The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Cooking With Kids, by Joan Cirillo
As is sometimes the case when I read books, in this case books given to me that had been purchased by a family I am close to, I find odd connections with the books. In this case, the author is the mother of two young ladies (who, especially the elder, appear in this volume frequently commenting about its recipes) who happens to live in the Portland area, and her haunts are not too dissimilar to my own, which made it interesting to read of her passion for cooking and instructing young people on how to cook for themselves safely and nutritiously in my own small corner of the world. In many ways, this book reminded me of my own childhood, as I learned how to cook as a child myself, because my extremely picky eating habits drove my family to distraction and led them to tell me that if I didn’t like what was being cooked that I could learn to cook myself, and so I did, the rather plain sort of cooking that I did suiting the rather plain eating that I prefer to do. Given the experiences that the author relates about the prevalence of youths cooking, it is likely that this experience is not an uncommon one and that many people share my story.
In terms of its contents and structure, this book is divided roughly equally into an explanatory section that seeks to present the ground rules for teaching children how to cook, and between recipes, most of them simple and straightforward, that children can safely cook. The first half of the book, which takes up about 175 pages, is divided into five parts and nineteen chapters. The first part of the book welcomes the reader to the world of cooking with kids, pointing out that many children learn how to cook and that children benefit socially, intellectually, and emotionally by being familiar with the preparation of food. The second part of the food encourages parents to provoke the curiosity of their offspring about food by finding foods around them, discovering family roots, becoming savvy food shoppers, and get them to make their own lunches and help out with family meals. The third part of the book then examines the necessary subject of kid-proofing a kitchen by looking at basic safety principles (like making sure kids don’t use the stove or cut things without supervision), advice on how to use appliances with children safely, finding the best kitchen equipment, and ways to present cross-contamination and keep people from getting sick. The fourth part of the book looks at how to read recipes and how they are structured, looking at kitchen math and measuring, giving instruction on how to handle knives correctly, and encourages a productive attitude towards kitchen mishaps to encourage resilience and avoid negativity. The fifth part of the book looks at how to have fun with food by adding herbs and spices to cooking, enjoying food experiments like making rock candy and baking soda volcanoes, playing with food by creating tasty and attractive garnishes, enjoying do-it-yourself cheesemaking, and using the calendar and atlas to explore food of cultures and festivals. The sixth part of the book takes up the entire second half of the book, looking at eleven chapters of recipes that are divided thematically between breakfast foods, drinks, soups and salads, wraps and rolls, pasta and pizza, classic meals (like macaroni and cheese), veggies and sides, snacks, desserts, baked goods, and holiday-themed foods. After this the book contains a glossary, books for suggested additional reading, food pyramids (including one for ovo-lacto vegetarians), guidelines on reading nutritional labels on foods, and a detailed index.
It is pleasing to note that the dishes suggested for children are varied, healthy, and tasty. With many of the dishes there are testimonials from people who have cooked the dishes and noted mishaps or substitutions or the reception of the dishes, to encourage people to try those dishes for themselves. The dishes are varied, showing interesting foods from around the world, and the use of chickpeas as a way of getting protein from veggies, to subtly reduce meat consumption, without making an issue of it. Many of the dishes were similar to ones I enjoy making, largely because they are both tasty and somewhat straightforward . I was pleased as well that the author was at some pains to say that this book was not for idiots. Although the vast majority of the kid cooks were girls, as might be expected, there were plenty of boys who talked about their cooking experiences, which is encouraging, and the book as a whole appears to be well-organized to encourage cooking for children. I was far more pleased by this book than I expected to be, given that I tend to view with considerable dislike most reminders of childhood and that the book is not necessarily the most practical one, except that its dishes were the sort of food that I like making for myself, so I will no doubt add some of the recipes to my own personal repertoire. It would have been a lot less pleasant, no doubt, to read something like “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Cooking For Bachelors,” after all.
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