Once my kids are old enough to enjoy chapter books, a tradition I hope to steal from a friend of mine is the “Book Feast.” How it works: The parents read aloud a chapter book to the kids, sometimes on a road trip or at night before bed. (Alternatively, the whole family could read a book “book club” style.) After everyone has read the book, they all prepare a “book feast” one night themed to that book. It’s a ritual that everyone should try at least once.
Having a family event planned upon the completion of a book makes it more of a special occasion to read a book in the first place, promoting literacy and family bonding. Reading aloud to kids is one of the best strategies for promoting good reading skills as they enter school, even after they know how to read for themselves.
Research shows that eating meals together as a family is good for managing stress. Tying in food to the book might encourage a picky eater to try a new food by contextualizing it and making it fun. You might also end up encouraging your kids to help you out in the kitchen this way, which, while possibly a messy idea, might end up creating some good habits.
If you want to choose a book that you know will make for a good themed feast before reading, you can select one that’s known for its culinary moments. Some popular books, especially series, have made cookbooks to go along with the fiction. Some popular kids’ books with cookbook companions include:
Keep in mind that these cookbooks are often “unofficial” collections, not technically affiliated with the brand. You don’t have to pick a “food-based” book for your book feast, though. Any book can have a book feast, even if set in the Great Depression or Irish Potato Famine. What a learning experience that would be, right? Lots of lessons on empathy and the economy to be had right there.
You can also make up your own recipes to tie into books. My friend’s kids don’t go for fantasy and love historical fiction, so she breaks out her vintage cookbooks for their book feasts. Let your creativity run wild. Local librarians might be able to get in on the fun with some ideas and, of course, the queen bee of cute food ideas, Pinterest, is going to be there to help fill in the blanks.
The most creative minds in the room, however, might be your kids. They will likely remember food details from the books and have great ideas for how to incorporate them into your family meal.
If there’s a movie adaptation of the book you read, you can have a movie night after your meal. Follow it up with a conversation about what was the same and different in the film adaptation, and maybe even which one was better.
Have a family discussion about the book. What did you like, dislike, have questions about, and feel moved by in the book? If the book tackled any “big talk”-style issues—like in the case of my friend whose kids went on a WWII kick and therefore learned about the Holocaust at the tender ages of six and eight—this might be a good time to debrief and make sure everyone understands the nuances and context of these stories. Connect the stories to the real world, your lives, and other stories you read and love. And, of course, delicious food.
Finally, at the dinner table, pick your next book! For your sake and theirs, make sure it’s a feast for every one of the senses.