Intelligent Italian recipes with easy instructions from the publishers of the famed Silver Spoon for adults (which is a 50yr old, 1000 page tome of Italian Cooking).

The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-food World

by Hugh Garvey & Matthew Yeomans

While not a kid's cookbook to cook from - Gastrokid is of note here as it's a great place to start to broaden kid's food horizons. Think of it as a cook-together book. From the back " the Foodie Parent's Guide to Raising Passionate Adventurous Eaters". See more of my thoughts on Kid's Food.

My A to Z Recipe Box

by Hilary Karmilowicz

This box really entranced us. Trent, our 5-year-old, had to take out each recipe and look at it, from A to Z. Then, of course, we had to immediately cook from the box. We made Italian ice and it turned out great. There are extra cards included so kids can make their own recipes and lots of room to add more. This will make a great Christmas gift for kids who like to cook. Caveat: Not a lot of entree recipes - in fact only 26 recipes and variations offered.

Kids Cook 1-2-3: Recipes for Young Chefs Using Only 3 Ingredients

by Rozanne Gold

The Great: Recipes contain three ingredients, many of which are easily at hand. The recipes are attractive and there are some nice twists on standard fare, such as Shrimp Cocktail with Tomato Sorbet, Banana Frullato and Chicken Oh-la-la, which have fancy names but are not so difficult to prepare.

Kids Cook 1-2-3 is definitely aimed towards older littler chefs. Many recipes call for cooking on a stovetop, using knives, or kitchen appliances. This would be a good starter cookbook for tweens/teens. The sections are laid out pleasantly, with good indices, and there are lots of variations offered for Peanut Butter & Jam, Smoothies, Apple Slices, Eggs, etc. Overall, recipes are attractive and the text is relatively easy to read.

The Not So: Too many recipes are classic kid’s food, such as Mac ’n Cheese, Tuna Salad, Burgers, Wings, Drumsticks, etc. A number of recipes call for “not so” great ingredients, such as chocolate sprinkles, canned baby corn, cola, American cheese, baby carrots (on the flipside, other recipes encourage trying new ingredients, such as prunes, boursin, or comté cheese, spices and herbs). Generally, recipes are geared towards “try this and make your own”, however, a number of them use prepared or “ready food”, like canned or jarred ingredients (or the non-baby,  baby carrots). There are no photographs, instead there are line illustrations of ingredients and simple color illustrations.

Ratatouille - What's Cooking: A Cookbook for Kids

First, it's important to note that although the words Ratatouille and Disney appear on the cover, this is not a standard movie tie-in, thankfully.

This cookbook is short and focused on attracting new little cooks. Taking a decidedly French cooking stance, it is comprised of many standards, such as French Toast, Grilled Cheese and Mac 'n  Cheese. However, it also offers Croque Monsieur, Cheese Fondue, Baguette, Vicchysoise and, of course, Ratatouille.

The introduction by Thomas Keller offers encouragement that all cooks have to be new cooks who start somewhere and one of the simplest ways to do that is to learn to cook eggs. The only Thomas Keller recipe offered is "Chocolate Bouchons".

The plus for this book is that it lies flat, due to a covered spiral binding. The recipes are simple, full-color, and easy to read.

The bad news is that, there are too many questionable ingredients suggested for my taste (i.e., American cheese, Ritz crackers, and vegetable shortening). There isn't any feature on food smarts or hints for making better food choices. The salmon tips suggest to buy fresher fish rather than offer a suggestion to look for wild or sustainably farmed fish. It is also not without more concrete flaws: Theme "cakes" are presented without a recipe for the actual cake.

While overall it is not a cookbook that I can heartily recommend, there are merits, especially for shy cooks who are inspired by the movie Ratatouille; it has a wonderful message: Anyone can cook!

I would call this cookbook a stepping stone rather than a movement, which it could have been.

Williams-Sonoma Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Foods

by Stephanie Rosenbaum

Overall, this is a pretty well done kids cookbook. I love the photos of the kids cooking. They alternate between looking like they are having fun, and taking their cooking seriously. I also love the step-by-step photos.

There are lots of basic recipes, such as devilled eggs, pasta and cheese, or sauce pizza, and smoothies, but they are dimensionalized by adding variations and options which are well illustrated.

