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TTT- Tuesday’s Tasty Tip with Chef David Hall

Kids’ Cookbooks – What To Look For And What To Avoid

Children’s cookbooks share a commonality with most other cookbooks – there are hundreds of them. So finding a good one requires some time and effort to identify. There are cookbooks from William-Sonoma, Disney, America’s Test Kitchens, and others. Some marketing schemes include Star Wars, cookbooks for girls (not politically correct in today’s world), dessert-focused, Italian, and more. Several TV names and shows have jumped on the bandwagon including Paula Dean, Emeril Lagasi, Rachael Ray and Fear Factor. But big names and hip themes do not always produce a quality product meeting your children’s needs.

Below is a list of the minimal elements that should be included in a quality children’s cookbook.

Kitchen Safety. Safety is paramount. Children’s cookbooks should not only contain a section devoted to the potential hazards in the kitchen, but should also contain safety tips wherever applicable/or necessary. When a recipe requires adult supervision or skills, the recipe should specify which parts of the job recommend a “grown-up assistant.” For a brief safety overview, please see

Culinary Principles. Learning to follow a recipe is a first step, but it is similar to giving someone a fish, instead of teaching him or her how to fish. Learning culinary principles enables our children to create their own recipes eventually. 

While kids need clear and detailed instructions in their recipes, they also need to understand the “hows” and “whys” behind the recipe in order to understand why something didn’t turn out as expected. Without an understanding of the fundamentals, their cooking experience is essentially a “black-box” experience, where ingredients go in and somehow the dish emerges at the other end. It won’t take too many experiences where their dishes turned out poorly before they are turned off to cooking altogether. Cooks, young or old, need to understand basic cooking fundamentals. The fundamentals will carry them far, allowing them to make sensible substitutions when needed.

Nutritional soundness. This is a “must.” Children can and will be fussy or finicky eaters if parents are lazy and opt out for the easy microwaveable pocket junk meal, or turn to Happy MealsTM as a replacement for healthy meals. As parents, we are not only responsible for our children’s education but their health as well. Parents, if your young child is more than 10 pounds overweight, it is your fault. Take action to correct the problem before their health becomes a risk issue.

Teaching our children to eat healthy should start on day one. Healthy cooking is a phenomenal way to start your child eating healthy. If they have a hand in the cooking (literally), they are more likely to eat it. In the Kids’ Kulinary Boot Kamp, my students are told they get to make spinach for their lunch. The eye-rolls and moaning are forgotten as soon as they bite into my spinach-parmesan cakes; the kids call them green cookies. Regardless of the name, they scarf them down. Why? Two reasons. They taste great and they made them. Because they made them, they have a stake in the game. Rarely are there leftovers.

Recipes in the cookbook you select should be nutritionally sound and not depend heavily on cheese, deep-frying (a potentially dangerous activity for kids) or sweets. Therefore, avoid cookbooks having recipes with excessive fat or sugar (for kids and adults). Ideally, each recipe should have nutritional information included for every recipe.

Clarity. Each step must be clearly explained and age-appropriate. If your child is struggling to read, not to mention understand, he will quickly be turned off. Each recipe must have instructions that provide a unique step for every operation, as opposed to the one or two paragraph in the typical cryptic notation used in adult cookbooks. Pictures provide a quick look of what is described in the instruction. The more, the better.

Science and Math. Weights and measures conversion tables are very helpful and should be included in your child’s cookbook. Cooking is a multidisciplinary activity that includes reading, math, learning techniques and principles. Taking their experience one step further, cooking can and should include economics. When you give your 13 year old child the week’s money and tell him he has to feed the family on that money for a week (as I did with my 13 year old son), the wheels start turning.

Glossary. The culinary world has its own vernacular. A thorough and concise listing of terms and definitions goes a long way in any learning experience.

Let’s think out of the box for a moment. Both of my sons are my Tournant (stand-in) Chefs for our larger engagements. Neither of them has formal training but are excellent chefs. Both of them learned to cook early in life and my older son was cooking full dinners by the time he was 13. They learned without a children’s cookbook by being involved in the kitchen as a matter of routine. It was something considered normal and expected. They learned by doing and now as adults teach me a thing or two from time to time.

An Alternative Approach

If you do not have the time to spend researching and review children’s cookbooks, do not worry. My suggestion is you review my list of age appropriate tasks at and pair your favorite family recipes with age appropriate tasks. Buy a special quality spiral-bound journal for your child. Help them to write their own cookbook. This is a great project spanning years; one they will keep and treasure for a lifetime. Save a section in the front of the journal to document the culinary fundamentals you teach them. If you don’t know culinary fundamentals don’t worry. They may be the subject of future postings. Until then, you can easily find them on the internet.

Writing a personal cookbook with your child and cooking with them build common ground and a stronger parent/child relationship that will help you survive the adolescent years when they come.

Until next time, be blessed and make it a great day.

Chef David Hall

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