Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Parents are uniquely positioned to help kids build reading and writing skills that are best developed little by little over many years. So a central tenet of the Maya Smart approach to raising readers is helping children learn through what we like to call everyday literacy. This can mean pointing out words on cereal boxes and chatting about letters on street signs. It can mean including reading and writing in family travel and road trips, or emphasizing words on kids’ clothes. It can mean working literacy skills into special occasions, to make a celebration like Halloween a reading holiday, for example. And so much more.

In line with this idea, we decided to make it easy to mix reading and writing practice into another important activity with children: feeding them. Let’s face it, making and serving endless meals and snacks is an ever-present element of parenting. And bringing the kids into the action, by inviting them to cook with us, is both a great activity in its own right and a time-tested way to up the odds they’ll actually eat what we prepare. 

That’s why we created the Read with Me Recipe series of kid-friendly snacks and meals that are super easy to make with kids—presented in a format that’s also easy to read with kids. Think simple words and short sentences that will set your little one up for success. What’s more, each recipe is optimized to highlight a specific spelling pattern or reading ability, so you can introduce and reinforce key skills in small, playful doses with each dish you make. 

The idea is for you to print out the recipe and then read it with your child as you prepare a simple, frustration-free dish together. Each one comes with teaching tips for using the recipe to build specific knowledge and skills with beginning readers. That said, you can also use these recipes with pre-readers, as a way to introduce them to written language. Just read the recipe aloud to them and draw their attention to some of the elements, such as any incidences of their first initial or another letter they may recognize. (Scroll down for more tips on using the recipes to teach.)

*Important note: Adults should be closely involved in the cooking, from chopping to using a hot stove, to ensure safety.

MayaSmart.com’s exclusive kids’ cookbook PDF includes the full collection of Read with Me Recipes. You’ll find a variety of simple snacks and meals popular with kids and even some special holiday recipes. Here are the dishes inside (plus the skills they’re optimized for):

  • Cake in a Cup: Silent E
  • Carrot Hummus: Double Consonants
  • Cheese and Chicken Pasta: CH Digraph
  • DIY Christmas Ornaments: Letter C
  • Cool Fruit Smoothie: Double OO
  • Easter Egg Bread: Long and Short E
  • Latke Potato Pancakes: Compound Words
  • Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: Double EE and OO
  • Strawberry Sticks: ST Consonant Blend
  • Stuffed Shell Pasta: SH Digraph
  • Three Bean Salad: TH Digraph
  • Yogurt Bark: Y as a Consonant (and Vowel)

Here’s how to use the recipes:

  1. Print out the recipe (or bring it up on a screen large enough for easy reading). 
  2. Look at it together and draw your child’s attention to the specific spelling patterns or words highlighted in the teaching tips for that recipe, if your child is ready for it. If they’re ready, encourage them to find and circle or underline all the incidences of the specific pattern.
  3. Read and follow the recipe together. Watch out for any words they may not be familiar with, and give a simple definition. 
  4. If they’re taking the lead on the recipe, be ready to gently help with any words they struggle on. For example, if they have trouble reading applesauce, try covering half the word and help them sound out one half at a time, then put both together.
  5. Bring your patience. Give your child space to figure out words or identify letters before you jump in, but be prepared to help if they’re showing signs of frustration.
  6. For little ones who aren’t reading yet, just read each step out loud, pointing to the words as you go. 
  7. If they don’t know their ABCs yet, point out a few key letters in the recipe, like their first initial. Ask questions: Can you find a letter T? What letter does this word start with?
  8. If your child knows their letters but isn’t reading, point out some simple words to them, or help them try sounding out some of the simplest words.
  9. You can also use the recipe as an opportunity to introduce or reinforce punctuation. Point out and explain the use of periods, commas, or other punctuation marks.

Bon appétit!