I love cookbooks. I love to sit and flip through them, sometimes looking for a new recipe to try and often just hoping for some inspiration in the kitchen. But, Eat Like a Dinosaur by The Paleo Parents is so much more than just a cookbook. It is a comprehensive guide for families on how to eat a paleolithic diet, including: how to get your kids through the initial transition; how to include the whole family in food decisions, shopping and preparation; how to make food fun; how to pack school lunches; and, how to eat high quality food while keeping to a tight budget.
There is a wealth of books available that explain the rationale behind paleolithic nutrition and explain which foods to eat and which to avoid (see The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Solution for my favorites). There is also a new surge of paleo cookbooks on the market (see my favorites Paleo Comfort Foods, Make it Paleo, Well Fed, and for another great family-friendly cookbook try Everyday Paleo). But, Eat Like a Dinosaur fills a void, one that I personally care deeply about. It provides practical tips and family-friendly recipes to help you actually feed your paleo family.
Both my daughters (5 and 2 years old) loved the children’s story that is included as one of the introductory chapters of the book, appropriately entitled “Eat Like a Dinosaur”. I have now read it aloud enough times that I have it memorized! The first time we read it, you could tell that my 5-year old sympathized with Cole’s very familiar story. She laughed aloud at the final punch line of the book (“and then I eat like a dinosaur!”) and has been quoting this motto at dinner every night. I actually think that future editions of Eat Like a Dinosaur should come with this story as an additional standalone book (that way the recipe & guidebook can be in the kitchen with the rest of my cookbooks and the children’s story can be on my kids’ bookshelf for bedtime).
One of the many ways in which this book shines is in its organization, not only in how the book itself is laid out, but in the thoughtful details. The chapters are each color coded so you can flip to what you are looking for quickly. The right hand margin of each recipe page has a graphic with any common allergens that the recipe contains highlighted. Each recipe has an area for you to write your own notes (I always keep notes when I try a new recipe, but in other cookbooks, I have to use post-it notes or write in the margins). Between the recipe photos, the chapter introductions, and the descriptions for each recipe, this entire book is designed to make kids excited about this way of eating and keep grown-ups from feeling overwhelmed.
When you buy this book (available for pre-sale, will be released in one short week on March 20, 2012), make sure to check out the Projects Chapter toward the end. Not only are there some great ideas for family activities to help engender enthusiasm about paleo living, but there are also some great hidden recipes, including fruit & nut bars and paleo candy!
But as with any cookbook, what you really want to know before you buy it is: are the recipes any good?! And, the recipes in Eat Like a Dinosaur have to please a tough crowd: they have to be easy enough for busy families to throw together mid-week and they have to be tasty for both us grown-ups and for kids. So, for my review, I tried 6 recipes from 5 different sections of the book. Some of the recipes are very similar to some of my family’s established favorites, so I can tell you without cooking them that they are great (like the recipes for Hissin’ Chicken and Little Cabbage). For my review, I made sure to try new recipes that push my cooking comfort zone (and also reign in my normal habit of improvising). Here is what I cooked:
Carrot Rounds: Let me be up front with my dislike for cooked carrots. Bland and mushy boiled carrots were a staple of my family growing up, so just the idea of cooked carrots makes me react the way many people do to the idea of eating liver (I, on the other hand, enjoy liver, so I guess I’m a bit odd that way). I typically don’t cook carrots unless they will disappear into a dish with a lot of other ingredients. But these carrots are incredible! The flavor is delightful, the texture is perfect, and they are so quick and easy to put together! My carrots were smaller than what the recipe called for, so I had to adjust the cooking time (and hey, faster is not a bad thing in my house!). They are my 2-year old’s new favorite food and have already been made three times this week!
