As a former teacher by trade and a current homeschooling mom, I love exposing my children to classic literature. Older classic literature possesses a thorough and rich usage of the English language not often seen in many of today’s books.
Exposing your children to classic literature helps develop their language skills in ways that many current books will not. Your children are never too young to hear books read aloud to them, even if they’re not fully paying attention or the reading level is “above” them. Allow them sit in your lap, draw or play with toys while you read.
Literature and Food — The Connection
Personally, I love to combine two great things into one: a really good book and some really good food. Books are a fun, imaginative way to explore real, whole foods with your children. One of the benefits to classic literature in this regard is that most food mentioned is generally real, whole foods because the books were written in a time when everyone ate real food.
Children love to imitate. For them, it is very fun to read about something in a book and then actually do it themselves. This can be a smart way to introduce your children not only to quality literature but also to quality food. Even picky eaters are often interested in trying something they just read about in a book. I’m going to share with you a few of my favorite children’s books and some fun, real food ideas that go with each.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is FULL of wonderful food exploration! Beatrix Potter was very nature oriented, and that makes her books some of the best to use for food exploration. When my older two kids were about 4 and 5, we read The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Then we went blackberry picking at our local farm, just like Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail did. We returned home and washed our berries, and that evening we had “bread and milk and blackberries for supper” just like the bunnies did. My daughter, who is now 8, mentioned that trip and dinner to me just the other day out of the blue. She was reminiscing about how fun it was.
You can also follow Peter’s journey and set a table full of samples to try, one by one.
“First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes; And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.” He rounds the corner and sees Mr. McGregor beside a cucumber frame. He loses his shoes in the cabbages and potatoes. His button catches on a gooseberry net. He spots Mr. McGregor hoeing onions. He runs behind a currant bush. And upon arriving home, his momma gives him chamomile tea.
While your toddlers or young children may not want to try parsley or onions on any given night at dinner, most kids are willing to try a bite, just like Peter did, after reading his story. Once you’ve sampled everything, talk about your favorites, or choose one food to prepare as a side to lunch or dinner.
A large part of teaching our children to like healthy food is simply exposing them to new and varied foods. Their little taste buds are developing and changing, so frequent exposure to a variety of foods (even if they didn’t like them before) is a good thing. Kids can surprise you; you never know what your child just might like. (My two year old loves mustard, blue cheese and olives!)
If you plan to let your child have their own garden next year, read this story in the early spring and offer the idea of planting a Mr. McGregor’s garden. You really don’t have to have a lot of room, as you can plant just 2 or 3 radishes, 3 or 4 bush beans seeds, one head of lettuce, and so on.
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter
I couldn’t write about exploring food through literature without at least a brief mention of this little book. There’s a simple recipe right in the story.
The sneaky Mr. Fox asks Jemima to “bring up some herbs from the farm-garden to make a savoury omelette.” He suggests sage, thyme, mint, parsley and two onions, and he tells her he will provide the lard.
What a fun little recipe to try together! If you’ve got an herb garden, even more fun is in store. Walk out to your garden and teach your kids which herb is which. Pick a little of each for the omelet. Taste each herb and talk about the flavors. Have your kids help with mincing, or, if they are too young for a sharp knife, have them use scissors to snip the herbs.
Watch Out For the Chicken Feet in Your Soup by Tomie de Paola
When I first saw the title of this story, I bought it immediately! What a great book to read to your kids if you too put chicken feet in your bone broths as Joey’s Italian grandmother did.
This story leads right into chicken broth making and an explanation to your kids as to why Joey’s grandma (and you!) put chicken feet in your broth. What a great springboard for casually teaching your kids about the importance and value of homemade, gelatin-rich bone broths.
As a bonus, there is a recipe included at the back of the book — not for bone broth, but for the bread dolls Joey’s grandma makes in the story. While the recipe would not be considered a real food recipe, you can still follow the general idea behind it substituting your favorite bread dough. Or you can use the recipe I use, which is a sourdough sweet bread similar to the one in the book.
Every now and then one of my kids will pick up this book and ask to make bread dolls again. They are a lot of fun to make!
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This whole series is outstanding for real food exploration! So much of the Ingalls’ lives in the stories involves planting, hunting, cooking or preserving their food. Many of you who grew up reading this series likely experimented at some point or another with the maple syrup snow candy that Grandma makes for the kids in Little House in the Big Woods.
But beyond that is chapter after chapter of possible food exploration, from little snippets of their day like, “They all sat on the warm sand near the wagon and ate bread and butter and cheese, hard-boiled eggs and cookies,” to greater food-centric chapters like the one about their annual cheesemaking.
If you have young kids, enjoy a simple Ingalls-style picnic on the shore of a lake or at the beach, or if your kids are older, try cheesemaking together just as they did. This book (and the whole series) is chock full of real food experiences for you to explore with your kids.
