Do you have a picky eater? What about a future chef? The thing about food is that it’s something all of us have in common. It’s also a way to learn about cultures different than our own. Even if our menu is different the ritual of mealtime is something we can all relate to. These picture books about food can serve so many purposes from teaching about healthy eating to learning about other cultures. One thing they all have in common is how much fun they are to read.
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I’ll Wait Mr. Panda by Steve Antony is a precious little book that even the youngest children will love. My students and I read it and talked about how hard it is to wait and be patient. But doughnuts are well worth waiting for. This book is great for circle time as it encourages developing patience as well as highlights a male character doing something that is stereotypically female, in a stereotypically female apron. Children need to see these images and learn these lessons. It also shows that believing in your friends has great rewards.
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herb Auch is really a cute retelling of the classic Princess and the Pea. They have modernized it and made it a little more feminist in the process, exactly my kind of book. The text is a little long for toddlers but my son sat through about half before wanting to go back and look at the illustration of the horse on the first page. The message is sweet, saying that a woman doesn’t need a man or marriage to attain her goals! Beware though it will make you crave pizza!
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett has long been a favorite. This book will take you to another dimension in a way that is usually reserved for longer books or movies. In just a few pages you will dive into the land of Chewandswallow and it’s magical weather. See Chewandswallow is a place where the food falls from the sky. Instead of rain or snow, they get hot dogs and a drizzle of soda, or peas and carrots! Things started going wrong in Chewandswallow though and the weather went nuts! I love asking children what food they wished fell from the sky and why after reading this book.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I remembering being amazed that the caterpillar turned into that huge colorful butterfly! In university, while studying elementary education I chose this book as the literary inspiration for a cross-curricular unit study for grade 1. I made math lessons with fruit, science lessons about observing insects and the butterfly life cycle, and health lessons about smart food choices. Then teaching preschool I used this awesome book to teach the days of the week, basic counting, and more. When I was pregnant I chose this book along with a few other favorites to be my son’s nursery theme.
Now that my daughter is 3 we often pull down the Very Hungry Caterpillar felt board and play with it as we read the story just like I did with her brother. To me, this book is a given, and for every stage of my life, student, student-teacher, teacher, mother it has come along for the ride!
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley is a fantastic book! The book follows a sister who is looking for her brother in their San Francisco neighborhood. As she goes from door to door each neighbor invites her in to eat some of their suppers. Everybody is having some sort of rice dish even though they are all from different countries. My 6 year old really enjoyed this book and understood the message well, my 3-year-old sat through it no problem too. There are so many future lessons about geography, nutrition, and travel packed in this one little book! Awesome find.
Grandma’s Latkes by Malka Drucker is a story about two important things many Grandmas do; pass on oral history and recipes. In this case, it’s a recipe for latkes and the story of Hanukah being told to a little girl named Molly by her grandmother as they cook the potato pancakes together. This is a lovely book, but it is too long for shared reading in preschool, it would be a wonderful book to share in a smaller group while making latkes.
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert is an alphabet book extraordinaire and perfect for a letter F since it’s all about food! Wonderful paintings of fruits and vegetables seem ultra simple and it is but somehow the way the author has pieced this simple book together is brilliant. Maybe it’s that children learn about food at the table multiple times a day and feel proud of being able to identify not only some of the letters but some of the pictures too! From a teaching standpoint, I love that there are both upper and lower case letters on each page. This book will grow with your child, and beware it will also make you hungry.
Alphabet Soup by Scott Gustafson is a treat! I read a lot of alphabet books and this one stands out for so many reasons. Otter is hosting a potluck and his animal friends are all bringing something to share. Each page is devoted to an animal with a coordinating food item and more. This book is reminiscent of Graham Base’s Animalia but much more toddler-friendly. Where Animalia is great for older children because it’s so full of detail, this book brings it down a notch but still enchants you with stunning illustrations and fantastic coordinating text.
Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks is a really cute book about what monsters will and won’t eat. They will eat wheels and tractors, they will not eat broccoli. My son got into the repeating refrain “Fum, foe, fie, fee, monsters don’t eat broccoli!” In the end, the monsters are really a set of siblings with all sorts of food on their plates including broccoli. It was a fun way of opening up talk about what foods we like and why trying new things is a good thing. Halloween is filled with treats and I’ll sneak veggies in wherever I can including bedtime reading!
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl. I had to search this book out, I had forgotten the title and author all I remembered was that there was a child named Gunhilde! Thank goodness for Google! The story is very sweet with the Duchess giving her staff the day off because she wants to bake a cake for her family. Unfortunately, things go awry and the cake ends up huge with the Duchess stuck on top of it high in the air! Luckily the Duchess finds a solution and things are fixed in the end.
I loved two things about this book as a child, the idea of everyone eating a giant cake to save the Duchess and that the Duchess was taller than the Duke, I remember thinking that was funny and I didn’t know that a wife could be taller than her husband. That’s the beauty of books, even picture books open children up to new experiences.
Pinkalicious by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. I was initially told about this book and its authors by another mom whose son loves this book. So don’t think that just because the cover looks rather feminine that your boys won’t love this book too. The little girl eats far too many pink cupcakes and before she knows it she has turned pink! To return to her normal self she needs to eat her vegetables! I like this book and can see why kids do too. I don’t think that all characters can be perfectly pious meek and mild but I do understand when parents are leery of introducing characters that they see as disobedient to their kids. Seeing other children behave in ways that are not allowed at their house is a fantastic lesson for readers. It opens a dialog with you and your child.
Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Mailard celebrates baking together and learning more about where and why fry bread exists. Food is such an integral part of culture and this book shines a light on that while introducing readers to all the things that it can represent. It’s not just bread. I grew up calling Fry Bread Bannock Bread in Canada and learning about it by making it during school units about Indigenous history and culture. I wish I had had this book as a small child to have a much fuller view and understanding of what my teachers were trying to teach. Do not miss the author’s notes because there is so much more to the story, try to read this first before exploring the book with young children so you can better explain each part of the story.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is a true classic, written in 1948 its a simple tale about a little girl and her mom collecting blueberries to can. While mama picks them, Sal eats them and wanders off. But they aren’t the only mama and baby out gathering blueberries. This book is chill and sweet. The black and white illustrations make the readers feel like they are on the top of the mountain gathering blueberries too.
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes is a cute adaptation of the Indian legend of how Ganesha came to write the epic Mahabharata. Kids will love this book without ever knowing the historical significance of the original story. My daughter absolutely adored this book because it is all about her favorite thing candy! Ganesha breaks his trunk on a jawbreaker in this story and while having a bit of a tantrum is asked to use his broken tusk to scribe an amazing epic he agrees as long as he can eat candy while he does it. The story is cute but the illustrations by Sanjay Patel completely suck kids in, it’s no shock that his day job is as an animator for Pixar.
Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger is a book that makes me crave dumplings something fierce but my daughter seems to like the rhymes and pink and red colors throughout. The book explains in a zippy text all about Dim Sum. It’s a board book targeted to babies it’s really useful to use to teach children about foods they may be unfamiliar with or eat all the time but rarely see in books. There is even a little appendix with Chinese words for all the items mentioned in the book like tea, rice, and tarts.
Carrot Soup by John Segal is a cute book about planting a garden, in this case, carrots, tending it, and then reaping the rewards or maybe not. Rabbit carefully planned out his garden and took care of it. However, when it was time to gather all the carrots they were all gone! Throughout the pages there are hints to where the carrots might be, your child may be able to figure it out before Rabbit does. My son liked this book and I loved reading it with him as he was rather exasperated that the Rabbit couldn’t figure out the mystery!
Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe by Irene Smalls is a sweet little book about the bond between a boy and his grandfather and their love of baking, especially Lemon Bar Cake. This is a fun book to read for circle time because the text is not only written in rhyme, but the words are action words that keep young kids engaged. After reading this book it’s the perfect time to bake and practice the patience that the grandfather made look so easy in the story.
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by Philemon Sturges is a great retelling of the classic story. Kids will be able to relate to this hen not getting any help for all her hard work. Luckily her friends realize their mistake and do the dishes after she shares her yummy pizza. Since originally recommending this book it’s made a move from the bookshelf to the dresser pile of books that are in rotation for before nap and bedtime reading. A sure sign its kid-approved!
Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington was an instant hit at our house. The book is about who else, Mr. Cookie Baker and it shows the reader how he makes cookies from scratch, ices them and sells them. It’s a great book to explain baking and bakeries. My son loves the part where Mr. Cookie Baker eats a cookie after a long hard day and then says goodnight. I like the illustrations, they are bold and detailed without being cluttered and can almost tell the story all by themselves. Be warned though reading this will almost definitely make you crave a cookie or two.
Pizza at Sally’s by Monica Wellington is another great look at a small business owner, and how she does her work every day and feeds the masses with her yummy pizza! I like how it not only explains how to make pizza but it also looks at the ingredients and how they are grown and processed. Of course, it’s not explained in depth. But it is explained enough to start a dialogue with interested preschoolers for further investigation. My son loves the cat in this book, the same cat is in many of the other books but for some reason, he particularly loves its presence in this one. It’s inspired me to make the dough from scratch with my son next time we have pizza! A lovely book!
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems is a funny tale more about sharing that about a hot dog. The Pigeon finds a hot dog and is about to eat it when he is interrupted by The Duckling who is curious and full of questions. Kids love how frustrated The Pigeon gets and parents will appreciate the lesson about sharing. I love reading this book to groups of kids. It always gets a good laugh when I ask them if they think that eating a hot dog they find on the street is a good idea. Every time kids will offer up stories about things they ate that they shouldn’t have. You can’t go wrong with this series of picture books.
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jan Yolen is a book all about eating in the popular and well-loved series of dinosaur books. My son loves these books. He likes that the dinosaurs always misbehave in such over the top ways before the reality of how they really behave, well mannered, listening to their parents and eating all their food. What I like about this is that kids relate to the dinosaurs. I have never had one question about why the parents are human. I like that children are encouraged to sit still and say please and thank you.
What I don’t like is that the dinosaurs are encouraged to clean their plate. To never drop anything and try everything put before them. I know some parents will love these rules but for our house, it doesn’t work. We don’t encourage plate cleaning or force bites. The book still served a purpose, as my son said loudly “I’m a boy I don’t have to eat everything, right?” and we had a good talk about eating.
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For more quick tips on helping your child learn to read check out my book; Raising A Rock-Star Reader. It is packed with fun ideas for families, book lists, and advice for parents.