best cookbooks of 2013 (the kid edition)

best books of 2013

Nearly every surface of our home and kitchen studio is covered in cookbooks right now.

We’re crazy about cookbooks in our home. It’s not just because we write cookbooks that we love cookbooks. We write cookbooks because we love them. Danny and I both pore over every new cookbook that arrives in our home with great delight. (We’re lucky that publishers send us cookbooks to preview, including quite a few of the ones you see in that photo above.) A few bore us right away. Those are generally the ones with television stars on the front. (Some of those are great, however.) Or strange single-title books. (There are great ones in that category, however.) Mostly, it’s the cookbooks written with great passion, with humor and drive, with a collective sigh of wisdom from standing in front of the stove for years that call us in, over and over.

As you can imagine, both Danny and I have stacks of cookbooks on the tables next to our side of the bed. So does Lucy now.

I happen to love my Kindle for traveling, on the plane or the ferry. I have found a way to curl up with it and make it feel like reading. But there are a few kinds of books I’ll never read on an electronic device. My battered and deeply loved Penguin paperback copy of Jane Eyre. Mary Oliver poems. Buddhist books. And cookbooks. I will always want to hold a cookbook in my hands.

We fell into so many cookbooks this year, entering worlds created by people we’d like to know in person (and in many cases, worlds created by friends we trust), that we want to share them with you. Over the next week, we will be doing a series of posts about this family’s favorite cookbooks of 2013.

Today, we start with Lucy’s choices.

Lu is only 5, so you might not think she knows a good cookbook yet. But remember, she has been around the making of a cookbook since the day she was born. Right now, I think she believes that every family cooks 5 to 6 dishes a day, then sits down at the table together to discuss them. More lemon juice? How about fish sauce? Is it flaky enough? If anything, we’ve had to train ourselves to stop talking about dishes at the dinner table and simply enjoy our food with her instead. Still, her favorite game at the moment is to gather a pile of post-it notes from the desk at our kitchen studio, come up to us to take our order, then retreat to her kitchen corner and make us a meal. What she imagines is often fantastic.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to be better than both of us combined someday.

So, when Lucy approves of a book, it’s because that book appeals to her visually, because the food looks immediately interesting, and because that cookbook keeps drawing her in.

Here are Lucy’s favorite cookbooks of 2013.

best books of 2013- weelicious

If Lucy has a top choice for cookbooks, it’s Catherine’s wonderful book, Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals. Just look at the number of post-it notes stuck in that book! Lucy and I went through the book together. Every time she saw a recipe she loved, we marked it. Slowly, we are making our way through the book.

(Lu’s reaction to a cookbook is sadly the reason that cookbooks with full-color photographs sell more copies than those without photos. If we landed on a page, and I read the recipe to her, she was never interested.)

We’ve made crispy chicken, cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar, Mexican muffins, cheesy pasta salad, apple-cinnamon charoset, and the chocolate pb&j cups. Lu has been in the kitchen with me, making each of the recipes. The next day, that lunchbox comes back empty.

Earlier this year, Lu went through a real rut in her lunches. She wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of cheese, and an apple every day. (Sheesh! It was like she was a 5-year-old or something!) After we started looking at Catherine’s books, she decided to branch out again. We can put pretty much anything in her lunches again, but particularly if she cooked it out of Catherine’s book.

best books of 2013- Alice Eats

I have to admit my bias on Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook. First of all, one of its creators was our friend Julie, with whom we spent a wonderful few days in Tofino this summer. (Doesn’t August feel like such a long time ago? Sigh.) Also, who doesn’t love Alice in Wonderland?

Did you know that the text of Alice in Wonderland is in public domain now? Julie’s publisher pulled together the text, Julie created recipes to accompany that wonderful surreal story, and Pierre Lamielle provided whimsical drawings to accompany it all. This is a marvelous way to introduce Lewis Carroll’s world to a kid who loves food and words both.

Lu and I have been reading chapters, then stopping to make carrot scones, salted caramel teardrops, and double-stuffed mushroom cups. She’s very eager to create the treats inspired by the story.

This one will be in our home forever.

best books of 2013- sweet cravings

If you ask Lu what she wants to be when she grows up, she always answers the same thing: “I’m going to be a baker!” She has been watching and then helping me bake for years now. She loves the smell of vanilla and cinnamon, she knows when to stop creaming the butter and sugar together, and she is very proud of the fact she can crack eggs without letting any part of the shell land in the bowl. She already is a baker.

As much as she likes helping me bake, Lucy loves a baker named Kyra.

