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
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 sweetbread very 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.