Here are my favorite books about food—including how to feed kids and our larger relationship with food and bodies—that have informed my own thinking about my work. And they are where I turn whenever real-life challenges arise with food or feeding.
Best Books About Food
I know we all want a quick fix when it comes to eating struggles with our kids, but honestly, it’s usually not how things work. For me, it’s been incredibly important to sort through my own relationship with food and the impact of diet culture on everything we hear and see about food—because we can’t feed our kids with true freedom unless we can see how those factors are impacting what and how we offer our kids, and how we define success.
Which is to say that this list probably is not what you were expecting. Yes, there are two books that are more or less guidebooks for how to actually feed kids—they are the first two—but the rest of the books are to help provide us parents with perspective and understanding on how our culture got here.
A lot of struggles with “picky eating” are actually due to being unable to trust our kids hunger. Or a flawed understanding of what’s normal for any one stage of development. Or forgetting that we’re all incredibly unique and will eat differently.
If you want to jump right to the framework I follow for feeding my own kids, head to my post on the feeding approach known as the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. And you can learn what to do when a toddler isn’t eating and what “normal” eating in toddlers looks like. This list of food books for kids is full of positive picture books that can help kids explore food without pressure.
For more researched writings from experts in the field on how to improve our relationship with food—and nurture the ones are kids are born with—the list below is for you.
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By Sumner Brooks and Amee Severson
This is my top recommendation when someone asks what to do about a particular feeding challenge with their child. Kids are born intuitive eaters. Well-meaning parents, influenced by the diet culture that surrounds us all, are often concerned about how to best feed their children. Nearly everyone is talking about what to do about the childhood obesity epidemic. Meanwhile, every proposed solution for how to feed kids to promote health and prevent weight-related health concerns don’t mention the importance of one thing: a healthy relationship with food. The consequences can be disastrous and are indistinguishable from the predictable and well-researched impact that dieting has on adults. Weight cycling, low self-esteem, deviations from normal growth, and eating disorders are just some of the negative health effects children can experience from the fear-based approach to food and eating that has become the norm in our culture.
By Katja Rowell MD and Jenny McGlothlin, this book is a great option for any family experiencing extreme stress around feeding a child. After gaining a foundation of understanding of your child’s challenges and the dynamics at play, you’ll be ready for the 5 steps (built around the clinically proven STEPS+ approach―Supportive Treatment of Eating in PartnershipS) that transform feeding and meals so your child can learn to enjoy a variety of foods in the right amounts for healthy growth. You’ll discover specific strategies for dealing with anxiety, low appetite, sensory challenges, autism spectrum-related feeding issues, oral motor delay, and medically based feeding problems. Tips and exercises reinforce what you’ve learned, and dozens of “scripts” help you respond to your child in the heat of the moment, as well as to others in your child’s life (grandparents or your child’s teacher) as you help them support your family on this journey. This book will prove an invaluable guide to restore peace to your dinner table and help you raise a healthy eater.
First Bite: How We Learn How to Eat
By Bee Wilson
This contains a broader look at why we feed our kids the way that we do, and it’s such a fascinating read if you want some big picture perspective. It’s well-researched and is chock full of information about how our food habits form in early childhood, which is useful info for any parent of small kids!
By Aubrey Gordon, co-host of the popular podcast Maintenance Phase, this New York Times bestseller is one I couldn’t put down. In You Just Need to Lose Weight, Aubrey Gordon equips readers with the facts and figures to reframe myths about fatness in order to dismantle the anti-fat bias ingrained in how we think about and treat fat people. Bringing her dozen years of community organizing and training to bear, Gordon shares the rhetorical approaches she and other organizers employ to not only counter these pernicious myths, but to dismantle the anti-fat bias that so often underpin them.
Her first book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, is a great resource, too.
Author Virginia Sole-Smith, who is admittedly my best friend, has been integral in changing and shaping the way I think about our relationships with food and our body. (She also writes the Burnt Toast newsletter.) By the time they reach kindergarten, most kids have learned that “fat” is bad. As they get older, kids learn to pursue thinness in order to survive in a world that ties our body size to our value. Multibillion-dollar industries thrive on consumers believing that we don’t want to be fat. Our weight-centric medical system pushes “weight loss” as a prescription, while ignoring social determinants of health and reinforcing negative stereotypes about the motives and morals of people in larger bodies. And parents today, having themselves grown up in the confusion of modern diet culture, worry equally about the risks of our kids caring too much about being “thin” and about what happens if our kids are fat. Sole-Smith shows how the reverberations of this messaging and social pressures on young bodies continue well into adulthood―and what we can do to fight them.
Fat Talk argues for a reclaiming of “fat,” which is not synonymous with “unhealthy,” “inactive,” or “lazy.” Talking to researchers and activists, as well as parents and kids across a broad swath of the country, Sole-Smith lays bare how America’s focus on solving the “childhood obesity epidemic” has perpetuated a second crisis of disordered eating and body hatred for kids of all sizes. She exposes our society’s internalized fatphobia and elucidates how and why we need to stop “preventing obesity” and start supporting kids in the bodies they have.
Her first book, The Eating Instinct is a great read, too.
Molly Forbes lays out an easy-to-read plan to help do what we can to preserve the inherent body acceptance our kids are born with. No parent wants their child to grow up with anything less than wholehearted confidence in themselves. Sadly research shows that children as young as five are saying they need to “go on a diet” and over half of 11 to 16-year-olds regularly worry about the way they look. Campaigner and mum-of-two-girls Molly Forbes is here to help. In Body Happy Kids, Molly draws on her own experience and a range of experts to provide parents with a much-needed antidote to the confusing health advice that bombards us every day. This reassuring and practical guide covers everything you need to help your child to care for their body with kindness, including how to approach good nutrition (without falling for diet culture), how to see the reality behind beauty ideals and how social media can be used to support body confidence rather than destroy it.
RDN Evelyn Tribole, MS (Author), RDN Elyse Resch, MS
Yes, this is another book for parents to read to help sort through their own relationship with food. When it was first published, Intuitive Eating was revolutionary in its anti-dieting approach. The authors, both prominent health professionals in the field of nutrition and eating disorders, urge readers to embrace the goal of developing body positivity and reconnecting with one’s internal wisdom about eating―to unlearn everything they were taught about calorie-counting and other aspects of diet culture and to learn about the harm of weight stigma. Today, their message is more relevant and pressing than ever.
Jessica Wilson’s new book is the latest one to join my shelf. In It’s Always Been Ours, eating disorder specialist and storyteller Jessica Wilson challenges us to rethink what having a “good” body means in contemporary society. By centering the bodies of Black women in her cultural discussions of body image, food, health, and wellness, Wilson argues that we can interrogate white supremacy’s hold on us and reimagine the ways we think about, discuss, and tend to our bodies.
A narrative that spans the year of racial reckoning (that wasn’t), It’s Always Been Ours is an incisive blend of historical documents, contemporary writing, and narratives of clients, friends, and celebrities that examines the politics of body liberation. Wilson argues that our culture’s fixation on thin, white women reinscribes racist ideas about Black women’s bodies and ways of being in the world as “too much.” For Wilson, this white supremacist, capitalist undergirding in wellness movements perpetuates a culture of respectability and restriction that force Black women to perform unhealthy forms of resilience and strength at the expense of their physical and psychological needs.
Sonya Renee Taylor’s classic was recently rereleased in its second edition and is a must-read. Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies.
The Body Is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems. World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world—for us all.
Let me know if you have a book to add in the comments.
This post was first published December 2018.