Food for Thought: Creative Recipes

As it’s my birthday, we will begin the wrong way – which I think is the right way – 

with the Cake.


P. L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins


In this Fun Family Activity, you may begin by having Cake (parents willing), but you will soon move on to searching cookbooks to find recipes for your favorite foods. Once you see how recipes are written you can write (or dictate) your very own version of how a birthday cake, for example, is made. Then, you will draw and color a creative picture of what your new recipe will look like once it is fully prepared. Be sure to keep all of your writings and colorful drawings in your journal. 


Next, the really important “cooking” begins. Write the names of your most beloved relatives and best friends in your journal. Choose one name and make a list of all the things (recipe ingredients) you most love about your grandmother, for example. Does she have a gallon of smiles, 2 cups of laughter, or a heart that is even too big to be measured? As with your recipe for Birthday Cake, the next thing you will do is to write instructions for baking a Perfect Grandmother. Most importantly, think of how your beloved grandmother may be feeling right now. Is she isolated and lonely in a nursing home? What do you most appreciate about your grandmother? What is your happiest memory of being with her? Can you fold these new ingredients into your recipe’s batter? How can you create and illustrate a recipe that will make your grandmother smile? How can you best deliver your very own illustrated “Recipe for a Perfect Grandmother”? Your gift will brighten your grandmother’s Passover or Easter, when she misses being with your family.


Children should have the opportunity to experiment with many types of writing. When students write often and experience multiple formats they find both their own writing voices and build confidence in their composition skills. A wonderful beginning creative format is the authorship of recipes, both literal and highly imaginative “food for thought.” 


Begin by examining one or more cookbooks to note the simple format for writing recipes. Typically, a recipe begins with a title or heading that is followed by an itemized list of ingredients plus measurement terms such as cup, quart, spoon, and a pinch of…,

specific directions for preparing the chosen entree and often a note as to the number of servings the recipe will yield. A photograph or drawing of the perfect final outcome is often shared. 


Young children may need to dictate their first recipe for a favorite food to parents or older siblings who then print or type the exact words and affix them to the top of a blank piece of white paper or construction paper. The five-year-old then completes the recipe with an original illustration. 


The following recipe for “Gingerbread Men” was dictated by a six-year-old student to his kindergarten teacher in Ellicott, Colorado.


Gingerbread Men


Pumpkin Stuff – 2 cans

Powder – 2 miniature spoonfuls

Brown Sugar – 2  miniature spoonful


Put the pumpkin dough in a bowl. Use the spinner thing or just stir all of the stuff. Then put in the oven for 20 minutes at 30 degrees. 


Once children have written and illustrated their first recipe for birthday cake or gingerbread men, it is a simple step to move from writing and illustrating literal food recipes to using the recipe writing format to pen and illustrate such nonfood recipes as instructions for creating world peace, hopeful families, happy homes, love, joy, democracy, courage, peace, and a perfect day. What, for example, are the ingredients for a perfect day? Perhaps begin with 4 cups of blue sky, 2 ounces of singing birds, and a level cup of best friends. How are the many ingredients mixed together and prepared? How many servings per recipe? A pastel illustration of a perfect day will complement the imaginative recipe. 


Recipes that extol the virtues of loving parents, grandparents, and good friends make especially touching and warmly received gifts. A recipe for a great Mom will be perfect present for Mother’s Day. Tributes in the form of creative recipes can be shared with grandparents at Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter or for other special occasions. Recipes for best friends are great birthday gifts. One Mom worked in secret with her two young children to create a recipe for a Perfect Father. However, they went a step further and set their recipe to music. The children bubbled over with enthusiasm. On the morning of Father’s Day, the children and their mother awakened Dad early with the singing of their recipe for a Perfect Father using a familiar melody such as the “Happy Birthday” song or “My Favorite Things.”


All family members, regardless of age, can write and illustrate with drawings and photographs both literal and imaginative recipes and then compile them into a family cookbook that may ultimately be printed and shared with friends and relatives during  holidays or at family reunions. 


Children may want to write and illustrate many additional recipes for the difficult times they are experiencing right now. They can create recipes about courage, hope, patience, family love, fun things to do at home, keeping friendships alive, and cheering up lonely or isolated loved ones. 


It is always good to end any activity on a positive note. Urge children to celebrate the birthdays of family and friends with hand-made recipe greeting cards. Design, write (or dictate) and illustrate a birthday recipe for Grandpa Samuel. The recipe birthday card should be as jubilant and exuberant as a real birthday party.  


Incidentally, the writing of recipes, literal or creatively imagined, is a fine time to learn more about weights and measurements and metric conversions.


Bon Appétit!