Chapters like “Oodles of Noodles” and “Put On Your Oven Mitts” help add to the fun. I love the sesame fish sticks recipe, glazed baby back ribs, fish in paper packet, rosemary roasted chicken, roasted carrots, and stuffed potatoes.

These recipes would be do-able for an under 8-year old, but would need a parent’s help directing and the cooking even for the 8+. I strongly recommend parental guidance, as many recipes use stovetop, oven, and knives.

The introduction is full of useful tips on cutting and measuring, and other basic skills. The text is open and airy, easy to read, and in full color. It is perfect bound, but large, therefore not so difficult to keep flat. Recommended for Ages 8+.

Kids in the Kitchen: Sweet Treats

by Carolyn Beth Weil

This a dessert cookbook for kids (and counterpart to Fun Foods) which is divided into Basics, Classics, Baked Goods, Chocolate, Cookies, Frozen, and Beverages.

It offers recipes like chocolate fondue, plum buckle, hot mulled cider, watermelon ice pops, and peanut butter bears. Like Fun Foods, the design is solid, open and airy, colorful and well illustrated, making cooking seem attractive.

This is another great kids cookbook which offers some solid recipes and good technique.

The Redwall Cookbook

by Brian Jacques, Christopher Denise (Illus.)

This is a fantastic present for a Redwall fan and while this cookbook is a bit old for Trent right now, it is beautifully illustrated and captures the Redwall spirit in it's choice of recipes like Mole's Favourite Deeper 'n' Ever Turnip 'n' Tater 'n' Beetroot Pie and Hare's Pawspring Vegetable Soup. Recipes are fun to read and should inspire a little chef - maybe even to try a few new foods. I suggest guess 8-12 is the target age.

Peter Rabbit's Natural Foods Cookbook

by Arnold Dobrin, Beatrix Potter (Illustrator)

Currently out-of-print, but a darling little cookbook with attractive recipes for a budding chef with simple recipes for soups, sandwiches, drinks, etc. Fun to read through as well. Ages 5-8?

Salad People And More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up

by Mollie Katzen

Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up

by Mollie Katzen, Ann Henderson

These two Mollie Katzen books are really interesting.

Trent likes them but isn't ready to follow thedirections yet at 3. I would think by 4 he may be up to the tasks. There is a introduction to each recipe for parents then the recipe is given graphically for the preschooler to follow. The picture boxes are full color drawn illustrations of things like butter, milk, flour, etc. They are books that empower children to cook by taking the recipe apart and cleverly depicting the steps in images.

Here are also some favorites which Trent is too young for right now – but it won’t be long!

5-7 and up!

Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child's Restaurant Adventures with 46 Recipes

by Alice Waters

Cooking with Children:

15 Lessons for Children, Age 7 and Up,

Who Really Want to Learn to Cook

by Marion Cunningham

Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 & Up

by Mollie Katzen

Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual

I have mixed thoughts about this cookbook. While graphically, it is really appealing, it has hidden ingredients you will have to substitute like cresent roll dough, vegetable shortening and it shows cans of parmesan cheese (you get the idea). It's originally published in 1987 - so that explains alot.

On the positive side it's full-color and really nicely illustrated. It comes with a set of measuring spoons. I've given one as a gift to good acclaim. Recipes are from Guacamole to Lemonade to Walrus Salad to Chili to Alphabet Soup to Smoothies.

Although Not Garden- or Food-related, we love the gorgeously illustrated books

by Jan Brett:

The Gingerbread Baby

Honey Honey Lion

The Mitten

The Hat

The Umbrella

Trouble with Trolls

Annie and the Wild Animals

Berlioz The Bear

Who's that Knocking on Christmas Eve?

The Owl & The Pussycat

The Umbrella

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Christmas Treasury

Hedgie Blasts Off!

New - Released September, 2007:

The Three Snow Bears

Kids Cooking & Recipes by J White

While we are far from experts at raising children (or teaching them), we do have the opinion that the earlier you include your child in activities that you love, the better.

This includes cooking, gardening, painting and music among other things. We can only speak from our personal experiences with Trent. But for all that is worth here is where you will find what we have to say...

Tips for Parents:

Getting your Kids to Try New Foods, Eat Diversely & Make Better Food Choices

Joanne's new article delves deep into assisting parents with getting their kids to have a healthier, more diverse diet.

Holiday Gifts for Children

Who Love to Cook New!

