Several years ago, I won an online giveaway and couldn’t believe my luck when a brightly colored book with party flags and a confetti cake on the cover showed up in my mailbox. The book was called Let’s Party! Kids Cookbook by Ashley Moulton, a longtime veteran in children’s media and creator of Nomster Chef, a website dedicated to helping kids and parents have fun with cooking and eating healthy together. It’s Moulton’s brand of fun family collaboration that turned me into a convert.
Prior to receiving the book, I never thought that cooking with one’s child could be a fun activity. Images of my child accidentally dropping a knife on my foot—or worse, me dropping a knife on her foot—made me squeamish whenever I thought about teaching my kids how to cook. But when you’re browsing (and cooking from) Moulton’s book, it feels like an endless summer day, where you hop from one birthday party to another. All the recipes fulfill the promise of being fun and festive.
Since then, I’ve been on the hunt for more kid-friendly cookbooks. As with regular cookbooks, there’s an abundance of choices. How do you know which ones to pick? And should you even cook with kids at all, knowing that they have certain limitations (lack of knife skills, inability to reach things high on a shelf, proper handwashing technique)?
The answer is: Yes! Cooking with kids is not only a great way to build a relationship with them, but it also teaches important skills such as creativity, problem-solving and math. Fractions, anyone?
Here are my top five picks for kids’ cookbooks. Keep in mind, however, that there are so many more worthwhile titles out there. Start with these, have fun, and move on to others when you and your child are both ready for a new adventure in the kitchen.
I may be biased because I got this for free, but I loved this book and can’t recommend it enough. Moulton does such a great job with the instructions, layout, and explanations, all of which are simple for children to understand. Plus, the fun party theme element extends to the organization of the book’s chapters, each of which encompasses a different type of event rather than a type of dish. Examples: Superhero Party, Tea Party, and Pizza Party.
I admit it: I took this book home because I was smitten by its cover. The images of two animals yielding whisks and spatulas in an excited manner made me excited to try its recipes. The author, Danielle Kartes, creator of Rustic Joyful Food, has also authored other books for adults. This cookbook is an extension of her belief in living the good life, that learning to cook together will boost kids’ creativity and enjoyment of food.
And she’s right. The book exudes simplicity and joy, with comforting dishes such as soft scrambled cheesy eggs (easy to make) and chicken meatball sliders, combined with colorful illustrations of the foods themselves. Best of all, there are silly jokes and a section where kids can write down their own recipes.
What if your child wants to learn about foods from other cultures? When my daughter asked me about Vietnamese food—she’s half-Vietnamese, after all—admittedly, I did not have a good resource for her because I didn’t grow up cooking with my mom. (She was always working.)
However, I discovered a good alternative in this book, which gives a brief overview of many wonderful foods from around the world. From Asia to Europe to Australia, your kids will learn the basics while exposed to global ingredients and recipes, which are organized by the type of meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner). The best part about this book are the photographs of real children prepping, cooking, and eating together, making it seem much more realistic for the child.
Mollie Katzen is a longtime proponent of plant-based eating. She’s the author of Moosewood Cookbook, first published in 1974, a collection of vegetarian dishes inspired by those around her. Since then, she’s had a long career in the food industry, having published 12 books total, three aimed at children.
Honest Pretzels elicits a feeling of nostalgia, for its pages appear to be something out of your grandmother’s cookbook: basic illustrations, slightly dated pages, step-by-step instructions on simple recipes such as vegetarian fried rice and chocolate cake—perhaps just the thing that your grandmother might feed you if you ever visit her. It’s a perfect book for both vegetarians and anyone who enjoys vegetarian dishes.
I remember being completely wowed the first time I saw a Milk Bar in New York City. It was February 2020, a month before the pandemic shut down the entire city (along with the rest of the world) when, out on the street corner, I glanced into the windows of Milk Bar and saw the most delicious baked goods. As it turns out, creator Christina Tosi also authored a cookbook specifically for children!
What I loved about this book is not only its fun factor, but the focus on baked goods. Looking at all the treats is a real treat in and of itself, and making them with your family is even better. For someone with a serious sweet tooth, this book made me salivate before I even began. From Grasshopper Cupcakes to Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies to Jack-o’-Lantern Muffins, this book will keep inspiring your kids to bake.