I love reading about food in books (some of the best parts of the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton were the descriptions of food). It turns out this applies not only to the books I read for myself but also to the books I read with my 18-month-old toddler. I have discovered some wonderful, gorgeous children’s books (for a range of ages) about food and cooking. Here are some of my favourites. These are fabulous for introducing new types of food and cuisines to children, and getting them involved in cooking and food preparation. At the most basic level, these picture and board books about food teach them what IS food and therefore is acceptable to put in their mouths, and what should definitely stay far away from their mouths. Yes, child, I’m talking about that blue crayon. Not food.
Board Books About Food For Babies and Toddlers (0–3)
Cook in a Book: Tacos! Illustrated by Lotta Nieminen
This is an interactive recipe board book and I love and adore it. The book lets toddlers and young children ‘cook’ by themselves, without a stove or any mess. The book begins with the ingredients, the equipment needed, and then continues with step by step instructions. At each step, there are tabs to pull or wheels to spin so the young reader can really pretend cook. This book is part of the Cook in a Book interactive recipe series which also includes Pancakes!, Pizza!, and Cookies!.
First Book of Sushi by Amy Wilson Sanger
This is part of Sanger’s World Snacks series, and I love all the books in the series. This one is a lovely introduction to Japanese cuisine, with fun rhyming text and cheerful illustrations.
Touchwords: Food by Rilla Alexander
I love everything in the touchthinklearn and touchwords series, and this might very well be my favourite simply because it’s about food. These board books are very tactile and encourage touching and exploring. This book shows the food as well as utensils or equipment commonly associated with the food — so the rice page has a pot showing rice cooking, as well as a wooden spoon and some cilantro. The best page is the pie page, because hey, who doesn’t love pie?
Can You Eat? By Joshua David Stein, Illustrated by Julia Rothman
A delightfully whimsical look at what is food and what isn’t: ‘A pea, a pear? A bee, a bear?’ The artwork is gorgeous enough to be reproduced as a print to be hung in a kitchen. A little silly, a lot fun, and very, very pretty.
Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli
With Patricelli’s distinctive style, this is a great board book that also contrasts foods with not-foods. Blueberries are yummy, but blue crayons are yucky. Sandwiches are yummy, sand is yucky. Soup is yummy, soap is yucky. This is one of my toddler’s favourites and I try to use that to my advantage: ‘Don’t put that crayon in your mouth! It’s yucky, remember? Like it says in your book!’
Exotic Fruit by Huy Voun Lee
I love this book because it introduces kids to fruits that are a little more unusual than the typical apples, bananas, and oranges. There are nine exotic fruits covered in the book, and each fruit has a gorgeous illustration, a brief description, what other name it might be known as (and how to pronounce it), and where it comes from.
Picky Eaters by Ellen Jackson, Illustrated by Amy-Clare Barden
This one isn’t about human food, technically. It’s about animals and the special diets they have. In particularly, it is about picky eaters — the animals that only eat one specific thing. Like koalas and eucalyptus leaves, and pandas and bamboo. This is a lift-the-flap board book so I would suggest only showing it to toddlers who are gentle with flaps and books.
Nom Nom Opposites by Forrest Everett
A cute board book about opposites that uses food to illustrate the concept. For example, the ‘hot’ page has drawings of a hot dog, a bucket of fried chicken, and a corn on the cob. On the opposite page, the ‘cold’ page shows lemonade, an ice block, and watermelon. I highly approve of using food to teach non-food concepts (my husband says I’m very food motivated).
My Very First Book of Food by Eric Carle
Another interactive board book, this time with flaps. The pages of the book are split horizontally down the middle. Along the top pages are various animals, and along the bottom are different kinds of food. The goal is to flip back and forth and match the animal to its food. My favourite part of this book are the pictures, done in Carle’s distinctive style, recognisable to anyone with a passing familiarity to books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?