Kids in the Kitchen

A new article on how to get cooking with your young child in the kitchen. Included are tips, tricks and a whole bunch of easy-to-do cooking projects.

Cooking with Kids

1: Siege Towers & Vegetable Gardens

2: Mudpies & Cheese Souffles

3: Real Pretend Cakes & Milkshakes

4: Sugar Cookies & Gingerbread Houses

Four Rants:

Bad Party Food

What Not to Feed Kids

Dining with Kids in Restaurants *New*

Don't Sweat the Vegetables

A Child's Garden

Gardening with Kids –

Find out what's growing in Trent's Garden!

Recipes for Cooking with Kids

Apple Pie

Easy Apple Galette (& Quick Pastry!) New!

Banana Chocolate Chip Mini-Muffins

Cheese Herb Scones

Goat Cheese Crackers

Heirloom Tomato Soup 2006

Melon Sorbet

Pumpkin Cakes

Pumpkin Pie in a Pumpkin

Pumpkin Rock Cookies

Raspberry Lemonade

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup

Watermelon Drink (Juice)

Zucchini Mini Muffins

Kids' Holiday Cooking & Crafts

1: Decorating Gingerbread Houses

2: A Halloween Party

3. Pumpkin Pie Baked in a Pumpkin

4. How to Build a Gingerbread House Kit

5. Christmas/Holiday Gingerbread Houses Gallery

6. Halloween & Easter Gingerbread Houses Gallery

7. Building a Sugarcube House

8. Building a House Entirely Made of Chocolate

And, at Simply Recipes, here's an excellent post on constructing Gingerbread Houses.

Our Reviews of

Kids Cookbooks & Books

Kids - Cooking & Eating by J White

Get Your Kids Involved

What I have noticed is that when our son Trent is involved in cooking he’s more likely to try whatever we cook together. This is especially evident in breakfast. Trent was never a breakfast eater until we started making French Toast together. Now it’s a big deal whether we crack eggs for bacon & eggs, make waffles (his favorite) or pancakes. He still won’t eat eggs but he’ll eat French Toast. When he was almost 3 we began making banana chocolate chip muffins together. He’s excited to make them and excited to eat them too!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin Recipe

At 3 years old, he loves to cook, but isn't necessarily that interested in eating the finished product – but he loves the process. Here's a photo of the cake he decorated for me for Mother's Day:

Trent-decorated Mother's Day Cake

Cook Together

Cooking together doesn't mean necessarily big projects or even little ones. Just a task in a normal meal creation makes all the difference to your helper. Cracking an egg, stirring a bowl, turning the blender (or food processor) on and off, washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, etc. ("The helping process." - Jack)

Trent has managed to master the peeler with help, and can peel a potato or carrot with great gusto and glee - apples and pears are still too slippery for him, though. (Obviously we watch him carefully.) On occasion he will "cut bread" or vegetables by placing his hand over ours as we cut. Tasting is a big part of cooking and he loves to taste all the ingredients we cook with. From flour to nuts to carrots to vanilla. Anything that is safe to try we let him try.

His favorite spice is Paprika. In fact he makes his own "mud pies" at our counter with play pots and pans and a set of inexpensive plastic spice jars and some old ones filled with flour sugar and salt. Add a bit of water in a measuring cup and the little chef creates.

Gingerbread House #4

Cooking with a


Trent is starting to be able to do a lot more in the kitchen. He’s grasped the idea of being careful and is incredibly enthusiastic to help. From grating cheese to peeling potatoes to chopping vegetables he’s starting to take a more active part with close supervision.

We are privileged to have a no less than four cooking schools nearby, so I sometimes take classes on an interesting subject. Last September, I signed him up for the local Sur La Table Kid’s cooking classes for Halloween. They offered two: Haunted Gingerbread House building and a Halloween cooking party. He had a ball in both classes – not so much about the actual cooking – but about the other older children there and that cooking was fun and social. I did more of the decorating on the house than he did and he ate his weight in candy – but in the midst of the session – in *both* classes – completely unprovoked – he told me “Thank you Mother – this is so much fun, I just love it!”

The Halloween party class was a real eye-opener to me. Part of the class was demonstration, part assembly. Trent was amazingly patient and attentive during the demonstration. He was really interested in what was going on! Christine Law of Postrio taught the class and it was a really wonderful 90 minutes.

