The phrase "kids in the kitchen" is the verbal equivalent of a Rorschach blot. For new parents dying to boast "My Oscar just LOVES octopus and he whipped up a fabulous sauce gribiche the other day" it will induce visions of joy and contentment, while those who have spent hours chipping dried dough off the Smeg appliances will be reduced to tears, mania and dull-eyed repetition of the phrase "the horror, the horror".
Good Food fully encourages the teaching of the gastronomic arts to young children but we also warn against biting off more than you, or junior, can chew. To that end, Mastering the Art of French Cooking can wait. Herewith 10 of the best recent releases in kid-friendly cookery, whether encouraging the kids on the road to gourmet mastery, or just encouraging them on the road to eating recognisable food substances rather than Play-Doh.
1. Alice's Food A-Z
Alice Zaslavsky, Walker Books, $20
Better known by her social media handle of Alice in Frames – or simply as that really lovely young woman from series five of MasterChef – Zaslavsky is a former primary school teacher with the goods on keeping the younger school-aged market entertained with fun facts and food trivia, while starting them off with basic cookery (peanut butter on toast; cheesy mushrooms).
We cooked Nutty road trail mix with chocolate.
We loved The easy-breezy text, set to a pitch-perfect conversational tone with just a pinch of gross-out stuff (why do Jerusalem artichokes make you fart?).
2. The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook
Rosanna Pansino, Hachette Australia, $40
Self-described nerd Rosanna Pansino loves all things geeky, including sci fi, comics and the periodic table, and – naturally – combines them with baking on her hit YouTube show. Making The New York Times bestseller list, her first cookbook sticks to the nerd-based baked goods template with creations such as rocket ship cookie pops and wi-fi cheesecake.
We cooked Geode candy cupcakes (designed to look like geological formations – neat, huh?).
We loved STEM education meets baking – it's like the National Innovation and Science Agenda, only tasty.
3. Quick & Easy Weaning
Annabel Karmel, Ebury Press, $25
Best-selling British author Karmel is the queen of the baby and toddler set and hits a home run with this one-stop-shop that runs the gamut from introducing solid foods to babies to working up to more complex flavours and textures. No-fuss and straightforward, it's perfect for busy parents.
We cooked Mini cottage pies.
We loved The handy meal planners.
4. Bake Class
Anneka Manning, Murdoch Books, $45
Okay, so it's not a book specifically for kids or about kids but it's a perfect example of the kind of introductory tome from which older children can benefit. Baking is love made edible, says Manning, and if the kids love you they'll be able to whip up savoury muffins or gingernut biscuits in no time.
We cooked Chocolate self-saucing pudding.
We loved "Before you bake", a chapter to calm the most nerve-riddled neophyte baker.
5. Supercharged Food for Kids
Lee Holmes, Murdoch Books, $25
A feel-good foodie who's made a mini-empire from proselytising the importance of wholefoods and gut health, Holmes now moves her attention to the junior market. She's an advocate of stevia sweetener and coconut oil but the book is really less revolutionary than common sense: think healthy versions of pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets and desserts.
We cooked Blueberry and coconut muffins.
We loved If Holmes can make the kids happy with almond meal-base pizza then she's a certified genius.
6. The Silver Spoon for Children
An Italian classic since its publication in 1950, The Silver Spoon (Il Cucchiaio D'Argento) collated hundreds of traditional recipes with an emphasis on regional specialities. The Silver Spoon for Children takes 40 of those recipes and gives them a cute spin for a younger cook with fabulous illustrations, interesting introductions and fabulous graphics. Recommended for those 10 and up.
We cooked Linguine with pesto.
We loved It's Phaidon, so the design principles are exemplary.
7. Can I Eat That?
Joshua David Stein, Phaidon, $22.95
If you're aiming for the more junior of the juniors, this effort from New York Observer food critic Joshua David Stein is a winner dinner. Admittedly, it's not a cookbook per se, more a series of questions and answers about food (Can I eat a sea urchin? Can we go pickle picking?) Designed for interactive good times with mum and dad (unless your child aged between three and five can read, in which case – well done!) it will pique interest in food and eating, and that deserves the elephant stamp.
We cooked Nothing, because it's not a cookbook, but we are planning on eating a sea urchin at the first available opportunity.
We loved The strange conversations about eating inanimate objects it provoked.
8. The Little Dish Family Cookbook
Hillary Graves, Hachette Australia, $35
Our choice for the go-to book when it comes to something both parents and children can share, it has 101 family-friendly (read: simple and healthy) recipes, from snacks to "green pie" (spanakopita) and roast chicken. Each recipe comes with a cartoon child saying what aspects s/he can help to do. Cuteness overload.
We cooked Green pea hummus.
We loved The little chef's skills chart.
9. The Australian Women's Weekly Cheat's Cakes 2
Bauer Media, $14.95
If the classic AWW's Children's Birthday Cake Book (see breakout) is secret cake business designed to test the mettle of the most determined baker, this is the accessible version that uses store-bought cakes. Which means that the kids can jump in and help without making parents worry too much.
We cooked I'm watching you! (Fruit and sponge eyeballs in jelly).
We loved All the fun decorating mess without the fiddly baking fuss.
10. Animals Are Delicious
David Ladd & Stephanie Anderson, Phaidon, $24.95
A brilliant title that combines quirkiness with a complete lack of sentimentality rather sums up Animals Are Delicious, a super clever exploration of three different food chains (since you asked: terrestrial, avian and aquatic). Aimed at kids aged two to four (although the appeal may well go up to age 43, ahem) they're three concertina books that fold out (just like the food chain – geddit?) as our furry, feathered and finned friends go about the daily business of survival.
We cooked Not going there.
We loved Destined to be a classic – look out, The Very Hungry Caterpillar!
Great reads on the menu
Classic cookbooks for children? Tim White of Melbourne's Books for Cooks says some of the best are not written specifically for children at all. "Bill Granger and Jamie Oliver are good options … something with attractive pictures so the child can help pick out the family meal and assist in making it. The whole family doesn't have to have happy faces on their pizza all the time."
Between the ages of nine and 14, White suggests books by the chefs that children watch on TV – Nigella Lawson works well for younger readers because it has a good-sized (dare we say voluptuous) font. The River Cottage Family Cookbook is another standout; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall released it in 2005 with the intention of creating a classic and more or less succeeded. Aussie-French chef Gabriel Gate's 2003 release How to Teach Kids to Cook is out of print but well worth tracking down second-hand.
Cookery the Australian Way (which is 50 years old this year) deserves a mention for teaching high-schoolers basic methods and recipes for the past 50 years. And when it comes to birthdays, no Australian childhood is complete without the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book, thrilling the youngsters with the swimming pool cake, cricket pitch cake and many more since 1980.