Cooking for Middle Graders

When my son was 8, he invited a new friend to sleep overnight. As I was passing the kitchen the next morning, I overheard the following conversation:

Bjorn: So do you want pancakes, waffles, or eggs for breakfast?
Friend: Maybe scrambled eggs?
(Sounds of pans clattering, cupboard and refrigerator door opening)
Friend: Hey, what are you doing?
Bjorn: Making you scrambled eggs.
Friend: Umm…don’t you think we better wait for your mom?
Bjorn: Nah. You wouldn’t want her scrambled eggs. I’m a much better cook than she is.

And he was right. As the youngest of 5, he’d learned from the best – his older brother and sisters. Not me. Definitely not me.

So how did I end up with a family of cooks?

I accidentally discovered the secret when my oldest daughter was 3. Having a newborn and a toddler, I was a sleep-deprived mom. One morning I heard Tiffany banging around in the kitchen, but after being up all night with the other two, I was too exhausted to check out the noise. To my surprise, a short while later, my 3-year-old presented me with breakfast in bed, which included slices of French toast.

“Who made these?” I asked, wondering if my husband had stayed home from work.

“I did,” she said with a proud smile. “I watch you do it.”

“You cracked eggs? And–and used the stove?” My voice wasn’t only weak from lack of sleep.

I inspected her head-to-toe for burns, but other than syrupy stickiness on her hands, arms, toes, and hair, she was fine. Then picturing a kitchen fire, I tucked the baby and toddler under each arm and raced for the kitchen. It was a bit messy, but the stove was off. The pot was cooling in the sink. And I realized I’d just found my solution to more sleep in the mornings—teaching my kids to cook.

When they turned 3, they started cooking lessons. By the time they were in kindergarten, they were each responsible for making one dinner a week. They loved it, and so did I. Yes, it meant a messy kitchen and plenty of extra dishes, but by the time they were 8 or 9, they were pros in the kitchen.

So how do you get started if you’re a kid interested in cooking, or if you’re a parent or teacher who wants to cook with kids? Books with pictures and simple recipes are a great first step. If you’re a kid who’s already skilled in the kitchen, you can branch out with recipes from around the world or for specialty foods. And be sure to check out the bonus recipe below.

Oh, and if you want to connect books and cooking, Tami Lewis Brown has a great list of books and recipes to match.

cooking classCooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!) 

Deanna F. Cook

This fresh, fun cookbook for kids ages 6 to 12 explains basic cooking techniques in kid-friendly language and offers recipes for making dozens of favorite foods from scratch, including muffins, biscuits, applesauce, fruit leather, goldfish crackers, tortilla chips, Buffalo chicken fingers, pizza, sushi California rolls.

chop chopChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family

by Sally Sampson and Carl Tremblay

Winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award in the Children/Youth/Family category, ChopChop offers nutritious, ethnically diverse, inexpensive dishes.

GrainesKids’ Fun and Healthy Cookbook

by Nicola Graimes and Howard Shooter

Large pictures and simple instructions for healthy recipes using ingredients such as whole wheat flour, plain yogurt, honey, oats, and nuts.

jr cookbkBetter Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book

by Better Homes and Gardens

Each recipe includes a photo along with illustrations of characters who tell stories to complement the dishes. Special features cover cooking basics, kitchen safety, menu planning, basic nutrition information, and guidance on reading and understanding food labels.

DKComplete Children’s Cookbook

by DK

The more than 150 recipes are divided into nine themed chapters (Breakfast, Soups and Salads, Light Bites, etc.) illustrated with DK’s usual large, colorful photos as well as easy-to-understand instructions. Also includes information on basic cooking skills such as how to cut safely or how to poach an egg along with some unique recipes not usually found in kids’ cookbooks.

jackTwist It Up: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes from an Inspiring Young Chef

by Jack Witherspoon and Sheri Giblin

Recipes developed by eleven-year-old Jack Witherspoon, who used cooking to raise money for cancer when he was battling leukemia. Clear directions and photographs make it simple to follow these tasty recipes.

intl ckbkThe International Cookbook for Kids

by Matthew Locricchio

Contains recipes from Italy, France, China, and Mexico illustrated with photos and pictures. Plan a taco party or make recipes from appetizers to desserts. Some of these recipes are more complicated, but will appeal to those who enjoy trying different foods.

mayoThe Mayo Clinic Kids’ Cookbook: 50 Favorite Recipes for Fun and Healthy Eating

by Mayo Clinic

This spiral-bound cookbook is easy to keep open while you cook. Because it’s from the Mayo Clinic, it emphasizes healthy recipes using vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. This cookbook offers clear directions and tips on how to prepare the raw ingredients.

veganEasy Vegetarian Foods From Around The World

by Sheila Griffin Llanas

For vegetarian cooks, Sheila Griffin Llanas includes a dozen recipes from Russian cabbage pie to Indian sabji. Check out other books in this Easy Cookbook for Kids series for various meals and snacks from around the world.

chinaRecipes from China

by Dana Meachen Rau

Rau includes a variety of recipes for meals throughout the day from different regions of China. Other books in this Cooking Around the World series contain recipes from countries such as India, Italy, and Mexico.


Here’s a simple recipe to try. If you don’t normally cook by yourself, have an adult help with the frying. Hot grease can spit and burn.

