I’m generally not in favour of separate food for children. Once humans have teeth, and even a bit before that, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be eating the same thing as grown-ups. While the ripest Gorgonzola you’ve ever bought or a bitter endive salad might be a cruelty to foist upon your toddler, in general it’s daft to dumb-down children’s meals. What you end up with is a fear of flavour and texture, which — apart from anything else — makes visits to friends or different places a stress rather than an adventure. 

A major culprit in this narrative is that scourge of civilisation, the Kiddies’ Menu. The horror of the name is usually topped by the criminal sloppiness of the contents, which are invariably a selection of the blandest, most unconsidered and least healthy food on the planet.

The SIlver Spoon for Children. Picture: SUPPLIED
The SIlver Spoon for Children. Picture: SUPPLIED

It’s insulting. Look, there’s space for novelty-shaped junk food in everyone’s life, but there’s a problem when we formalise it and call it lunch.

The home front is really the place to combat this nonsense. There is, after all, no particular cuisine or flavour-set that is intrinsically child-friendly, unless you make it so, so why not offer “grown-up” food?

But I do, of course, realise that children are not actually grown-ups. They play different games, dream different dreams and read different books. And so, if they’re going to cook, why shouldn’t they work from a cookbook that’s aimed at them?

That absolutely doesn’t mean dumbed-down food, but rather that the writing style and the look of the book make cooking easier and more appealing. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: all recipe books should be like this! Agreed.

Cooking with Coco. Picture: SUPPLIED
Cooking with Coco. Picture: SUPPLIED

That’s why, out of the hordes of revolting, patronising children’s cookbooks in existence, awash with fruit made into smiley faces, these are my three all-time favourites, because they’re books everyone in a household will use, and which should be top of your Christmas present list. Two have Italian roots; probably no coincidence, as the Italians don’t go in for kiddies’ menus much.

The Silver Spoon for Children contains a selection of classic Italian recipes adapted from the famed Silver Spoon, ubiquitous in Italian households. It’s beautiful, the instructions are clear, and the recipes work perfectly. This book got my offspring making gnocchi and me making the incredible hazelnut cake. (Phaidon Press, 2009. Available online.)  

Cooking with Coco is the great Anna del Conte’s gift to all children.

The River Cottage Family Cookbook. Picture: SUPPLIED
The River Cottage Family Cookbook. Picture: SUPPLIED

Coco is one of her grandchildren, and this book works through the dishes they cooked together, from when Coco was too small to do much more than shave Parmesan onto bresaola, up till a 12-year-old Coco conjures up calzone unassisted, and goes her own non-Italian way with curries. (Chatto & Windus, 2011.)

The River Cottage Family Cookbook is another great offering from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who, as usual, makes it his mission to put whole, well-farmed food made from scratch at the centre of the cooking experience. Though it might present too impossibly bucolic a vision for some, finding out how to make your own butter, along with the issues around ethical dairy farming, can only be a good thing for both young and old. (Ten-speed Press, 2001.)     

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