Remember that episode of Family Ties where Mrs. and Mrs. Keaton come home early from a weekend without the kids to a houseful of strangers and a kangaroo? It was homecoming weekend in Leland and Alex had turned the house into a hotel to pay for repairs after Mallory drove the car into a telephone pole pulling out of the driveway. Next thing you know, there’s a kid demanding French toast with his stay and a marsupial team mascot hopping around the living room. Chaos! Chaos! It’s what came to my mind last week when my eight-year-old dragged a stool across the kitchen floor to reach the cupboard with the dates and said, “You just read me the instructions mom — I’ll make the recipe all by myself.”
Of course the kids help us in the kitchen from time to time, but before last week they’d never made a recipe from start to finish. (Imagine the
kangaroos mess!) But then I read the poignant letter to grown-ups at the start of Ruby Roth’s The Help Yourself Cookbook For Kids and I realized it wouldn’t kill me to loosen up a little and let my daughter take the reigns for a change. (Bruise me maybe, but it wouldn’t kill me outright.) Most importantly, it would be good for her. And the planet!
“We want the next generation to eat right, make wise choices, and be conscientious, responsible and self-sufficient adults,” Roth writes. “A truly sustainable future lies in actively engaging our children … So let your kids play with this book. Trust them. In my experience, when we give kids the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely. A plant-based diet — more broadly, veganism — is about protecting the things we love and value. The benefits extend even beyond the practicalities of health and saving animals and the environment, to our behaviour in the world. Teaching our children to be thoughtful and to consider how their choices affect the public realm will raise the standards for every living being. Because, like our kitchens, the world is better served when we think of it as ours rather than mine.”
Okay okay, we can share. But what to make first? There are more than 60 recipes to choose from, ranging from drinks to snacks to larger meals and desserts, all illustrated with Roth’s own whimsical characters and doodles that make cooking healthy look super fun. There’s also a helpful guide to mostly new-to-me (and certainly new-to-Lily!) ingredients used throughout the book — exotic-sounding things like spirulina, mochi and shoyu — and a few important notes on kitchen safety and measuring. The writing is playful, educational and upbeat, encouraging readers to put their learning into action:
“Bees are crazy for chamomile! Plant some to make your yard a sanctuary (safe place) for bees, who are disappearing due to pollution, pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change. Bee a friend — they pollinate at least 30% of our food crops and 90% of wild plants!”
First up: chocoballs and moondrop sesame almond cookies. The choco-balls are no-bake so Lily had no problem doing these on her own, ‘tho I did help her hold on to our little two-cup food processor so it wouldn’t fly off the counter whizzing the dates.
We Lily made these two times, first with dry dates that would only chop into small pieces, and the second with fresh dates that whizzed into a paste and blended much better with the other ingredients. The recipe doesn’t say so, but it helps to put the dough in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up before shaping it into balls. The moondrops came together just as easily, only they need to go in the oven and I’m not comfortable having the kids around it yet so I put them in and took them out. We give them both a 10 out of 10 for deliciousness and fun-ness to make.
My little guy (James, almost seven) was only marginally interested in helping me make the un-stick in the mud chocolate smoothie, ‘tho he was all about the tasting. (Major smoothie fan, this one.) He had it for lunch one day when Lily was at a friend’s and said the cocoa nibs tasted like chocolate chips when they were mixed into the drink but disgusting on their own (puh!). Did you know just one ounce of cocoa nibs has 9 grams of fibre? Amazing! Score: 10 out of 10 for one of our new favourite smoothies.
And finally the tomato tornado soup which I have to confess, I made on my own. There’s chopping (I am SO not ready to let the kids use real knives) and boiling and pureeing involved and ‘tho they’d both get a kick out of turning on the blender, it couldn’t compete with playing Prodigy on the tablet the day I was making it. The kids both like tomato soup but this one wasn’t their favourite. But I’m still going to give it a 10 out of 10 myself for deliciousness, easy-to-make-ness and healthy-ness. I’d have this soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner (albeit with a generous sprinkling of salt). And there are many more recipes we’d like to try.
The Help Yourself Cookbook For Kids would make a great gift for young readers and budding chefs, whether they’re just starting to play in the kitchen or a little more experienced. It’s a joy to read and learn from, and a great resource for those looking to walk lightly on the planet.
Thank you to Andrews McMeel Publishing, who sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.