Blogger and artist Erin Gleeson shares the inspiration behind her new cookbook, The Forest Feast for Kids, and offers some tips for helping kids learn to enjoy fresh veggies.

By Jenna Helwig
February 18, 2016
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The Forest Feast for Kids Cover
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Gleeson

Have you ever wanted to crawl into a cookbook and live in its world? That's how I feel when I page through Erin Gleeson's gorgeous The Forest Feast for Kids. Erin is a blogger, photographer, artist, and mom to toddler Ezra. She and her family live in, well, the forest, in a cabin near San Francisco.

This book was created with kids in mind, but adults would be perfectly happy cooking from it. The recipes are simple, colorful, and chock-full of healthy and delicious fruits and veggies. Charming photos and drawings illustrate each step. I especially love the drink recipes (including the Grape Fizz; see below) and the final chapter that offers inspiration for kids' parties, including a grilled cheese party and a fruity ice cream sandwich bar (yes please!). Erin recently answered a few of our questions about her recipes, her dinner routine, and helping kids learn to enjoy eating vegetables.

Tell us about the Grape Fizz. It's a simple recipe, but so fun. What inspired it?

Erin Gleeson: Thanks! The grape garnish was the inspiration—it's a fun, interactive activity to thread the grapes onto the skewer in an alternating pattern and it encourages kids to eat fresh foods in the process. I did a kids cooking workshop while writing this book and the children had so much more fun than I expected preparing drinks!

Forest Feast Grape Fizz
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Gleeson
Forest Feast Grape Fizz Recipe
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Gleeson

How old is Ezra, and how are you introducing him to new foods? Does he have any favorites so far?

EG: Ezra is 18 months old and mostly eats finger foods. I now see what a challenge it is to get kids to eat vegetables! I sneak beets into his smoothies and chop spinach very small to add to his scrambled eggs. I think making it colorful and interactive helps. He loves dipping things, so lately I've been giving him red pepper slices, cucumbers spears and green beans to dip into yogurt, hummus or guacamole. It can get messy but it's worth it if even some of it makes it into his mouth!

Why write a cookbook for kids?

EG: So many people have told me their kids love cooking from my first book The Forest Feast, which is for adults. My handwriting is overlaid on photos of the ingredients with simple, diagram-like directions. I think the highly illustrated, colorful, visual layout makes it simple and fun for kids to follow. So I thought I'd play on the idea of color as a theme to make this book even more appealing to children. Kids I cooked with told me they wanted to know how to cut things, so I added extra photos and diagrams on how to chop and prepare colorful fruits and vegetables.

How does dinner come together at your house on a daily basis? Do you plan ahead or just use whatever ingredients you have around?

EG: I rarely plan ahead. I keep a variety of favorite ingredients in the kitchen and usually just use what we have on hand. We get a weekly farm box with local produce and the offerings change every week, which keeps things interesting. I often roast a big sheet of vegetables and put them alongside a grain and a protein like eggs, tofu, or beans. Staples I like to keep in the cupboard include quinoa, farro, rice noodles, and polenta.

Some people might say, "Oh, my kids would never eat these veggie-filled recipes." How can parents help their kids learn to like all sorts of produce?

EG: I think as much as you can get your kids involved in the whole process, the more likely they are to want to eat the end result. Alice Waters' inspiring Edible Schoolyard Project has proved this. If you have room, try planting a few vegetables in your backyard. Zucchini is an easy one. Or try having your kids plant some herbs in a pot on your kitchen windowsill. After watching the herbs sprout, they will likely want to have a taste. You could also try setting up a tour of a nearby farm so the kids can see vegetables growing and pick them. It's always fun to do a trip to the farmers market and let your children choose vegetables to cook with at home. Buying a new kitchen tool can help as well. Small hand spiralizers are inexpensive and make "noodles" out of carrots and zucchini.

For more fresh inspiration follow Erin on Instagram @theforestfeast.

Jenna Helwig is Parents' food editor and the author of Real Baby Food and Smoothie-licious.