Nonfiction Monday – Learning to cook

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For my contribution to this week’s Nonfiction Monday I’m reviewing a cookery book that M has been using recently: frame>by>frame quick and easy – the cookbook that shows you every step.

As a family we bake and cook a lot, but normally my kids’ involvement (unless it is something sweet) revolves around play cooking – a few pots and pans, bowls and spoons, water and a little bit of chopped up whatever that has fallen off my chopping board. It’s a great way to keep them happy whilst I’m getting supper ready, but the end result of their culinary endeavours is not usually terribly edible.

With the arrival of the new year I thought M was about ready to start learning how to cook food that we could actually enjoy as a family and so I started hunting for a good cookbook to use with her. I didn’t want recipes for puddings and desserts – I wanted to encourage cooking food for meals, not treats – and I found it quite hard to find a cookery book for kids that didn’t have a disproportionate number of sweet recipes. Eventually I gave up looking in the kids’ cookery section and tried my luck in the adults’ section instead, and there I found the perfect book for us.

I say the perfect book, but I have to admit frame>by>frame quick and easy – the cookbook that shows you every step is not at all the sort of cookery book I would usually buy. It has been “produced” by a whole team of people, not written by a chef or food writer (indeed, no author is actually listed in Amazon), and at first glance it looks like it might be all about the visuals of food, rather than recipes that work and that are delicious: every recipe in this book is shown (as it says in the title!) step by step through a series of photographs, starting first with a photo of all the ingredients, then 5-8 photos showing the various stages and finally a photo of the finished product.

The photos are very clear, but they don’t show people actually cooking – rather the ingredients at various stages of preparation beautifully present on clean, clutter free work tops. It looks like the good fairies have been at work rather than actual people (and certainly rather than a crazy mama and two eager-to-get-stuck-in kids).

However, I thought this book might work for us as the layout and use of photos would really help M make her own decisions about what to cook for us, and support her in reading the recipes. M has been learning to read for about 4-5 months now, and although she can’t manage to read a recipe on her own, I thought that recipes, with their limited vocabulary (“stir”, “boil”, “steam”, “teaspoon” etc) would provide her with some real life text to read, assisted by the images to help her when she met a new word. I also liked the fact that whilst this book contains some dessert recipes, more than three-quarters of the recipes are savoury main meal recipes, split into 3 sections, vegetarian, fish and meat.

And so it has come to pass that we now have a new little ritual in our house at the weekends – for the past couple of months M has been cooking for us on Saturday evenings! I’m at her side the whole time, but I really try to let her do as much as she can, and to encourage her when she thinks she can’t do a certain stage. She’s having to learn about safety (holding knives, pouring hot water) and she’s learning a lot about ingredients and how they feel and taste (two of her new favourites are coconut milk and limes).

I’m having to learn how to be relaxed and yet very alert – letting go (ie letting M do it herself) at the same time as making sure nobody is going to end up in A&E. It’s quite an experience! So far everything M has prepared and cooked has been delicious! All credit to the cookbook for including recipes that work, and that result in lovely food, (even) when made (mostly) by a 5 year old. So far we have stuck to vegetarian recipes (raw fish and meat are something we don’t need to deal with yet!), but as M’s (and my) confidence grows I’m sure we’ll move on to the other sections of this book.

As I’d hoped, M does indeed love the format. She really enjoys sitting down to choose the next recipe she’s going to cook, and she likes being able to check her own progress against the photos in the book.

Whilst we’ve been cooking we’ve been listening to:

  • Food, Glorious Food, from the musical Oliver
  • Supper Time, sung here by Helen Frost with the Artie Shaw Orchestra
  • Rump Steak Serenade by Fats Waller
  • The Monty Python Spam Song πŸ™‚
  • On top of spaghetti by Tom Glazer
  • Tacos, Enchiladas And Beans by Doris Day

  • Here are some of my favourite blogs about cooking with and for kids – hopefully you’ll find some inspiration:

  • Raising Foodies
  • Gastrokid
  • A Little Fun with Me and Lu has a weekly meme on Thursdays – “Kids in the Kitchen”

  • What are your favourite cookery books for using with kids? What’s the most delicious thing you’ve eaten made by your children? What tips do you have for those wanting to try cooking with their kids for the first time?

    This week’s Nonfiction Monday host is Anamaria at books together.

    12 Responses

    1. Natalie

      We are not quite ready for independent cooking yet, but I quite agree with your choice to stick to real food vs. desserts. I bought My First Cookbook by Paula Deen some time ago, but didn’t really have a chance to test it yet, since at 3 year old my daughter is not quite ready for independent cooking πŸ™‚

      • Zoe

        Thanks for the great link Catherine – I didn’t know the blog, but Teach Mama is wonderful!It’s very thoughtful of you to suggest her to me.

    2. amy @teachmama

      Zoe! I LOVE this blog! I love what you’re doing over here, and I cannot wait to read more.

      You’ve just been added to my blogroll, and I hope, hope, hope you’ll join us at ‘we teach’–a group I started for parents and teachers to connect and share ideas.

      hugs from across the ocean to my kindred spirit,

    3. Kristine

      I love this post. She must feel so proud cooking for her family. I have been thinking about making a cookbook for my girls which will grow with them and include family favourites.

    4. Zoe

      Hi Kristine, thanks for your kind words πŸ™‚ One thing I’ve been thinking about with M, and I think would be fun for your two too when they’re a bit bigger, is writing a cook book together to include our family favourites. M could write out the recipes and then illustrate them I thought. It would be an ongoing project, but a real treasure I think if I could organise it!

    5. Amy Pertl-Clark

      Oh, I’ve struggled with cooking with Emmy and this post has me inspired once again. I have to admit that my husband is a much better and more patient cook in the kitchen than I am, but it is something that I am really working on. I really appreciate the idea of cooking a real meal rather than a dessert as Emmy and I mostly bake together. She has gotten quite good at egg salad and tried fresh tomato for the first time last week (although later we discovered a hive like rash on her leg – maybe not fresh tomato again!) I have quite a few cookbooks for kids, but I can’t say that they’ve helped inspire me. I’m going to check out your recommendation right away! Thanks, Zoe!

      • Zoe

        Hi Amy,
        I think a lot of the success for us has been about creating time and a routine (so often the things that help something be successful!) I make sure that J isn’t around – it’s just too difficult trying to let M use a sharp knife and keeping an eye on a toddler who wants to get her hands in to everything. We’ve also had to eat some rather strange stuff – either things that are very lumpy because M can only cut things quite large, or things that have been blitzed to babyfood levels in the blender. But of course, we want to encourage her so we eat up what she’s made for us and love her for it. If you do find a cookbook that works for you let me know!

    6. Tif

      Wow!! What an impressive book! I think I may have to see if I can find this one for my son and myself!! Thank you for the recommendation and thank you for contributing this link to my site for The Book Chook Cook Book & Beyond!!

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