A few weeks ago, I received an email from Matt and Stacy of PaleoParents.com saying they’d send me a copy of their new cookbook for kids, Eat Like A Dinosaur, if I’d be so kind as to review it.
I said, “I’d love to!” So there – I got a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. It’s not as if I have to give it a good one, right?
Well, that’s not going to happen, because overall the book is excellent.
Matt and Stacy are parents to three small boys. They were both overweight and their two older sons suffered from a myriad of health and behavior problems – asthma, eczema, ADHD, self-control issues and both were in the upper range for weight while being in the normal range for height, putting them at danger of suffering from the same weight problems as their parents. About the time their youngest son was born, they decided to treat these issues with diet, and adopted a paleo lifestyle.
Matt and Stacy lost 200 pounds between the two of them, and the problems their sons were dealing with disappeared – some, like the behavior problems, almost immediately and some, like the eczema, over a period of weeks. Both boys’ weight also normalized. Their youngest son, who has never consumed any grains, legumes or dairy, has “by a noticeable degree, been [their] most trouble-free, happy baby.” Unlike his brothers, he’s rarely sick, experiencing one fever in the first 18 months of his life and no hospitalizations, when his oldest brother had been hospitalized twice as a baby.
Yes, they credit his diet, and I tend to agree with them.
The opening section of the book tells this story in much greater detail, of course, along with the challenges they faced switching their older boys to a diet devoid of Goldfish crackers, peanut butter sandwiches and Kraft mac n’ cheese. This is followed by a section of kitchen tools you might find useful when cooking their recipes, along with ingredients not generally found in the average kitchen – and that’s the source of my first issue with the book (albeit a mild one). The recipes often rely quite heavily on often hard-to-find and/or expensive ingredients or equipment, such as a coconut cream concentrate, coconut aminos and raw macadamia nuts (something that falls into both categories). For those of us that are already on board with this diet or a similar one, most, if not all, of these things are in our kitchens, but for a parent seeking an alternative to the Standard American Diet for their children or those on a strapped budget, the recommendation you own an ice cream maker as well as a stand mixer with a meat grinder attachment could be intimidating.
The next section is a story, complete with colorful illustrations, directed at the kids for whom the book is intended. Told from the perspective of the oldest son, Cole, it explains in an entertaining and very understandable manner why the family eats the way they do, how the boys reacted to it, and how their new diet has made everyone feel better. For an older child, the concept of eating like a dinosaur might be stretching it (dinosaurs don’t eat cookies, even if they might eat the ingredients used to make them), but young children will most likely embrace the idea – it was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Matt and Stacy.
The center, and largest, section is the – ahem – meat of the book: the recipes. And there are a LOT of them, beginning with Main Dishes (beef, pork, poultry, eggs and seafood), and Side Dishes (mostly vegetables and starches, with one egg, one fruit and a recipe for meat stock). Dips and Sauces are next, which is really smart – if their kids are anything like The G Man, they will eat both meats and vegetables much more readily if they have something to dip them in. Snacks, then Special Treats, are last, which brings me to my only other issue with the book – the Snacks and Special Treats sections are almost as large as the other three sections combined. While the Side Dishes contain only nine vegetable recipes, the Treats section alone contains 28 recipes – the next largest section, Main Dishes, contains only 26.
I understand the reasons behind this, I really do – it’s hard for kids of any age to be denied the yummy treats their friends and peers seem to endlessly indulge in, but it’s especially difficult for small children who generally couldn’t care less about the healthful properties of the food they are eating; all they care about is how something tastes. And to give Matt and Stacy credit, they incorporate as many healthful ingredients – fresh fruit, avocados, even zucchini – into these recipes as they can, but many still contain plenty of sweeteners in the form of dates, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and evaporated cane juice; some recipes use more than one kind. They also rely very heavily on almond flour, almond butter and almond milk, as well as other nuts, for these treats, so if your child suffers from a tree nut allergy, the snacks and treats recipes you can make become limited.
There are no real surprises as far as the recipes go, but that is a good thing – children generally don’t like surprises when it comes to their food. The purpose of the cookbook is to introduce kids to a way of eating that is far more healthful than the Standard American Diet, and Eat Like A Dinosaur succeeds spectacularly in this endeavor. Understanding that children are far more likely to eat a wide range of foods if they are involved in the preparation, each recipe comes with steps that are safe and easy for kids to perform. Many of the recipes are also given fun names – Roast Pork with Squish Squashy Apples, Fish in a Boat, Rat on a Stick, Mock-A-Mole and Bunny’s Soup are just a few. Nor are any of the recipes particularly lengthy or complicated, an important consideration for busy parents.
Do the recipes taste good? The Rat on a Stick (well, our version was just “Rat” because Meema was out of skewers) and Maple Butternut Squash Purée do – The G Man ate both quite enthusiastically. This surprised me, because the recipe for Rat on a Stick called for two tablespoons of red Thai curry paste, and I worried it would be too spicy for the little guy’s palate, but he wolfed it down – after dipping each bite in the squash purée. I have no reason to believe that the rest of the dishes aren’t every bit as delicious. Hey, I’m more than a little impressed that they can get their boys to eat salmon – I can’t get The Young One, who is 17, to touch it.
The last section of the book is full of helpful information – how to pack a paleo lunch for your child, how to shop a farmer’s market and plan the week’s meals around the seasonal ingredients you find, even how to shop at yard sales and thrift stores for those kitchen gadgets that might otherwise be out of your reach financially – and how to do each of these things while herding 3 small boys around (again, I’m nothing but impressed). There is also a chart outlining which recipes contain ingredients that are common allergens – fish, shellfish, eggs and nuts. Of course, there are no recipes with grains, dairy, legumes or industrial seed oils.
So, do I recommend Eat Like A Dinosaur? I do! I like it so much that I am giving not one, but two, away. In the interest of transparency, I was not given the additional copies for this giveaway – I’ve purchased them myself. Yup, I’m that impressed with it.
To win a copy of Eat Like A Dinosaur, simply leave me a comment stating why you’d like it. One entry per person, so leaving more than one comment won’t give you multiple chances to win. I’ll close the contest Saturday, March 31 2012 at midnight and announce the winner on Tuesday, April 3 2012.
Happy eating like a dinosaur, y’all!