Picture Books ABout Food For Early Elementary (4–8)
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
A young Chinese American girl wishes her mother grew pretty flowers like the rest of their neighbours in their garden, and not the ugly, twisty vines with fuzzy leaves and prickly stems. When it’s harvest time, though, and her mother turns those ugly vegetables into a delicious soup that attracts all the neighbours, she learns that beauty and purpose can come in all shapes.
Bee Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park
A fun rhyming picture book about a little Korean girl who helps her mama make dinner. We see the process of grocery shopping, food preparation and cooking, and finally the whole family sitting down to eat. I love how it’s a celebration of the family meal, and it’s a great one to read aloud.
Hot Hot Roti for Dadaji by F. Zia and Ken Min
Another picture book that highlights a different culture and its food traditions, this time about India. This is about a young Indian American boy whose grandparents come to stay and he becomes inspired to make roti, an Indian bread. A lovely book about food, Indian culture, and the relationship between grandparents and grandkids.
Can I Eat That? By Joshua David Stein, Illustrated by Julia Rothman
This is the picture book version of the Can You Eat? board book (or rather, the board book is a simplified version of this book). Questions about food are posed and then answered, like, ‘can I eat a potato, a tomato, a tornado?’. No, you can’t eat a tornado but you can eat tonnato, an Italian sauce made from tuna; tournedos, a French steak; or a tostada, a Mexican dish. There is a lot of fun word play accompanied by bright, cheerful illustrations. A great book for those who love food, words, and learning new things.
What’s Cooking? By Joshua David Stein, Illustrated by Julia Rothman
Similar to Can I Eat That?, this book poses questions and offers answers that are quirky and whimsical. The focus here is more on food preparation: ‘If I fry a strip of potato, and a slice of tomato, can I fry a scoop of gelato?’ (The answer is yes, yes you can. Fried ice cream is delicious.) The book is full of interesting facts and philosophical food questions for kids. A truly delightful book.
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer, Illustrated by Deborah Melmon
A little girl is half Jewish, half Chinese, and her two grandmothers each make a version of chicken soup. Which is the ‘right’ chicken soup? I love this picture book for highlighting the tensions that can arise when two cultures and two traditions merge, but also shows how those tensions can be resolved. I also love this book because I think my daughter can easily be the protagonist in this story since she too has one Jewish grandmother and one Chinese grandmother (and both types of chicken soup are delicious, as I can attest).
Soup Day by Melissa Iwai
Another soup book! What can I say? I like soup. This book follows the day of a little girl and her mother as they shop for the ingredients for soup, make the soup, and finally eat the soup. I love how this breaks down the process of making soup and shows how cooking and grocery shopping can be a simple pleasure. This is also now available in board book format.
No Kimchi for Me! by Aram Kim
This is a charming book about family, food, and Korean culture. Yoomi hates spicy, stinky kimchi, so her older brothers call her a baby. She decides to try and overcome her disgust of kimchi and tries to eat it with other things (like cookies and pizza) to no avail. Grandma comes to the rescue and together, Yoomi and Grandma make a kimchi pancake, which they ALL eat. The author also includes her mother’s kimchi pancake recipe in the end, which looks delicious.
Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson
A recipe/cookbook for kids, aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 8. There are instructions for the grown-up helping, simple and bright drawings that illustrate each step of the method for the kids, and these are all recipes that require minimal adult intervention. A great way for getting kids to participate in the kitchen.
Later Elementary (8–12)
Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
This is a fictional picture book loosely based on Julia Child and it is a delightful celebration of food and childhood. Friends Julia and Simca create a feast for grown-ups that helps them rediscover the joy and innocence of childhood.
United Tastes of America by Gabrielle Langholtz, with drawings by Jenny Bowers and photos by DL Acken
This is one of my favourite books of 2019. It is a stunningly beautiful book, the kind that makes you appreciate the book as an object: hardcover, heavy paper, beautiful illustrations and photographs throughout. Langholtz takes you on a journey through the 50 states of America, with a recipe from each state, as well as information and fun facts about food from each state (what kinds of foods are grown there, eaten there, by whom, and how it has changed over time). This books makes me want to travel all over the country, eating.
What are your favorite picture and board books about food?