One of my favorite possessions as a child was The DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook. Why this treasure is not more widely-known is beyond me, especially now as a Food Revolution aimed at getting kids to eat healthier hits an all-time peak. My original copy long gone, I bought a new one on eBay and have been sharing it with my family.
My stepkids went nuclear with excitement at the recipes, like the simple “Perry White’s Great Caesar’s Salad” (utilizing cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and toothpicks, you can make little planets; this is the only time in recorded history I have seen my stepchildren get excited about vegetables). Then there are the “Cookie Prints” left on a crime scene by a great big gooey Peanut Butter Thing, with Green Lantern in hot pursuit. The ingredients—peanut butter and bananas, to name two—make me feel good about giving them to my toddler son, CC. The recipes are thoughtful and certainly health-conscious, but each recipe has a big fat serving of fun, fun, fun, making this cookbook the most appealing that’s ever crossed my radar. Rediscovering it made me curious about other books out there that combine fun, food… and maybe even healthy eating.
When looking into other cookbooks for kids, the first thing I thought was, I wonder if there’s a kid’s version of the famous Moosewood cookbook? Happily, there is—it’s by Moosewood author Mollie Katzen (with Ann L. Henderson), and charmingly titled Pretend Soup and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up. With appealing recipe names like Green Spaghetti and Bagel Faces, and adorable illustrations that accompany the instructions, this sweet book serves up edible fun that’s easy to make and healthy to boot.
The fun factor of rival cookbooks The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals (Missy Chase Lapine) and Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (Jessica Seinfeld) hinges on one simple question: will your kids find the idea of spinach in brownies dastardly but delightful… or decidedly disgusting? If it’s the latter, you may want to cook up these clever dishes on your own time, but if your kids will have fun with the idea of sneaking veggies into the dishes they love, then make cooking up these concoctions part of family time. These aren’t cookbooks for children per se, but kids will love the science experiment feel of blending foods they love with foods they are far more ambivalent about. My stepkids were thrilled when we blended a puree of white beans into their chocolate chip cookies, a la a suggestion by Lapine. “They’re the best cookies I’ve ever had, and they’re healthy!” said my stepdaughter. I swear.
The Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne are long on sweetness and charm, and the Winnie-the-Pooh’s Picnic Cookbook (inspired by Milne and with classic illustrations by Ernest Shepard) upholds the tradition of those beloved books. There are menus with accompanying recipes for a variety of picnics, like the Birthday Party Picnic, the Beach Picnic, and—blessedly for stir-crazy families—the Rainy Day Picnic. Some of the recipes are as familiar as Milne’s much-loved characters, like the Pink Lemonade with Strawberries and the Bittersweet-Chocolate Chunk Brownies. Others (Blueberry Heart Scones with Smoked Turkey, Cranberry-Orange Conserve), won’t be quite like anything your children have eaten before, but Pooh and Piglet’s seal of approval may be just the ticket to getting your child to try something new.
And speaking of something new… while some of us may associate bag lunches with limp bologna sandwiches and mealy apples, others are familiar with the phenomenon known as bentos—the box lunches lovingly packed for children in Japan by their incredibly resourceful parents. Bentos look less like meals and more like fairytale creatures in fantastical habitats, and are even health-conscious, too. Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches (Maki Ogawa and Crystal Watanabe) details how to make these dreamy dishes; not only do they make for a lovely lunch, creating them is great fodder for a family project.
Bentos may be yum-yum, but from the woman who coined the term yum-o comes Rachael Ray’s Yum-o! The Family Cookbook. A bit of background: Rachael Ray’s non-profit organization, Yum-o, is aimed at educating and inspiring families to cook and eat healthy (Yum-o also addresses the issue of hunger in the U.S. as well as funding and scholarships to promote education). In that spirit, this cookbook offers healthy, economical recipes (illustrated with lots of tantalizing, mouth-watering photos) that the whole family can drool over and then cook together. Rachel understands that kids may be more likely to enthusiastically participate in creating food they can relate to, so she offers her own fun spins on familiar favorites like sandwiches and spaghetti, and covers all three mealtimes—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—as well as smart and healthy snacking. The instructions aimed at grown-ups and kids alike mean that children can really pitch in and participate, making a healthy meal the product of family together-time.