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Cookbooks get children learning about food

It might get messy.

But cooking with children, even tiny tots, allows them to create, explore and build skills, coordination and confidence.

And cookbooks with child-friendly recipes – and photographs of young people as small as toddlers helping out in the kitchen – can encourage, inspire and guide the way.

The process requires a little patience on the part of adults; cooking with children tends to take longer and require more clean-up. But little ones might be having so much fun they won’t even realize they are learning things like fine motor skills as well as math and chemistry – in the form of measurements and the way heat transforms food.

A few new cookbooks focus on cooking with kids. Here’s a quick look at three of them, all from Hamlyn, a division of Octopus Publishing Group.

“The Big Baking Book” by Ella’s Kitchen ($19.99) – This bright yellow hardbound volume offers 100 healthier sweet and savory recipes organized by meal type. Most are accompanied by several photographs and brightly colored illustrations.

There are midmorning snacks, afternoon snacks and “Lovely Lunches” featuring rutabaga biscuits and other handhelds. “Fabulous Family Dinners” include Mighty Meatloaf, a variety of casseroles and desserts like Cloudy Pear Meringue. Two more chapters – “It’s Party Time” with recipes for Dizzy Beef Pies and Yummy Salmon Tarts – and “Fun Outdoors” featuring Tasty Lentil Triangles, Cheerful Chickpea Cakes, Smashed and Baked Cheesecake and Blushing Beet Brownies – round out the book.

There’s a foreword by Ella’s dad, Paul Lindley, as well as Ella herself, now 14. Many recipes use honey as a way to cut down on white sugar and feature fruits and vegetables as well as whole-wheat flour. There are other tips for sugar and salt substitutions and some other fun stuff, too – like outlines for kids to color in and a back page full of stickers to mark favorite recipes.

“My First Baking Book” by Becky Johnson ($9.99) – This slim, soft-cover book features more than 50 recipes organized by cakes, cookies, snacks, holiday treats and simple “Easy as ABC” recipes. Most are accompanied by photos of children sprinkling, drizzling, sifting, rolling, stirring, whisking or showing off their finished products, like smiley-face sandwich cookies, iced blueberry muffins and gingerbread people. There are Cobweb Cookies, Pumpkin Heads and Easter Nests for the holidays.

The recipe for Cheesy Feet uses a template made from tracing then cutting out an outline of the child’s own foot. Children can help stuff Money Bags, baked phyllo dough with tomato, basil and feta, twisted into a pouch-shape. Lemon Sand Castle cakes, zucchini muffins, Crescent Moon and Sparkly Starfish cookies, Rocky Road Bars and Pizza Faces round out the recipes.

“My First Juices & Smoothies” by Amanda Cross ($9.99) – Kids who won’t eat their fruits and vegetables might drink them. Juicing can help make sure children get their five-a-day target servings of fruits and veggies, even if they’re picky eaters who turn up their noses at the sight of beets or broccoli. There are more than 60 recipes divided into three chapters – “Fruity Favorites,” “Vital Vegetables” and “Supersmoothies” – in this slim soft-cover book. Most are accompanied with photos of toddlers and preschoolers drinking brightly colored juices through straws or posing with fruits and veggies – and smiling brightly.

The best fruits and vegetables for juicing are listed along with what not to juice – rhubarb, for example. Recipes – with names like Battery Charge, Power Pack and Jump-Start – list their vitamins and minerals. Magic Juice – carrot, orange, apple – is a good source of vitamins C and B, beta-carotene, folic acid, potassium, calcium and iron. Other ingredients include grapes, kiwifruits, watermelon, raspberries, honeydew melon, pears, banana, apricots, avocado and cucumber. There are also a few recipes for popsicles

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