An Interview with Amy Houts, Author of Cooking Around the Calendar With Kids
Amy Houts talks about her kids cookbook, about the educational value of cooking with kids, her newsletter Preschooler in the Kitchen, writing non-fiction, children’s books, the Culinary Institute of America, her next books, and lots more.
Magdalena: Why is cooking such a powerful educational activity?
Amy: Cooking is such a powerful educational activity because it teaches so much. Cooking teaches the small motor skills children need to learn: pouring,
measuring, mixing. Cooking is a sensory experience, where children can use
all of their senses, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing. Cooking can teach math concepts: “Let’s cut the pizza in half, now in
fourths.” Cooking can teach time: “We’ll bake the bread for 1 hour.” Cooking is fun, which is a great motivator in learning. Also, you get to eat, which most people like to do.
Magdalena: Tell me about Preschooler in the Kitchen. Was that the impetus for
Cooking Around the Seasons?
Amy: Preschooler in the Kitchen was a monthly cooking column I wrote for an international parenting newsletter, Parent & preschooler (yes, ‘preschooler’ begins with a lower case p). I began writing this column in 1986, when my older daughter, Emily, was four. I gave birth to our second daughter, Sarah, the following year. I continued writing Preschooler in the Kitchen for
twelve years. The newsletter is geared to parents who have children ages 1-6, so as I was writing, I was also experiencing the joys and trials of having young children. As the years went by, I realized I had written quite a few articles. My goal was to sell some as reprints and/or sell the manuscript as a cookbook,
so I compiled a list, dividing the article titles into sections. Holiday/seasonal was one section that had several entries. I was thinking of
one large cookbook, including all my sections, but the publisher I had talked to, Lee Jackson at Images Unlimited, said I enough entries in the
holiday/seasonal section for a book, and she felt this subject would be marketable.
Magdalena: Do you feel that many children today don’t spend enough time in the
kitchen? That they don’t know about the relationship between growing,cooking,
and eating food?
Amy: The short answer is “yes.” I know so many families who eat out all time, and I don¹t blame them. Both parents are busy working all day, and the kids have sports activities or lessons to attend in the evenings. Children are not able to observe or take part in cooking either because they are too
busy, or because no one in the family cooks. There is something so comforting about home cooking, and about children participating in the
creating a meal. Something that I believe families need in today’s world. Having a garden is great way to show children how food grows. We live in
an instant world, where we want “fast food.” I don’t think that children are aware of that relationship of growing, cooking and eating.
Magdalena: In what way do you think that this kind of knowledge can help children?
Amy: The law of the farm: logical consequences, patience. If you work hard to prepare the soil, plant the seeds and water them, things will grow. It
touches on ecological issues too, taking care of the earth.
Magdalena: Do you feel that parents should continue to think of themselves as their
children’s primary source of education, even if they aren’t homeschooling, and even after children start school?
Yes, I believe parents have a great deal of influence on their children’s character, and their education.
Magdalena: In what way does the writing of nonfiction differ from the writing of
Non fiction writing involves a lot of description, presented in an interesting way. I write what I see, or quote of what is said. Recipes have
logical steps. In writing my children’s story books, there is a conflict, or a problem that needs to be solved.
Magdalena: You’ve certainly got a variety of qualifications! Why made you go from
the Culinary Institute to Library Science? Was the CIA really like it is described in Kitchen Confidential?
When I was 17 years old, I loved to cook. I prepared many meals for my family, as my mother (and father) worked. I wanted to learn more about cooking and thought I might like becoming a professional chef. After I
studied at the Culinary Institute I worked in a restaurant for a year, then I decided I wanted to go to a university, and attended for 2 years with a major in home economics. When I got married, and had my children, I was home for 10 years. When I went back to school, because of my great love for writing and for books, I decided to try library science. I have not read Kitchen Confidential, so I don’t know how the Culinary Institute was described. I’m sure it has changed a lot since 1975 when I attended. It was only ten percent women when I attended. I learned quite a bit, but the work was very heavy and did not suit me.
Magdalena: Do you write full time now, or do you still teach?
I work at a local newspaper, The Nodaway News Leader, writing feature articles and doing some reporting and photography. I free-lance, as well,
and always have a story or book I am working on.
Magdalena: What are you working on now? Will you be publishing more children’s
books,or another cookbook?
My second, and next cookbook will focus on the USA, with the working title, Cooking Around the Country with Kids: American Heritage Food and Fun. After that I will begin working on a new internationally focused book: Cooking Around the World with Kids. I hope to publish more children’s story books, and have a few manuscripts with publishers.