Kyra Bussanich runs Kyras’ Bakeshop in Portland, one of the happiest little bakeries we have ever visited. She has won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars three times. And she makes everything gluten-free. Kyra is also one of the most positive, optimistic, and good-hearted people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Lucy adores whenever Kyra comes to visit or we share food with her in Portland.

This year, Kyra’s first book, Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle, was finally published. And what a book it is! If you feel confident with gluten-free baking, try Kyra’s recipes. The recipes range from yam biscuits to cornbread with spiced honey butter to Boston cream pie cupcakes to vanilla chiffon cake with blackberry coulis. These are wonderful treats.

In fact,  Lu and I might be making chewy and wonderfully spiced Kyra’s ginger-molasses cookies tonight.


best books of 2013- great balls

There’s really no question on this one. Great Balls of Cheese is the cutest cookbook ever published. This makes it, of course, an instant winner with our five-year-old.

But Great Balls of Cheese is more than cute. This book is — get this — 50 recipes for cheese balls. That’s right. Cheese balls. When I was a kid, we had cheese balls from the store, slightly dry and day-glo orange tinted with wine and rolled in nuts. Making your own is a much better idea. And frankly, unless your kid can’t have dairy, you’re going to have fun making these cheese balls together.

There’s the pigskin, the cheese ball shaped into an oval and covered with bits of cooked bacon, white cheddar cheese, and scallions. There’s the curried cheese ball, made with dates, mango chutney, and sweet onion. And Lu loves the chilly penguin, with poppy seeds for the black coat and slivers of red peppers for skis. I’ve been promising to make it for her for weeks.

First, however, I think we need to make the Christmas tree, with cream cheese, white cheddar cheese, garlic, mustard, and coated in fresh herbs and dotted with pomegranate seeds. We’re going to make this for Christmas Eve.

best books of 2013- stealth health

I’m not a big fan of the word stealth when it comes to my kid’s food. I don’t hide spinach in brownies or kale in her smoothies. We eat real food, talk about what we eat, and let her enjoy what she does. So I had my doubts when I first saw this book, I wasn’t sure I would like it.

But Stealth Health Lunches Kids Love: Irresistible and Nutritious Gluten-Free Sandwiches, Wraps and Other Easy Eatsis a great book. Tracy Griffith is a professional chef (and certified sushi chef) who teaches kids how to cook with humor and great ingredients. This sweet book is filled with photos of kids enjoying real food, and that makes us happy. Lucy adores any cookbook with other kids in it. Those photos inspire her to cook and eat. This one did it in spades.

Griffith uses wraps made of vegetables and fruits, called Gem Wraps, for some of the wraps in the book. We haven’t tried them yet, so I can’t vouch for them. But they are gluten-free, as is the entire cookbook.

Lu would love to take a class with Tracy Griffith someday.

best books of 2013- people's pops

Whenever we are lucky enough to fly to New York, the only place Lucy wants to go is to Chelsea Market. Why? That’s where People’s Pops has a store.

People’s Pops makes great popsicles. What’s the big deal about that? Most commercial popsicles are pretty awful, filled with cheap sugars and additives. These popsicles are made with real fruits, in season, simple syrups made with organic cane sugar, high-quality dairy (in certain popsicles), and good spices. Lucy loves the fig jam and yogurt popsicles, the plum yogurt and tarragon popsicle, and the blackberry and lemon verbena popsicles. We’ve been to People’s Pops in nearly every season and she always leaves happy and her arm dripping with good fruits.

For the months in which we cannot travel to New York, now there is People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop. Technically, it came out in 2012, but we just discovered it this year. Every popsicle we have made from this book has been a huge success.

This is our library copy but Lu is getting her own copy for Christmas.

best books of 2013- once upon a memory

Okay, so technically this isn’t a cookbook, but our friend Nina Laden published her newest children’s book this year. Nina has written more than a dozen books your kids probably already love, including Once Upon a Memory. This book is a beautiful paean to the power of memory and how we forget parts of ourselves as grow older. The last few pages make me tear up a bit, every time I read it to Lu. Once Upon a Memory


Gluten Free Girl Everyday Jacket-2

I know this seems a little too self-promotional, but it’s true. Our cookbook is Lucy’s favorite cookbook of the year.

One of my most treasured memories of this year was when we were signing cookbooks at Powell’s in Portland. Lu insisted on joining in and signing her name with a big sharpie. Many times, she looked up and said, “This is my favorite cookbook.”

