Starting From Scratch ✻ A Book Review & Giveaway

Photo ©Life Through the Kitchen

Do you feel you could use some help sparking your kids’ interest in food and cooking? Or maybe you’re having trouble answering their questions in this area. Are you looking for a good gift for a food curious ten year old? In any instance, consider getting a copy of Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking. 

When a representative of Owlkids Books invited me to review  this newly-released children’s book, I jumped at the chance. I believe it’s critical that children have a basic understanding of food and develop at least the basic skills to make themselves simple, nutritious meals (and a homemade cookie or two doesn’t hurt, either).

I also believe that a well-written children’s reference book is a good way for adults to quickly gain an overview understanding of a topic, so I was eager to check out the book from that perspective as well.

Starting From Scratch is aimed at kids aged ten and up. It’s not a cookbook, although it does contain a few recipes. Rather, as the back cover says,  “It’s a book about food – how it works, why it works and what you need to know to make the kitchen your playground.”

Author Sarah Elton, a journalist and food writer from Toronto, addresses her audience respectfully and intelligently, with no talking down to her intended young readers. She assumes that children are capable of accomplishing a lot in the kitchen (with proper approval and supervision from the adults in their lives).

The illustrations by Jeff Kulak enliven the writing. The style and colour palette put me in mind of textbooks (at least the textbooks I recall, my children having long graduated from school).

The 90 or so pages are divided into six chapters:

  • What Would Life Taste Like Without Food?
  • We Are What We Eat
  • Cooking is Science
  • What Is a Recipe?
  • Getting Ready in the Kitchen
  • How to Make that Meal

Although the book is short, the knowledge presented in it is comprehensive. In fact, I think most adults could benefit from this quick read, whether they’re a novice in the kitchen or fairly experienced. For instance, I learned that a water print is the amount of water it takes to make something. Elton tells us, “It takes 10 gallons (38 litres) of water to make one slice of bread!” (p. 38). The primers on basic skills like “how to measure” would be helpful to kids or anyone older who hasn’t had training in this area.

The subject of food is infinitely broad, and Elton includes a range of references that will spark the imagination of her readers. Kids who want to be an astronaut when they grow up will no doubt be interested to read about what cooking on Mars will be like in the 2030’s. The chapter on taste suggests an apple-tasting party to help kids develop their sense of taste and ability to describe smell, taste and texture. Interesting food facts are smattered throughout the book. Cat lovers will want to know why their feline friends can’t taste sweet when they eat.

Elton also takes a global perspective, referencing foods from many cultures. This will not only engage readers from a variety of backgrounds, but encourage young foodies to familiarize themselves with many cuisines. For example, Chapter Two, “We Are What We Eat,” includes a map providing descriptions of traditional chicken dishes from around the world. Appendix B includes a guide to flavour pairings for Italian, Asian, Indian and Mexican foods.

Elton teaches her readers how to read recipes (she describes them as “bossy,” which made my recipe developer self laugh in agreement), and discusses the importance of ratios. Parents will be relieved to see that she talks about basic knife safety, as well as cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen.

Starting from Scratch also addresses food ethics, with a discussion about the impact of religion and politics on food.

If you would like to foster an interest in cooking in your children, I recommend you get them this book (but read it yourself first!) You can find it at the Owlkids online store, here.

DISCLAIMER: I am not being remunerated for this post, but Owlkids Books provided me with a review copy of this book, as well as a second book to use as a giveaway for my readers. The opinions I’ve expressed are, as always, my own. If you buy the book through the link I provided to the Owlkids online store, I do not receive any commission or other payment.


The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Laurie on winning the book! Thanks to everyone who participated.

I will give a copy of Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking to one lucky reader, anywhere. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below telling me why you would like to have the book. The giveaway closes at the end of day (Eastern Standard Time) on March 31, 2014. I’ll choose a winner using and will contact the winner by email. If that’s you, you’ll have 48 hours to send me your mailing information. If I haven’t heard from the winner by then,  I’ll draw another name. Good luck!


  1. Book contest entry
    Our ten year old grandson, Alden, has a growing interest in food preparation and has professed his interest in making this his career when he’s grown.
    When the post Christmas sales were on this past January, his father and he shared the cost of Alden’s first professional chef’s knife. Alden is honing his culinary skills under his father’s guidance and many hours are spent together in this mutual interest.
    Alden’s 11th birthday is April 28th and the book Starting from Scratch is a most fitting gift for this young man.
    Thank you

    • I think it’s great that Alden has such a keen interest in cooking. It does sound like this book would be a great birthday gift for him — good luck!

    • I agree! When my kids were around this age range I bought a kids cookbook that came with a set of colourful measuring spoons, and they used it for years. I wonder where that got to? I’m hoping one of them has it in their own kitchen now!

  2. I would pass this book along to my DIL, a teacher at at local high school so that she passes along some of the information to her students to ensure that they have a good start when they head off on their own.

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