Honey Barbecue Ground Jerky: I have never made homemade jerky before because I thought I needed a food dehydrator. But the three jerky recipes in Eat Like a Dinosaur come with alternate directions for the oven. My jerky (I used ground bison) was slightly overcooked (silly me, I cooked it overnight instead of during the day when I could keep a closer eye on it), but the taste was so fantastic that no one seemed to mind! I’m so excited about the other jerky recipes that a food dehydrator is now at the top of my kitchen tool wish list (seriously, higher than a crock pot or a vitamix).
Meatball Salad: This recipe caught my attention because ideas for a hot meatball salad of my own have been swirling around my head lately. This recipe was very quick and easy to make, definitely a great choice for a weeknight. The meatballs were simply baked in the oven and then tossed with the other ingredients, which can be easily prepared while the meatballs cook. The flavor of this dinner salad is incredible: a cross between spaghetti, greek salad, and one of our old favorites tomato-basil-mozzarella salad (you don’t miss cheese at all in this dish!). This recipe will definitely be part of our normal rotation (and my own meatball salad ideas seem pretty weak in comparison now).
Papi’s Bars: I’ve been playing with date-based fruit and nut bars a lot in my house lately. This is one of four fruit and nut bar recipes in Eat Like a Dinosaur; and, the second I saw the ingredients list, I knew it would be a favorite of my husband. Extremely fast to make, with no baking required, and portable enough to be packed in a lunch, these bars are a lovely sweet treat and an easy snack to keep around for the kids.
Chocolate Milkshake: How could I not try this super easy recipe! Plus, the inclusion of avocado in the ingredients list definitely peaked my curiosity. The result is a rich, very thick and creamy, not too sweet, very satisfying milk shake that takes about 2 minutes to make. Even halving the recipe was a lot for me to share with both my girls since it’s so filling!
Frozen Waffles: This is the recipe that required the most effort on my part. As my kitchen arch nemesis, paleo waffles and I have a dark past. In fact, my first attempt at paleo waffles was so disastrous that my waffle iron had to be thrown out (amidst sobs of frustration). But waffles are a favorite of my 2-year old and if I ever want to get her completely off grains, I have to be able to make a grain-free version (prior to this recipe, she was eating Trader Joe’s gluten-free frozen waffles). Once I knew that I was going to receive a preview copy of Eat Like a Dinosaur, I knew that this was the recipe that I was going to have to try. I first needed to remedy the lack of waffle iron situation though. Being appropriately skeptical of my waffle-making abilities, I started to shop around for waffle irons with removable parts for cleaning. I finally settled on a Cast Iron Waffle Iron because the entire thing could soak in the sink if need be (plus it was much cheaper than electric options). This turns out to have been both a great decision (because I did need to soak the waffle iron in water to clean it more than once!) and a terrible decision (because the learning curve for cast iron waffle irons is very steep!). I cannot appropriately describe the frustration I felt after waffle upon waffle kept sticking to my waffle iron (yes, there were tears, items were thrown, yelling was heard). I could taste that the waffles would be great if I could only get them to come out! I tried extra rounds of seasoning the cast iron. I tried more oil. I tried less oil. I tried changing the cooking temperature. I tried heating both halves on separate elements. Finally, I changed cooking oils (from coconut oil to olive oil, which I don’t usually like to cook with) and everything came together! Perfect waffles! At some point in the future, I will write an entire post just on how to use a cast iron waffle iron (because they really do make the best waffles once you get the hang of it), but rest assure that my difficulties were not the fault of the recipe. Eat Like a Dinosaur Frozen Waffles taste amazing, and do freeze and toast up beautifully. And best of all, they have allowed me to make an important next step with my 2-year old: getting her off grains altogether.
My family and I have really enjoyed all six recipes that I’ve tried so far (especially the waffles!). And there’s at least 30 more that I’m chomping at the bit to try (Zucchini Latkes are next). In summary, I have absolutely no reservations in recommending this book as the first paleo cookbook you should buy if you are cooking for a family with young kids. And then you and your kids will also be able to “Eat Like a Dinosaur”!