So Lu would like to tell you to buy Gluten-Free Girl Every Day for someone this holidays. Maybe for yourself.


Lucy would like to give away a copy of Great Balls of Cheese. Please leave a comment about your favorite book of the year, especially if it is one your child or children loved.

Update: the winner has been chosen and informed. Thanks for all the comments!


(We have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. Purchasing any of these books through these affiliate links will give a small percentage of the proceeds to us, helping us to further our work.)

42 comments on “best cookbooks of 2013 (the kid edition)

  1. Michelle Templeton

    Our favorite book this year was The Day the Crayons Quit. My son loves this book and laughs out loud every time he reads it. Thanks for the cookbook recs, Lucy…we’ll be sure to check them out!

  2. Angela Link

    Not to be a sucker – but one of the reasons I follow this site is because ‘Gluten Free Girl Everyday’ IS my favorite cookbook currently. I’ve found a new love for mixed flours, rice crusts and the character in every recipe!
    My runner up favorite is ‘the smitten kitchen cookbook’

  3. LeeAnn

    If I have to limit my book to what I purchased in 2013 and was published in 2013, I would have to say
    The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence. How can you say no to good Southern cooking that packs all the flavors and is healthy to boot?

  4. Jenny Hartin

    I have two favorites this year – The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen and Wintersweet by Tammy Donroe Inman. I love your first book – will put this one on my wish list.

  5. Chanti G.

    That cheese ball cookbook is adorable! I must say that my favorite cookbook of 2013 has got to be Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed, with its delicious chocolate chili and flavors that allow my tastebuds to travel the world

  6. emily v

    My favorite cookbook this year was by far Notes from the Larder. I read it like a novel and it was amazing.

  7. Erin

    My little one loves to help cook too, she is about to turn 4. Her favorite books this year have been the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Williams. Have a wonderful holiday!

  8. Llysa

    Two of My faves this year have not been new books, but new-to-me books, Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking (a generously practical little volume) and Julie Sahni’s Savoring spices and Herbs. And I must have two dozen post-it’s in Andrew Scholss’ Art of the Slow a Cooker. For new Books, well, I ‘m digging around in yours and having an excellent, delicious time. 🙂

  9. Dana

    I can’t say enough about how much I love Dani Shapiro’s latest book, Still Writing. It’s so inspirational. You can pretty much underline every line!

  10. farmerpam

    My favorite cook book right now is an old one, “The Pudding Club Book”. New to me, I have a fascination with English desserts lately. Planning on a plum pudding for Christmas. And anyone who’s read “Harry Potter” will remember his favorite was treacle pudding, can’t wait to try that one.

  11. Monique Houle

    I bought the Gluten-free Girl Every Day cookbook the day it became available on and it never made it to my bookshelf … which means I use it regularly and keep it close by. I also love The French Market (Clotilde Dusoulier) and the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook.

  12. Cait

    I think it’s fantastic that you discuss (or verbally dissect) your food in front of your daughter! It’s a form of mindful eating, something we’d all be healthier if we engaged in, I think.

  13. Sarah

    Honestly, Gluten Free Girl Everyday was our favorite cookbook this year 🙂 I made the peach brown butter buckle multiple times. The book is jam-packed with markers in all the recipes I want to try. The cheese ball book is too cute. It was fun to see it since my middle son and I were just talking yesterday about making a cheese ball for Christmas Eve.

  14. Janet

    My favorite cookbook right now is Nosh On This. My daughter’s Melt: The Art of Mac n cheese. Have a wonderful weekend! The snow is already falling here!

  15. Sarah

    Our 3-year old doesn’t have a favorite cookbook yet – maybe we’ll do that today to pick out some cookies to make. She loves to bake with me, but I haven’t yet graduated to letting her break the eggs by herself – she’s a little “forceful” with them. Her favorite book, right now, is Richard Scarry’s Best First Book Ever – it’s a breakfast table staple. But she loves most any book, which makes my heart smile.

  16. MichelleC

    I have been enjoying teaching my nephew to read. He LOVES the Gerald and Piggie series by Mo Willems. I just got a little knife for him so when he comes for a visit I have him right beside me on the cutting boards chopping vegetables and learning to love them!

  17. Summer

    My son and I enjoyed two cooking related series this year: The Lunch Lady graphic novels by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and the Neil Flambe series by Kevin Sylvester (about a teenage chef and his crime solving adventures). It was fun to stop to explain the culinary puns and the new ingredients incorporated into the plots of these books.