Quick Doughnuts


1 pop-open can of biscuits, unbaked
Cooking oil
Sugar and cinnamon


Frying pan
Metal slotted spoon
Paper plates
Paper towels

1)    Pop open the can of biscuits, separate them, and set them out on a cutting board.
2)    Using the cap from a soda bottle, cut a hole in the center of each biscuit. Save the holes for frying too.
3)    Heat about 2 of oil in a deep frying pan.
4)    While it’s heating, sprinkle sugar and a dash of cinnamon on a paper plate and mix it well with a spoon. Also spread two paper towels on another paper plate.
5)    Wait for the oil to get hot enough. If you sprinkle one drop of water into the oil and it sizzles and spits, it’s ready.
6)    Place several doughnuts into the pan, but don’t crowd them.
7)    As soon as the bottom turns brown, flip them over with a metal slotted spoon. Watch carefully, because they brown quickly. And turn gently to keep the oil from spattering.
8)    When both sides are brown, ladle them onto the plate with the paper towels & pat off the grease. Be careful because they’re hot.
9)    Quickly roll them in cinnamon and sugar while they’re still warm.

Makes 8 doughnuts and 8 doughnut holes

Do you have any kid-friendly recipes to share or favorite cookbooks? We’d love to have you add them to the comments.

About the Author

When other parents discovered how well Laurie J. Edwards’s kids could cook, they asked her to teach their sons and daughters. That led to Cooking for Kids classes and a weekly cooking session at the small private school her kids attended. Laurie’s had many other fun jobs in her life, including owning a cake decorating business, being a children’s librarian, and writing for kids. Some of her recent and forthcoming book releases include Her Cold Revenge (Switch Press), The Forget-Me-Not Keeper (illustrations, written by Susanna Leonard Hill), Imperial China, West African Kingdoms,  and Ancient Egypt (Cengage). Read more about Laurie and her books on her blog, her website, Facebook, and Twitter (@LaurieJEdwards).

They may be prehistoric but they never get old…(a giveaway)

early cretaceous

What it would be like to see a living, breathing dinosaur? The Early Cretaceous brings readers close to prehistoric life. By combining the latest paleontological findings with highly detailed, intimate drawings of wildlife from the Early Cretaceous, readers  look into the eyes of some of the most fascinating creatures to ever inhabit the earth. Written and illustrated in the style of a naturalist’s notebook, it’s  a first-hand account of what it is like to stand alongside everything from the first birds to flying dinosaurs to some of the largest creatures ever to walk the earth. Discover how some dinosaurs survived polar blizzards, while others were able to pump blood five stories high to reach their brains.

The Early Cretaceous is backed by the research of one of paleontology’s most acclaimed theorists, giving the book the most up to date scientific interpretation regarding animal behaviors, interactions, and recreations.

“The illustrations and artistic layout are exceptionally beautiful. This is a book children will cherish, keep, and remember, and adults will be delighted to add to their collection.” – Sylvia Czerkas, Author and Director The Dinosaur Museum, Utah

Illustrator and co-author Juan Carlos Alonso says, “I have always had a passion for nature. It has taken me around the world from Australia to the Galapagos Islands where I have been able to experience wildlife first hand.”

To be eligible to win one of TWO FREE COPIES, enter a comment below.


The Real Life of the Middle-Grade Reader

I love writing for the middle-grade reader.

There’s something very appealing about this audience. They’re old enough to understand humor and even sarcasm (in fact, some eleven-year-olds I know are Kings and Queens of Sarcasm).  By age nine, many children have mastered the mechanics of reading and they’re ready for challenging new vocabulary and themes that stretch their minds.

And best of all, middle-grade readers aren’t ready for all the angst, sexual issues, cussing, and violence that those Young Adult authors have to face head on when writing for teens. Right? I mean, the middle-grade genre is all about best friends and dogs and family vacations and…


If you dig, even not too deeply, you’ll probably find an interview in which I’m quoted saying something very similar to the previous paragraph. But I now know that when I had those thoughts, I was thinking about the middle-grade books of my youth, not today’s middle-grade kids.


My local school district has an “Intermediate” building for 5th and 6th graders. Last time I was there, I was surprised that most of the library books I saw being toted around by these ten- to twelve-year-olds were YA titles. They were devouring “The Hunger Games” and going ga-ga over “The Fault in Our Stars.”  Why weren’t they reading middle-grade books? Why weren’t they reading my books? Aren’t these the very students I (and other middle-grade authors) write for?

To find the answers, I think we have to look more closely at today’s nine- to twelve-year-old.  Here are some interesting facts* about the MG audience. Our MG audience:

In middle childhood, children might:

  • form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships
  • feel very emotional about those friendships
  • encounter higher levels of peer pressure
  • notice bodily changes and have unanswered questions about their bodies
  • begin to develop body image issues such as eating disorders
  • feel the pressure of harder classwork and academic challenges
  • begin to see themselves apart from their family unit
  • experience fears such as: fear of disappointing parents or parents finding out about negative behaviors or thoughts
  • experience anxiety over their social standing
  • become more aware of community threats and dangers such as violence

Whoa. That’s a heavy list for kids who haven’t even hit their teens yet. But it’s reality and it’s our audience. These are the children for whom we write.

So, what does this mean? No more dogs and best friends and family vacations? Of course not. But what it does mean is that we shouldn’t shy away from the reality that is life for today’s middle grader. Sometimes parents go to prison. Aunts and uncles can be alcoholics. Preteens think about their sexuality. Gangs and violence don’t suddenly appear after age 13. Nine- to twelve-year-olds sometimes live in homes or communities that are dangerous.

It’s okay to address the tougher side of preteen life. As storytellers, we can choose the right measure of tact, honesty, and humor to soften the blows of middle grade reality.


What are your current favorite middle grade titles? I’d be willing to guess that beneath the general premise there are some serious issues which today’s middle graders understand all too well.

What do you think? Share your comments below!

*facts listed above come from:

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She shares The Mark Boney Promise with young people at school and library visits in an effort to bring more kindness to classrooms everywhere.  Find Michelle at On Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.