Trent likes to be included, as all children do, and the thought I would take him with me to a cooking class was special. He’d seen me go off and come home with samples and stories. This was his chance to share in that fun. The classes aren’t cheap $45-$50 but if you want to get the same sort of effect at home you can for much less – with either a store bought house kit or one you’ve made, just buy some extra candy and decorations. Invite your child’s friends to come and help decorate – they can bring a house or you can make them one.

Gingerbread Haunted House #1

Plant a Vegetable Garden

(From the smell of tomato leaves to the flight of bumble bees and butterflies, growing your own food is very rewarding for kids. And it's important for them to make the connection that food comes from the earth, not some giant store, shrink-wrapped or plastic boxed. - Jack)

We suggest starting with peas, strawberries, tomotoes, zucchini, fennel and all kinds of beans. These are pretty easy to plant and grow, and are easy for kids to harvest. Having a good quantity of vegetables and fruits that can be eaten raw in the garden is really important.

Peas are a great food to grow for kids. If you have some space with some sun– even a half wine barrel with a trellis. Most kids love to pick and eat peas in the garden, including ours. Trent will pick a pod, open it up and pop the sweet green peas into his mouth then he’s off for another. He’ll pick broccoli bits to eat off the plants and likes to pull radishes (even if he doesn’t like to eat them!) and carrots.

Strawberries are a big hit of Spring through Fall; we have Alpine red and white, and Quinalt growing. Trent likes to check and see what is ripe. Raspberries too are a huge hit this year (2006) We planted them in a raised bed to control and they've done fantastically well. We planted "Heritage". Trent will go out for a snack and invites his playmates to sample too.

Tomatoes, too, are fantastic for kids. They love to watch the little green guys get big and change color. Tomatoes can also be grown in pots on a deck or even a windowsill. Plant some marigolds with them!

Plant a small Herb Garden

Herbs are great for kids to smell and cook with. Start with rosemary, sage (we recommend pineapple sage, as kids love it), thyme, and basil. You can do mint as well, but understand it spreads like crazy.

It’s been FIX one of our favorite things (and has been since Trent was a baby) to go out in the garden and have him smell herbs and flowers, and taste herbs and vegetables just picked (even when he spit them out). Now he loves to pick flowers for people and will very often smell the flowers on his own.

Click here to see Trent's Garden.

Feeding Kids in Courses

I think most parents reach the point when a child just won't eat a variety of things (or eat things you'd like him to eat). Here's a trick we came up with that might work for you. (Keep the idea fresh by making this an occasional treat, not a routine. - Jack)

One thing we’ve found really useful in getting Trent to try different foods and to eat more rounded meals in general is serving them in courses with great fanfare. Whether we take lunch or dinner outside or stay in – serving one thing in a course. For instance for lunch we had leftovers in courses: Course#1: Champagne grapes, Course #2: Lamb stew, Course #3: Cooked fresh shell beans, Course #4: Vanilla ice cream (just a taste), and Course #5: Frozen peas (still frozen of course!). Each course might be a surprise, or he or she is only told the following one. Courses end when the child is full.

Hints? I suggest a fruit, a vegetable (or two or three) and a protein (meat, fish, eggs, poultry, cheese).

Another fun thing to do is an hor d'oeuvres course prior to the meal or even for a snack after dinner – with the leftover from dinner or a crudités and dip, etc.

Click here to read Joanne's Rant on Food & Kids

The Learning Tower

The best kitchen aid that we ever found for Trent was a product called The Learning Tower. It’s a platform which 1-2 kids can stand in and it sits flush with the kitchen counter.

The tower allows him to be at the kitchen counter to cook or play. He was suddenly at our level of height and the world changed for him. He could be involved. We nicknamed the tower his “Siege Tower” and now he “helps” whenever he can in the kitchen plus he can see what’s going on anytime he wants. We park it away from the counter when we’re not in the kitchen so he knows that the counters are off limits unless an adult is around.

The other great part of the Learning Tower is that it fits two children comfortably so that they can both cook together! It is a very sturdy design, so it's very stable (we’ve never had it tip) and it’s not easy to fall out of, although you have to watch the side holes when kids are very young or very active. While it’s not inexpensive, it’s well made, solid wood and adjustable. It will last through multiple children. We use it everyday - multiple times.

It should be considered an investment in the child’s future. It doesn’t break down to store it and has a big footprint, so you’ll want to consider where you will store it when not using it in a small kitchen (or apartment).