  18. Pam

    We have a 9 month old baby and have been discovering new favorite board books this year. I particularly love Red Wagon by Renata Liwska. I have also been loving ATK’s two Slow Cooker Revolution books for crockpot dinners that taste like real food and don’t have cream of whatever soup in the ingredient list. Keeps us from ordering take out!

  19. andrea

    My son really is enjoying Beatrix Potter. He’s finally reached an age (4) where he has the patience to sit still for longer stories. I love sharing my favorite book with him in the evenings at bedtime.

  20. Elizabeth

    I bought two copies of Gluten Free Girl Everyday, one to keep and one to give away…but loved the book so much, I gave both away and ordered two more! Another favorite this year was Heart of the Plate — Mollie Katzen is the reason I learned to cook in college — and I’ve never looked back, LOL!

  21. Elizabeth

    I want so much to be that parent who cooks with her child. My daughter and I bake a little together, but I long for what you have created in your home. I just love love love to read your posts. Happy healthy holidays!

  22. Francine Giroux

    I’m buying Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle – sounds wonderful.
    Thanks for such an informative, creative and personal site – love it!!
    Merry Merry!!

  23. amy

    Thanks for the informative post! I don’t have kids, but have a secret fondness for children’s cookbooks because you know the recipes are simple, edible, and basically foolproof. And obviously, that cheese ball cookbook is adorable, too!

    My favorite one growing up was a book of celebration cakes (well, hardly more than a pamphlet) that my mom got for free somehow at the Fred Meyer. It’s falling apart, but to my knowledge, still contains the family’s go-to yellow cake recipe.

  24. Kirsten

    I’m loving the Smitten Kitchen cookbook as of late. So much yumminess in that one. My son is loving ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ and ‘The Snail and the Whale’, both read on repeat.

  25. Amanda P

    Our favorite book was the new book called “Journey” by Aaron Becker. We heard about it from you! We get the best book ideas from you. I am currently reading “Beautiful Ruins” because of your recommendation and can’t put it down! Love your writing and your book choices.

  26. Patricia

    My five-year-old grandson enjoys Art and Max by Wiesner ( an adventure in painting ) and my three- year- old grandson is fascinated by firetrucks so he watches cake making videos on his ipad and when I visited with him last week we made a firetruck cake based on one of the videos he likes.

    I can’t wait to look at all your book recommendations I think the three-year-old might branch out into cheeseballs.

  27. Corrina

    My favorite new book of 2013 is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. My favorite cookbook is The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen.

  28. Jenny

    Our 6 year old loves creating recipes. She has food allergies so every new creation comes with a list, ” mama you can have this and so can I. It is gluten free for you, peanut free for me, and I didn’t use regular milk.” Her favorite book right now is The Mouse with The Question Mark Tail or Tum Tum and Nutmeg

  29. Paula

    I also have a daughter named Lucy, who is eight. Like your daughter, she loves to read and write — which makes my heart sing! Her favorite books this year were Swindle by Gordon Korman, Ralph Tells A Story by Abby Hanlon (a lovely picture book about a boy who discovers his voice and becomes a writer) and the Wimpy Kid books. My favorite cookbook discoveries this year were Vegetable Literacy and Pati’s Mexican Table. Great Balls of Cheese looks adorable — thanks for doing such a lovely giveaway!

  30. Jennifer

    My favorite book this year is hard to choose, I might nominate Bleak House, which I finished this year. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much, having not successfully finished my high school required Dickens novel. I’m currently enjoying Ruth Ozeki’s latest book, so far I’m loving it as much as I loved My Year of Meats.
    We always joke that our daughter loves Julia Child. Even from a very young age she would grab the Julia Child cookbooks off the bookshelf to flip through, hand around, etc. I don’t know what it is that drew her to them but even now, at 3, she’ll still choose those books out of the cookbook shelf to pull out and admire. It will be interesting to see how that changes when she connects a bit more between the cooking we’re doing out of cookbooks, pictures available in cookbooks, and the physical objects themselves.

  31. Karen H

    My favorite book(s) of the year is the Ranger’s Apprentice or Brotherband series. Very well written and clean. My son is 8 months old and enjoys chewing on and destroying some flashcard books I made out of photo albums. … I am new to your blog, but am enjoying it. Thank you.

  32. Sam @ The Second Lunch

    I’m not sure if you have it, but Pierre Lamielle came out with his own cookbook Kitchen Scraps a few years back, and it’s delightful. Nigel Slater is my favorite, and I’ve quite enjoyed both his Kitchen Diaries 2 (Notes from the Larder), and his new ‘Eat’.

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