Monday, July 25, 2011

The Do It Myself Kids' Cookbook: A Review

The other day I received a free copy of The Do It Myself Kids' Cookbook* in the mail from its publisher to review. As I have a bunch of things to do this week, I put it aside and figured I'd get to it sometime next month. My 9 year old daughter, however, saw the book on the counter, started reading it, and was riveted. Since she was so excited to test it out, I felt compelled to review the book sooner than I planned. And I also took the opportunity to enlist my daughter's help in the process. As I've written before, I often look for opportunities for my children to practice their writing skills. My daughter's review is below.

Here is my take on the book. The step-by-step illustrations are excellent and the photographs provide a terrific guide for how the finished products should appear. Some of the recipes require some advance prep work by an adult, but the recipes are written so that once all the ingredients are in place, a child can independently assemble a sandwich, snack, salad, or dessert. As you can see from my daughter's review below, she absolutely loved the feeling of independence and being able to "do it herself." Often when she helps me cook, I give her tasks that are only part of a recipe. She often wants to do the whole thing by herself, but I don't always let her, mostly due to safety issues or time constraints.

This book is designed to encourage kids' autonomy in the kitchen. I remained in the kitchen preparing dinner while my daughter was set up on her own with counter space devoted to dessert-making. The process was interesting and revealed some of the things that you might not think about when teaching someone to follow a recipe. Some of the skills she learned along the way included choosing the appropriate measuring cups to use for liquids and dry goods and deciding when you really need to measure and when you don't (e.g., when spreading a tablespoon of peanut butter on a cracker, I think you can just estimate rather than measuring first).

If you can't tell from the photo above, my daughter was beaming when she presented her creations to the family. She chose to make desserts. The cookbook does include a lot of dessert-like recipes, but there are also several recipes that could be served for lunch or a light supper. I think this cookbook is an excellent choice for an elementary school aged child or an advanced preschooler who wants the challenge of cooking by him- or herself.

My daughter's review:

I really enjoyed using this cookbook. I always like to be independent, and I always love to cook.  So when there was a cookbook that let me cook without a parent, I was eager to get my hands on it. I made dessert for my family, and the peanut butter covered fruit and indoor s’mores were a big hit. The pictures were very helpful, and it was very easy to read. I understood what was supposed to happen. I’m very excited to use this cookbook in the future. I love to do it myself!!!!!! :D

The reviewer hard at work.
*The Do It Myself Kids Cookbook by Laurie Goldrich Wolf. Downtown Bookworks, 2010.
Disclosure:  I received a free cookbook from Downtown Bookworks for review. No other compensation was received and the opinions expressed are mine and my daughter's.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons in "Cultivating"

My family recently joined our new local CSA (i.e., Community Supported Agriculture, aka "farm"). Volunteer hours at the farm are part of membership. When my husband and I went to volunteer some time, several people were involved in a project putting large, telephone pole-like stakes into the ground for fencing. It soon became clear that my strengths (or lack thereof) would not be best put to use with this project. So instead I was offered the alternate task of "cultivating."

Not having much farm or gardening experience, I didn't really know what I would be doing when I was sent off to "cultivate," and I was a little curious why a younger, more farm-experienced woman there seemed to be pretty strongly opposed to joining me on this task. Well, it turns out that "cultivating" is just a fancy way to say "weeding." The task has very little glory and a great deal of tedium. It is, however, a very necessary task for growing a healthy garden.

It got me thinking about parenting in a couple of ways. First, much of the day-to-day tasks involved in raising children can have that same sense of tedium and lack of grandeur. In the moment, it may not always feel so important to be packing lunches, helping with homework, and preparing dinner. Yet it is the consistency and repetition of these tedious acts - and more - that compose an environment of stability and security for our children. Stable and secure environments are pretty good insurance for keeping some of the unwanted "weeds" out of our family gardens.

The other parenting lesson I learned from this experience relates to the words we choose. I was much more excited at the prospect of "cultivating" than I would have been if I had just been told to go "weed." It sounded a little exotic and mysterious. The word also had an implied sense of importance to me. I was going to be doing something special to prepare land for growing.

The words we choose to use with our children also have potential to be more or less motivating. In particular, the words we choose to label food can have power with both children and adults. In his classic book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink reports several studies that demonstrate when descriptive adjectives are used that evoke emotional, nostalgic, or sensory experiences, the food is rated more favorably in comparison to the exact same food without those descriptions. 

So my challenges to you ~ 
  • try to find a way to reframe and reword some of the everyday, seemingly little things you do as a parent 
  • and play around with some of your word choices in your interactions with your children
  • and share your thoughts in the comments below