Have you ever explored real food through literature with your children? If so, what are some of your favorite books and food activities?
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Jenny Cutler says
Oh, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post so much!! 🙂 Thank you for the terrific ideas!! We’ve done “a bowl full of mush” with Goodnight Moon, but we need to start exploring this with many more books. 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration..from another former teacher/current homeschooler. 🙂
Jenny, I hope you have lots of fun exploring more books with your child(ren)!
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder is the best! Almanzo’s memories of his childhood are downright gluttonous. That boy sure ate good! 🙂
Of all the Little House books, Farmer Boy was always my favorite, and the descriptions of the HUGE meals they ate (they worked hard, too) have always stuck in my mind.
Yes! Farmer Boy is a great book for food! My son will be reading it this school year, and we will be cooking from it for sure.
My son’s class read “Little House in the Big Woods” a couple last of years ago in 2rd grade just as I was becoming interested in the traditional ways of preparing and preserving food. Loved it! My son already knew a lot about it before they had their discussions. So much fun!!!
Blueberrries for Sal by Robert McClosky
Oh yes, another great book! Robert McCloskey is one of my favorite children’s authors and illustrators.
The Long Winter is one for learning about real food too in a different way. Thinking about starvation and the impact of it as well as what and how they did eat.
The LIttle Britches series of books has a boys view of old fashioned food although not quite as detailed as Farmer Boy was. 🙂
I do love when the books that we are reading reinforce the real food ideas we are working to instil in our kids.
I am not familiar with Little Britches. I will have to check them out. Thanks for the tip!
Have you read Bread and Jam for Francis? it’s written by Russel Hoban. I have a daughter who really could just eat bread and jam. so watch what happens when her parents only give her bread and jam AND check out the lunch her school friend packs. It’s amazing!
Yes, Heather, another great classic! There are so many, I had a really hard time choosing just a few to highlight. I really wanted to mention The Very Hungry Caterpillar but my post was getting too long. 🙂
Lindsey Dietz says
I absolutely LOVE this post! When we read Little House, I was so interested by their meals, food preparation, and food storage. Heidi is another of my favorites for how it elaborates on the diet of the Swiss. I remember my mouth watering when I read about the fresh goats’ milk, dark bread, and cheese that Goat Peter and Heidi would eat while they were tending the goats on the mountain. And how Clara’s condition improved whenever she began to eat these wonderful, traditional foods that Grandfather prepared for her. These books gave us opportunities to talk about traditional foods. In fact, after reading Heidi, I got my copy of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration out and read to my children about the Swiss in the Loetschental Valley and the raw milk and rye bread that were staples in their diet. I would love to see more posts like this! Great job!
Heidi has always been a favorite of mine. My husband read it aloud to our kids about a year ago, and it occurred to me to wonder if Clara’s condition wasn’t rickets of some sort. That would be cured by lots of sunshine and raw milk!
Lindsey and Heather, my daughter read Heidi this year and I had similar thoughts to both of you. Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?
This is such a great idea! After I looked at your book suggestions, I thought why, of course! I have a ds9 who loves to cook who might enjoy reading some of the Little House series with me and cooking the foods mentioned.
Great post. When we just started homeschooling, we loved the Little House books and recipes so much that we bought The Little House Cookbook to use as a unit study…yum. Another series for older kids is Redwall. And they have a cookbook to go with it.
Roxanne, I haven’t heard of Redwall. Will have to check it out, thx!
Our boys LOVE Redwall! My 4th and 6th grade boys can tear through a book in two or three days. For our younger ones, Netflix has episodes of Redwall that stay fairly close to the book. I had no idea that there is a cookbook that goes with it. That will be a must on our Christmas list this year!
The Little House Cookbook is a great book to have along with the Little House series.
Fantastic post! It just made me realize how much of an influence books were on my own culinary journey! I read all of the Little House books when I was a kid and they were wonderful. Another series for kids a bit older is the Trixie Belden collection of mysteries. Trixie, her friends and her brothers always found some sort of mystery they had to solve. I just distinctly remember food always being prominent within the story. I also would like to agree with a previous commenter, the Redwall series of books by Brian Jacques are superb, all three of my boys loved them!
I love this! I dont have kids but the Little House series were my favorite books were my favorite growing up. I persisted until my mom helped me render lard!
We ate our way through so many classics! All the above, plus, “How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World,” “How My Grandparents Learned to Eat,” oh, so many that elude my aging brain.
Great post! I’ve actually become something of a children’s literature cookbook collector, and we have the Peter Rabbit cookbook 🙂 A couple years ago, I post a list of some of our favorite “food” books for children.
oops, I meant *posted*