Recent sales of children’s cookbooks suggest that more and more kids have been spending time in the kitchen during the pandemic: taken together, the 10 bestselling cookbooks for children and teenagers in 2019 sold almost 573,000 print copies, according to NPD BookScan. In 2020, that figure was more than 879,000.
America’s Test Kitchen Kids has been a major factor in these sales: 2018’s The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs and 2019’s The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs, both published by Sourcebooks Explore, sold a combined 352,000 print copies in 2020 alone, and sales remain strong. Molly Birnbaum, editor-in-chief at ATK Kids, acknowledges the pandemic’s influence on the titles’ popularity: “Food took on a whole new place in family life this past year—cooking together, eating together, cooking as a way to both entertain and teach kids.” But she attributes the books’ appeal to other cultural trends as well. “We’re in a time in which kids are really interested in food,” she says. “There are all of these TV shows. Kids see what it’s like to be a chef—to create art out of food, to dive into the science behind how it works. They’re so capable of cooking, and picking recipes, and feeling proud of what they do.”
In September, ATK Kids, now under the ATK publishing umbrella, will release the fourth title in its Young Chefs series for tweens: The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists, an exploration into how food works. “Kids have the best questions: Why do onions make you cry? What makes fizzy drinks fizzy? What even is gluten?” Birnbaum says. “Each question in the book is accompanied by a simple experiment to help kids understand the science, and then a handful of recipes to demonstrate what’s going on.”
Birnbaum is one of several editors and authors who spoke with PW about new books that encourage and inspire children in the kitchen.
Little hands, big flavors
David Atherton, the 2019 The Great British Baking Show winner, wrote Bake, Make, and Learn to Cook (Candlewick, Nov., ages 5–9) with some of the youngest cooks in mind. “My mum was such an inspiration—she taught us all to bake and cook from a young age,” he says. “She made being in the kitchen fun. That’s the most important thing: having the kitchen as a fun, brilliant place to be in.” Illustrations by Rachel Stubbs lead kids through the instructions for Magic Tomato Sauce, Sushi Shapes, carrot cake, and other recipes Atherton considers his go-tos, even as an adult.
“I’ve had so many great comments from people who’ve said that their kids basically did the recipe on their own by following the pictures,” Atherton says. “I think of this as the first cookbook you receive and you use it your whole life.”
In Waffles + Mochi (Clarkson Potter, Nov., ages 3–7), based on the Netflix preschool series of the same name, recipe developer and New York Times cooking writer Yewande Komolafe translates dishes featured on the show, and offers new recipes that correspond to individual episode themes (tomato, salt, pickles, etc.). The book includes a foreword by Michelle Obama, recipes by celebrity chefs who appeared on the show—e.g. Samin Nosrat’s Candy Pasta and Preeti Mistry’s Pani Puri Party—and related activities, experiments, and food trivia.
Annabel Karmel, a household name in children’s cookbooks in the U.K, typically focuses on cooking for babies and toddlers; in the U.S., 2006’s Top 100 Baby Purees has sold 183,000 print copies per BooScan. With Annabel Karmel’s Fun, Fast and Easy Children’s Cookbook, which Welbeck is releasing in October, she turns her attention to children ages five and up.
“Kids are so fascinated by food,” says Joff Brown, editorial manager at Welbeck. “They love eating it, they love making it, and they love playing with it. Learning to cook with parents and guardians is such an amazing part of growing up.”
Karmel categorizes recipes by meal time, spotlighting staples such as porridge, tomato soup, and hummus, and offering alternatives for making dishes vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. “The whole landscape has changed, and it’s changing so fast,” Brown says. “Children are so much more engaged with the food that they’re eating and with how it’s made.”
Written for an older demographic, Arab Fairy Tale Feasts (Crocodile, Sept., ages 8–12), written by Karim Alrawi and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, is the fourth entry in the Fairy Tale Feasts literary cookbook series for tweens. Previous titles delved into Chinese, Jewish, and European traditions. Alrawi, a playwright whose earlier children’s books include The Mouse Who Saved Egypt, pairs original stories that draw on Arab folklore with two dozen recipes, some of them contributed by Sobhi and Tamam Al-Zobaidi, who own a Palestinian restaurant in Vancouver.
The fairy tales, says Alrawi, who was born in Alexandria, are “very much modeled on the pattern of specific types of children’s stories, many of them oral modes of storytelling that I heard mainly from my aunts when I was a kid.” Recipes include several that may be less well-known outside of Arab homes, such as mehallabeyat qamaruddin (apricot pudding) and kushary (described as “lentil and noodle hodgepodge”). Food facts and history accompany the stories: for instance, the origin of the word tamarind—Arabic for “Indian dates”—and an explanation of the various types of bread from the Middle East.
Alrawi hopes that the book’s format entices young readers to explore the region’s flavors and find common ground. “We’re not very different when it comes to the food we eat and the kinds of stories we like to hear,” he says. “Nothing brings people together as well as food, and nothing is as effective at charming people as a good story. To be able to communicate that as early as possible to a child is the way of forestalling that kind of divisiveness that we seem to be living these days.”
Be bold, take whisks
Cookbooks for younger children tend to highlight kitchen fundamentals and building life skills; titles for teenagers, by contrast, emphasize cooking and eating with confidence.
Teen Baking Bootcamp (Page Street, Dec.) collects 60 recipes by 17-year-old Matthew Merril, a past contestant on Kids Baking Championship, Chopped Junior, and Guy’s Grocery Games; 2.2 million fans follow his exploits on TikTok. Merril incorporates baking science and encourages improvisation, with each chapter growing more challenging as it progresses, building toward mastery. The cake chapter, for example, starts with a simple vanilla cake and finishes with strawberry cheesecake, which requires the use of special equipment (a spring-form pan) and fiddly technique (a water bath).
Rebel Recipes blogger Niki Webster (288,000 Instagram followers) has two new books for teens this year, both from Welbeck Children’s: the spring release Be More Vegan and December’s My Vegan Year. “Be More Vegan was a young person’s handbook for being a bit more plant based,” Welbeck’s Brown says. The 40 recipes in My Vegan Year, he explains, foreground eating seasonally and locally. “People who are worried about the impact of how they eat will also be worried about things like food miles, about how things they’re eating have to be imported from a great distance.” Dishes include crushed crispy new potato salad with pesto for spring; tofu, chickpea, and kale korma with flatbread for fall; and mushroom and chestnut Wellington with sprout slaw for winter.
“The recipes are a little bit more sophisticated, but simple for anyone to do,” Brown says. “The book engages teens and teaches them something that’s practical and useful.” As with other authors writing for young cooks, Webster’s goal is to help kids feel a sense of agency in the kitchen. “Kids these days are not growing up saying, ‘I am a vegan,’ ” he notes. “They’re saying, ‘I eat less meat. A lot of my meals are plant based.’ It’s not an all or nothing thing. You can make tiny steps, and change your own eating practice, change your family’s eating practice, and that can make a big difference.”