My Top 5 Family Cookbooks

My Top 5 Family Cookbooks

It’s no secret that I am an avid declutterer. Rosa’s everyday artwork is not long for this world, and if I feel so-so about a shirt it’s quickly pitched into the donation pile.

But cookbooks are another story. Gosh, I just love them. I could stand in the cookbook section of a bookstore for hours, just taking in the jacket art and flipping through the pages. My desk at Parents is lined with stacks of cookbooks, and I’ve piled about 20 into a makeshift standing desk. At home guests frequently comment on the fact that cookbooks almost completely dominate our bookshelves.

I use cookbooks for reference, for inspiration, and of course for cooking. But there are a few that see the most action on a day-to-day basis. I thought I’d share my five favorite family cookbooks in the hopes that you’ll find inspiration in one too.

First, what is a family cookbook anyway? Here is my easy definition: it’s a cookbook I use to cook for my family. Some are officially targeted towards families or kids; others aren’t. None are for “kid food”, though, a concept I’m wary of to begin with.

Without further ado, my (current) five favorite family cookbooks:

Brown eggs and Jam Jars1. Brown Eggs and Jam Jars by Aimee Wimbush-Bourque – To say I’m obsessed with this cookbook is not much of an overstatement. Wimbush-Bourque is a mom of three in Montreal, Canada (frequent stomping grounds for us) who calls herself an “urban homesteader”. She and her family have a large plot of land; they garden and raise chickens. She puts up the harvest each year and taps maple trees in the backyard. The book is a collection of gorgeous (and delicious) recipes, but it’s also a guide for creating a positive family food culture. Wimbush-Bourque shares essays on teaching your children to be at home in the kitchen, talking about where meat comes from, eating seasonally, and packing the perfect picnic. Brown Eggs and Jam Jars has already changed how I involve Rosa in the kitchen, and I look forward to being inspired by it for years to come.

2. Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion – The subtitle here says it all: “Two home cooks share their tried-and-true weeknight recipes and the secrets to happiness in the kitchen.” Well, what more could we parents who cook want? The recipes are accessible, but interesting. There is an abundance of flavor here, not just bland, “kid-friendly” food. My favorites include the Japanese-Style “Meat and Potatoes” and Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo. As much as I love the recipes, though, I think it’s the authors lists and cooking philosophy I appreciate even more, from their 10 Flavor-Boosting Pantry Staples to their Seasoning Notes, to The Keepers Manifesto printed on the inside of the front cover. (My favorite Manifesto points: “Let the kids set the table as soon as they’re steady on their feet,” and “Do your best to feed yourself and others with the most natural ingredients, the least fuss, and the most pleasure.”) Also, the cover is brilliant.

3. The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr – Yes, this is OFFICIALLY a family cookbook, as you probably guessed by the title. In fact, it’s a cookbook for kids from one of the U.K.’s most respected chefs and food activists. I just checked the inscription, and my dad gave me this book when Rosa was two years old. He probably imagined that I would cook for her out of the book, but sadly it sat on my shelf until Rosa was about seven. I rediscovered the book, handed it to Rosa and told her to choose a recipe. Since then we’ve made many River Cottage dishes including Spicy Lamb Pie (that was actually a bit of a disaster, but an educational one!), Strawberry Fool, and Mushroom Noodle Soup. It has also ignited what I predict will be Rosa’s lifelong love affair with Spaghetti Carbonara. This cookbook isn’t just a collection of recipes, though. It really educates readers about the history and scientific properties of ingredients and features tons of fun cooking projects like how to prep homemade bacon, make butter at home, and host a pancake race. I’m inspired all over again just typing this.

4. Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan – I have probably used this cookbook more than any other in my collection over the years. By my quick count I’ve made at least 30 recipes in the book, and I have no doubt I will make many more. It’s the book I open when we have company coming and I want to make a special dessert, or when I have a lot of summer fruit and want to make a pie, or when it’s Rosa’s birthday, and I want her to choose a cake. The recipes are incredibly thorough, not in a tiresome way, but in a reassuring, trouble-shooting way. Baking from this book is like having a knowledgable, but relaxed guide at your side in the kitchen. I have met Dorie twice in passing, but because of this book I feel like I know her. In fact, I feel like we’re friends. (Don’t worry, not in a scary stalker way.)

5. Weelicious Lunches by Catherine McCord – For many parents, including me, packing school lunches is a fact of life. And, frankly, it’s one I am just not into. I will never be one of those talented bloggers who photographs their kids’ lunches everyday, and, thankfully, a creative colleague at Parents handles our annual September lunch box story. (Phew!) So while lunches will never be my forte, this colorful book has helped me get out of my sandwich rut. Cheesy Pasta Salad, Mexican Muffins, and Easy Chicken Nuggets for lunch? You bet. Ditch the bread for tortillas, pancakes, or lavash? Yes! Why didn’t I think of that? Thankfully, Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious, the wonderful website dedicated to feeding families healthfully and deliciously, thought of it all for us. In Weelicious Lunches she offers fresh, tempting recipes to upgrade your kid’s (or your) lunch. Full disclosure, much of the food I prepared from this book never found its way into a lunch box. I once made the Chocolate PB&J Cups for a party, and they were absolutely inhaled. (Did I mention that Catherine blurbed my book? In addition to being an amazing cook and author, she’s a very nice person.)

Real Baby Food is my first cookbook, and despite the title, it’s actually a book for the whole family. The first two chapters focus on purees, but after that the recipes are meant for grown-ups and kids of all ages. They just so happen to be toddler-appropriate in terms of texture and spice level.

When thinking about what I wanted my family cookbook to be, I went back to the cookbooks on this list. I tried to translate the best of these books into my own work — a cookbook that would hopefully help other parents feed their families in a, dare I say, joyful, or at least unstressful, way. Like Keepers and Baking: From My Home to Yours I wanted the voice to be friendly and relatable. Like The River Cottage Family Cookbook, I wanted it to be both a recipe book and a comprehensive guide. Like Weelicious Lunches, I wanted Real Baby Food to be bright and sunny, with recipes that wouldn’t intimidate inexperienced cooks. Brown Eggs and Jam Jars only recently came into my life, but I am sure if I’m lucky enough to do another cookbook, you will see its fingerprints in that one.

Real Baby Food

Jenna Helwig