Gifts (or Ideas) for Kids who like to Cook by J White

Here are a smattering of ideas for Kids who Love to Cook beyond the usual kid’s cooking & child chef's kits. You can further customize the ideas to make them Holiday Gifts by adding a candy canes to the hot chocolate kit or make the baking kit a sugar cookie or gingerbread one, etc.

A children’s-sized Chef jacket

(with or without the name embroidered) - Rather than a traditional apron this jacket is made of the same materials which real chef’s wear in commercial kitchens and is up to the harsh treatment of spot treating and multiple washings. They are roomy and comfortable and provide good coverage. Trent's jackets have come from and have washed beautifully.

Make a baking kit:

Take your favorite baking recipe, package up the dry ingredients in a plastic jar, bag or glass canning jar. Print the instructions (include a shopping list of perishable ingredients). For muffins you could include paper muffin cups or the colorful silicone ones or a mini-muffin pan. For cookies, include cutters, or chocolate chips, or other decorations. For a holiday idea include the ingredients for gingerbread or sugar cookies and a set of graduated star cutters to make a “tree” when the cookies are piled.

Make a kit for Hot chocolate - cocoa powder, sugar, gourmet marshmallows, and a mug and special spoon – add candy canes, candy sticks or cinnamon sticks. Print the recipe and the instructions and wrap it up!

Make a kit for Kid-made Dinner: Spaghetti Night or Lasagna Night (dry pasta - no-boil noodles for Lasagna, a jar of sauce or can of tomatoes, pasta spoon, spices, jar of roasted peppers or olives or other add-ins).

Or take a different road and send a recipe for Pasta with a Tonnato Sauce (and send high grade wild tuna packed in oil, bottarga and capers packed in salt and instructions of how to handle each item).

Make a Guacamole kit (perishable & seasonal) – Send Organic Avocadoes grown in the USA, limes, salt, onions and chiles (if applicable – we make Guacamole with no chiles and adults or older kids with experience should really only handle them). Send a lava bowl and pestle to mash them in or a nice fork – and a bag of organic corn tortilla chips. Local Harvest has Avocados available to ship. Que Pasa chips are currently our organic chips of choice.

Make a recipe box: Take some of your favorite recipes and make them little-chef friendly printing them clearly and making the steps simple. Add a photo if you have one (a digital camera and a color printer will work). If there's a story, add it on the reverse side of the card. You can provide a little recipe box to go along with it, with blank recipe cards and room for more! You can even buy a plain box and decorate it or paint it! Or you can buy a pre-built box and add some custom recipes like the A-to-Z recipe box.

Find a cooking school in the child’s community which has classes for kids and send a gift certificate for a class or make them a reservation. Some town/city recreation departments offer cooking classes for kids. Some of the cooking store chains like Sur La Table offer classes for kids (often seasonal).

If you sew, make an apron and embroider the child’s name or sew on a fabric square with the name printed on it. If you quilt, make up some hot pads or a special placemat!

If you don’t sew or bake, assemble some great pint-sized cooking items like small tongs, small measuring cups or spoons, mixing bowl, baking pan and package in a tray or box which they could easily be stored in.

For a special little chef, consider a special children's Chef Knife and cutting board (to be used under adult supervision, of course). A small cutting board from Epicurean is what Trent uses. Korin offers a Misono blunt ended little chef's knife that Trent has had for a few years. New this year is a less-expensive kid's kitchen lines from KuhnRikon called Kinderkitchen which included both straight edge and serrated knives with animal figure handles.

Build a better lunchbox. Either a BPA-free one like the ones from Crocodile Creek or a little laptop style or a Bento box jar style. A new water bottle with a custom made label or design like one from Sigg might elicit a smile. I like the Oots lunch idea too! Add a bamboo fork or spoon, some fancy chopsticks, or a lovely set of cloth napkins, for a fun flourish!

A Learning Tower! IYou will need a bit of room in your kitchen but this was an essential in ours. Our son used it for 5 years almost daily! They come in colors and a variety of finishes. They are made of real wood, adjustable and hold two kids. It is incredibly sturdy..

If you don't have time to make your own: Send a Pre-made kit. Most kits have simple instructions which translate well for kids. Baker’s Catalog offers ones that I’ve sent – but beware premade kits often hide PHOs or HFC, if that’s a concern.

