I’m a big fan of getting kids excited about healthy eating when they’re away from the dinner table (stress-free, no pressure times). I’m also a big fan of reading. So when I find a good kid’s book about cooking or healthy foods, I’m over the moon.
Kids are naturally inquisitive. They want to learn and explore. Give them a tomato on the playground. They’ll stomp it, smash it, throw it, pick it apart. Give them a tomato on their plate. Well….you know what happens.
But here’s the thing. Any happy food exposure away from the table helps the food seem less foreign when it’s actually on the table. The more familiar something is to your child, the less like he or she is to freak out when the food ends up on his or her plate. Reading about new foods is a super-easy, mess-free way to help your child get more comfortable with a new food. In fact, one study found that 90 percent of kids who read a book with a positive message about kohlrabi sampled the vegetable, while just 61 percent who didn’t read the book sampled it.
There are dozens of great board books out there that introduce new foods (the “A” is for apple type). But the pickings get a bit slimmer once your kiddo expects a bit of a storyline. After spending hours at the library, local book store, on Amazon.com and getting recommendations from my son’s fabulous preschool director (thanks, Ms V!), I’ve found a good selection of early reader books that have made it into regular rotation during story-time at my home.
Here are my family’s top 12 current favorites. What books would you add to the list? Share in the comments.
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This is one of my all-time favorites. The book tells the story of Little Pea who must eat all his sweets for dinner if he wants any vegetables for dessert! The playful, tongue-in-cheek storyline makes us laugh every time. Recommended age range: 3 and up.
Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak
This book by the famed Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”) has a wonderful, lilting rhythm. It features 12 rhymes and illustrations — one for every month — with chicken soup as the universal theme. For example, “In January / it’s so nice / while slipping / on the sliding ice / to sip hot chicken soup / with rice.” I find myself repeating the rhymes in my mind over and over…and not minding it! Recommended age range: 4-8 years.
Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds
This quirky story tells the story of what happens when the flock of chickens at Nuthatcher Farm decide they are tired of chicken feed. The rooster learns to cook and all the animals cook up salsa, guacamole and more for a fiesta! Recipes are included for your budding chef. Everything about this book — from the words to the art — is zesty and we love it! Recommended age range: 5-7 years.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
This book tells the story of how a grandmother on a Michigan farm soothes her granddaughter’s fears of an impending thunderstorm by gathering all the ingredients for a thunder cake (chocolate cake). We love making this cake (recipe included) on stormy days and my kids especially love adding the secret ingredient (tomatoes!). I admit, the first time we made it I had to hide my skepticism about putting tomatoes in a chocolate cake, but my kids just thought it was normal thing to do! Recommended age range: 4-8 years.
Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
In this creative twist on “The Little Red,” Rooster enlists help from three new friends — Turtle, Iguana and Potbellied Pig — to make an old family recipe, granny’s strawberry shortcake. Hilarity ensues as the three helpers all but cause chaos in the kitchen. Scattered through the story are sidebars with helpful tips about cooking and the ingredients to the recipe, which of course, is included. Now when we’re cooking a meal, my kids love to shout “cook-a-doodle-doo!” Recommended age range: 4-8 years.
Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico! Americas’ Sproutings by Pat Mora
This whimsical book is a delicious introduction to 14 different foods originating from the Americas. I love how it includes foods that are probably unfamiliar to many kids (e.g. papaya, prickly pear), as well as some familiar ones (e.g. blueberries, tomatoes). Each food is described in a haiku poem in English with a smattering of Spanish. The poems are accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Recommended age range: preschool-grade 3.
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
This sweet story by Ruth Krauss (author of “Harold and the Purple Crayon”) tells the story of a boy who plants a carrot seed, then waits patiently for it to grow, despite everyone telling him it won’t. Until one day…it does. I love the simplicity of the book and the messages about patience and stead-fastness. We often refer to this book when my kids need to be reminded to be patient about something. Recommended age range: 4-8 years.
Soup Day by Melissa Iwai
This wonderful book starts with a trip to the market to buy the ingredients for a vegetable soup. It then follows mother and child through the process as they prepare the vegetables (including wonderful descriptions about the size, shape and smell of everything), take a break to play while the soup simmers, then enjoy their creation as a family (recipe included). Anyone who has ever made a soup with their child will feel like this is a narration of their day. And I love how the book celebrates the importance of making a nutritious meal and sharing in the process. Recommended age range: 2-5 years.
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by Philemon Sturges
Another humorous twist on the traditional Little Red Hen, this time featuring the kid-favorite dish, pizza. While you may not immediately think “healthy” when you think pizza, this version includes shopping for lots and lots of ingredients, including tons of veggies and herbs, making it a fun way to introduce new foods to kids. And while the Little Red Hen cooks solo while her friends play, there is a happy twist at the end where her friends finally lend a hand. Recommended age range: 3-5 years.
Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich
This book is a fantastic way to introduce the legendary Julia Child to young readers, through the eyes of Julia’s cat, Minette. Perfect for budding chefs, this book is full of culinary terminology (complete with a glossary) and wonderful Parisian fare. I also love how the book includes real-life quotes from Julia Child, seamlessly woven into the text of the book. Recommended age range: 3-7 years.
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
I admit….I passed by this book many, many times because of the negativity of the title. But I do think it’s a good book for the right kid. In the book, big bro Charlie convinces little sis Lola to eat all sorts of vegetables by giving them different names (e.g. “orange twiglets from Jupiter” instead of “carrots”). Eventually, Lola asks for tomatoes, her least favorite food, and gives it a unique name of her own. If the “fun food name” thing works with your child, give this a book a try. It gets great reviews on Amazon.
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
This book, full of vivid abstract art, is a zesty way to teach kids about gardening and the farm-to-table concept. It begins with the tools one needs to plant a garden, then vividly takes you through the process from the seed being planted to the grand finale — vegetable soup (recipe included)! Recommended age range: 4-8 years.