My toddler son has been helping me in the kitchen since he was old enough to sit on the counter and mix a bowl of banana nut bread batter, or sprinkle spices to prepare roasted russet potatoes. He’s now comfortable flipping through cookbooks and pointing to what he wants to prepare. I’m thrilled he loves cooking — I’m waiting for the day he can cook a meal independently — and cookbooks have become a fun, creative and educational tool. They are great for helping kids get comfortable in the kitchen by learning about different kinds of foods, while they double as passive math lessons via measuring.
Yummy meals crafted from cookbook recipes are the ideal end result, but kids will also appreciate the fun parts of cooking like tasting select ingredients along the way, getting a little messy (all of the flour doesn’t need to go in the mixing bowl, right?), spending quality time with parents in the kitchen, and feeling accomplished that, no matter how the dish turns out, they did their very best.
“My daughter had time on her hands and I wanted a creative [activity] we could do together,” says Daniel Gercke, New York Times bestselling cookbook writer and author of Cook It! The Dr. Seuss Cookbook for Kid Chefs. He wrote the book with children in mind and structured it with “simple tasks kids could perform to help [boost] their confidence in the kitchen and take pride in what they cook.”
The following seven cookbooks feature easy-to-follow recipes for a variety of palates accompanied by mouthwatering photos. There’s a cookbook for chefs as young as four years old and another for middle-school age children. Recipes run the full gamut of meals (one cookbook even specifically focuses on vegetarian and plant-based meals). Burgeoning mixologists and potion-makers will delight in The Unofficial Disney Parks Drink Recipe Book by Ashley Craft which is filled with drinks from various Disney theme parks. The author and mother chose recipes that can be prepared by lifelong Disney fans like herself. “If I can do it, your kids can do it,” she says. “These are iconic, recognizable recipes people can make at home.”
Delve into the following list to find cookbooks for the children in your life.
Dawn Casey, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, $16, bookshop.org
In Dawn Casey’s sweet rhyming book, Apple Cake: A Gratitude, readers learn about a little girl who visits and thanks all of her neighbors for the gifts nature provides. During each visit, she receives a new ingredient for her cake — hazelnuts, apples, eggs, milk and more — and eventually acquires enough ingredients to make an apple cake. The recipe, found at the end, requires using the oven and cutting an apple so adult participation is required, however, there are instructions specifically for kids too.
Daniel Gercke, Random House Books for Young Readers, $20, headhousebooks.com
Cook It! The Dr. Seuss Cookbook for Kid Chefs begins with super simple recipes like kale chips, ooey-gooey grilled cheese and a Cat in the Hat parfait which can be prepared by children with minimal parental supervision. Partially written in rhyme, the book’s recipes are organized by requisite skill level — from beginner to advanced — and feature an introductory section for basic kitchen safety, food preparation, cleaning up as you cook, and more. Kids love to make a mess and “get their fingers in gooey things, just like Dr. Seuss characters,” Gercke says.
America’s Test Kitchen Kids, $12, americastestkitchen.com
Does cooking conjure up thoughts of science? The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists: Good Science Makes Great Food from the team behind America’s Test Kitchen Kids helps young chefs and scientists experiment with more than 70 activities and recipes. A math section with conversions and equivalents help with measuring, while other parts teach why cutting onions make people cry, how bubbles are contained in fizzy beverages, and kitchen concepts like zesting, chopping and simmering. $11.80. amazon.com
Jamaica Stevens, Rockridge Press, $16, unclebobbies.com
Prepare simple, advanced and savory meatless meals with recipes from The Vegetarian Cookbook for Kids: Easy, Skill-Building Recipes for Young Chefs by Jamaica Stevens. The book features useful information about kitchen safety and tools; ingredients to stock in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer; plus definitions of culinary terms like julienne and chiffonade (these are also good spelling bee words). Recipes can be cooked in less than 30 minutes, ideal for hungry kids and caregivers.
Ashley Craft, Adams Media, $14, barnesandnoble.com
Bring the magic of Disney home with The Unofficial Disney Parks Drink Recipe Book by Ashley Craft. The book features more than 100 recipes derived from drinks served at Disney theme parks, including milkshakes, slushies and more, with fun names like the Mystic Portal Punch, from the lunch box of Toy Story’s Woody. First-time kid chefs and mixologists will find the Grey Stuff, historically served at the Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant, Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom Park, easy to make since it only requires three ingredients: Oreos, instant pudding and whipped cream.
Food Network Magazine, $20, inkwoodnj.com
For kids who are fans of The Great British Bake Off, look no further than The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book: 110+ Recipes for Young Bakers by Food Network Magazine. This book is chock full of treats like chocolate frosted brownies and milk-and-cookies cupcakes, as well as colorful puzzle-shaped sugar cookies. One section called Fake-Out Cakes taps into the buzzy internet trend of baking realistic looking foods in cake form, like spaghetti and meatballs, grilled cheese and a taco. Most recipes start from scratch but occasionally call for a box cake mix or pre-made frosting to keep the preparation time to a minimum (two hours of prepping might be too much for the kiddos). Educational and fun facts are sprinkled throughout the book too, like how black and golden raisins are produced from the same kind of grape.
Charity Mathews, Rockridge Press, $15, target.com
Children 4-8 years old can display their culinary and artistic talents by mixing, swirling and stirring up delicious fun in the kitchen with the Edible Crafts Kids’ Cookbook: 25 Fun Projects to Make and Eat! by Charity Mathews. Recipes are accompanied by simple instructions, colorful pictures and a messy meter, which is likely to signal more fun for the young ones. The cookbook inspires healthy eating with dishes like Captain America’s colorful fruit plate and monster-faced veggie cups and encourages creativity, beginning culinary skills, reading and teamwork.