Cooking with Kids by J White

Mudpies & Cheese Souffles

As a child I recall making mudpies out of sticks and water and leaves and moss and whatever I could forage outside. One of the most successful things we’ve tried with Trent, is letting him “play cook,” with real ingredients and real cooking tools; the equivalent of indoor mud pies (he still makes the traditional outdoor ones as well).

We decided not to buy him a “play kitchen”. Our kitchen is large and we have lots of room for him, too. (And who needs a huge piece of ugly plastic in your house? - Jack) He has a favorite spot at the end of the counter next to where I usually do prep work and stands in his Learning Tower so we can cook together.

Sure he makes a bit of a mess, but that's no big deal. If you are concerned about the floor, you can put down a drop cloth and place the learning tower on top of it. An apron or an old shirt keeps clothes mostly clean. It’s got to be a bit messy or it ruins the fun!

His grandparents found some inexpensive spices (Trent calls them ingredients), and although it makes me cringe to consider the quality of them, he has lots of fun using them. We keep them in a small basket on a shelf next to his pile of dishtowels. I have saved empty vanilla bottles and small containers for extra ingredients – containers need to be small as they tend to get dumped all at once. Shaker tops are a good idea, too. We purchased plastic bowls for mixing in at first and I recently found stainless bowls with non-skid bottoms which work really well for him. He has a set of play stainless cookware that he uses for pots – or he chooses one of mine to use.

He also has a set of his cooking dishtowels – which usually get covered in paprika and soy sauce – so they are ones that otherwise would have been retired. Things like flour, salt and sugar are relatively inexpensive to give him to “play with” and more expensive ingredients we measure out together – I’m happy to give him little bits of almost anything in the kitchen just to let him smell or taste something new or exotic and “cook” with it.

I’ve found that if the cooking play becomes tired, the gift of a small thing, such as a new spice, a new spoon, a new ingredient makes everything new and fun again. Trent will initiate his play cooking by announcing he needs to make a cheese soufflé or a cake or cook dinner – I keep everything at his reach so he can set it up and knows where it should be put away – though Mom or Dad usually wash up the pans and spoons. Most of the time there are no rules imposed on his cooking – he has his ingredients, he knows to minimize the mess, he asks for water and we give it to him in a non-breakable measuring cup.

If the child is cooking alongside you give them a few ingredients that you are using - some pasta, cut vegetables, etc. It makes their mudpies more "like Mom's or Dad's cooking."

Making it Fun to Cook!

Kids Cooking Pots & Pans: The key here is not to go out and buy junk. Either pass along items which are currently in your kitchen or purchase new items which are useable later as your little one grows up. Trent often using his melamine plates and cups he used to eat from when he was littler. He also uses parts of a toy tea set. Often he'll use a borrowed bowl from the kitchen - or a pyrex loaf pan (he's a big fan of loaf pans) - he also loves a little pyrex frying pan that I never use. We have wood floors which make Pyrex harder to break - so I'm game to let him use them - if you have tile floors you probably want to stick with non-breakables.

If you are buying new things then buy actual tools which you might someday use in your kitchen. I made the mistake of buying a toy cooking set for Trent and wished that I had spent the money on real items. He still uses it to play cook but that’s all it’s ever going to be good for. You don’t need to spend a ton of money and your little cook doesn’t need all of the tools at once – give them a bowl and spoon and something to mix and they will be quite happy. Then a little present or offering every once in a while re-invents it.

Learning the measuring process is really educational – it’s a bridge to reading a recipe and also helps with the concept of fractions.

What you'll need: (Many of these things you probably already have in your kitchen)

A “Learning Tower” or something sturdy to stand on. Read more about them here.

Plastic or non-breakable bowls - like Good Grips 4-Piece Prep Bowl Set with Lids

Something to stir with (a wooden spoon is great)

Set of inexpensive spices and recycled containers with flour, sugar and salt

Plastic Measuring cup(s) like Oxo Measuring Cup or the Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Cups 3-pc (these are great - you’ll end up borrowing them from your little chef  - I promise!)
Measuring Spoons like a set of Oxo Good Grips Measuring Spoons

Measuring cups (dry measuring like flour, sugar) – Oxo Good Grips Soft Measuring Cups

Mixing spoons – a silicone spatula spoon is great

A Whisk (I regularly borrow Trent’s Oxo Good Grips 9”)


Apron or clothing covering