How to Start a Kid-Friendly Cookbook Club
Book clubs aren't just for grownups! Reading—and trying—new recipes can open up the world.
Every other month, I gather with a dozen or so women to share dishes we’ve made from a specific cookbook. Mind you, usually, I make the kind of food that qualifies as “easy weeknight meals,” meaning it uses ingredients I tend to already have, requires a minimal number of pots, and keeps well so I can also eat it for lunch the next day. So I co-founded our cookbook club a couple years ago after moving to Portland, Oregon, from New York as a way to make new friends and get outside my comfort zone in the kitchen. It worked.
I’ve now made Charles Phan’s tuna tartare, Naomi Pomeroy’s apricot tart, Joshua McFadden’s pickled kale and ricotta toasts, and a truly disastrous version of Sylvia Thompson’s ginger cake. But regardless of how my own dish turns out, there’s a whole lot more I gain than just a really interesting 12-course meal every eight weeks (although that’s pretty great, too, of course):
I also get to spend time with my friends, explore a new type of cuisine, learn about another culture or time in history, expand my cooking skillset, or even just read a good story.
It’s these same perks that make cookbook clubs a particularly great project for parents and kids to do together. It’s education (reading, math, science, culture, history!), it’s practical life skills (cooking, patience, confidence!), it’s adventure, and it’s a screen-free connection that results in something tasty (hopefully) to eat. Plus, it means a regular date with other people you like, which we all know can be hard to come by in busy modern family life.
Starting a club with kids is easy—here’s a basic how-to for getting the good times rolling:
- Invite friends. Start with no more than a dozen participants: six parents and six kids (I’d recommend preteen or older). You’ll have a good number of dishes, but not so many people that shy kiddos feel overwhelmed. No need for everybody to be a whiz in the kitchen; you just want members who are eager to learn.
- Pick a book. This could be a brand-new cookbook or a revered older one (which can usually be found at the library or bought cheap). Keep seasonality in mind—for instance, you might want to do a root vegetable or crockpot cookbook in the fall. Don’t feel the need to default to “kid-friendly” cuisines—cookbook club might be just the motivation a child needs to gastronomically branch out. Brunch, picnics, or a dessert party are all fair game for topics, too.
- Sort out the logistics. Decide on where (you could set up a rotation schedule or always head to the house with the biggest kitchen) and how often (once a month, every six weeks, or every other month are good rhythms).
- Choose the recipes. First, decide if each parent-child team will make one recipe together or if each participant makes her own. Then use a system like Plinr or Google Docs to keep a running list of the recipes selected. You can assign courses, or let everyone use their best judgement—just be cool with it if you end up with six cakes.
- Pack smart. Bring your own serving dish and utensils to save the host extra cleanup, along with containers for leftovers and a copy of your recipe for buddies to take home. Most importantly, bring a positive attitude! Your child will learn that even if her dish bombs (like my bone-dry ginger cake) it will most likely make for a fabulous story.