Friday, March 23, 2018

Delicious Library Programs

Like many people, the two great loves in my life are good books, and good food. What better way to integrate the two than to do a library cooking program? Of course, there are many ways in which to do this; I've compiled a list of ideas in which cooking can enhance your library.

Cookbook Clubs

There are a couple different ways that I've seen cookbook clubs work in libraries.
  1. By Theme: Everyone finds and prepares a recipe that follows a certain theme (for example, cheese, cookies, vegetarian, Food Network Stars etc.). Participants bring their completed dish, along with the book it came from (or a printed recipe), to a meeting, and they can eat and discuss the various cookbooks and what they liked or didn't. Pros: you may get everything from Grandma's cheesecake recipe to the new and exciting Food Network stars. Also, you don't have to find many copies of the exact same book.
  2. By Book: Everyone uses the same book (or a choice of two or three pre-chosen books by a certain author or theme), and chooses a recipe to bring. Pros: It's easier to discuss the book itself (Were the directions clear? Does the food actually look like the photos? Did you like how it was organized?) if everyone uses the same book, and you get to try a variety of different foods from the same author. Cons: It may be hard to locate several copies of the same book, and you may have to have a sign-up sheet with different recipes, so you don't end up with everyone bringing the same dish.
Whichever way you decide to go, it's probably a good idea to make sure that there is a copy of each recipe with each dish, so that people who like it may take one or copy one, and also to ensure that any allergies are accounted for.

Book Clubs with Food

Is your book club getting a little tired of chocolate chip cookies every meeting? Perhaps it's time to add some themed refreshments! This is especially fun with books that have a very definite setting, whether somewhere in the world or in time; Jane Austen-era books would be perfect with tea and cucumber sandwiches, while international books may have regional cuisines that might suit. It would be easier for the librarian to have book club members alternate on who brings the refreshments, which means that each person is only responsible for bringing treats about once a year.

I have done this with children's book clubs; while reading Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, we made sandwiches (the main character has a part-time job in a deli); when we read Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, we had Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets, which feature in the story. This helped the readers to connect to the story in a unique and memorable way.

Cooking Classes


Cooking classes for kids are lots of fun. Some places are equipped for actual culinary masterpieces, but for me, they were more mixing and assembling than actually cooking anything (rather than baking cookies, we would decorate them). You can choose from the myriad of cookbooks for children that are out there, or use whichever of your own recipes you like. The hardest part was letting every child be sure to add some of whatever ingredient we were using (hint: if you need 2 Tsp of something, that's 8 kids who get to add 1/4 tsp!) Some ideas that worked well for me (tried and tested!) are:

  • Whipped cream: you need a hand mixer for this one, but that's easy enough. Amaze the kids (I got a lot of "you can MAKE whipped cream?!") and then have them make ice cream sundaes.
  • Make your own ice cream sundaes.
  • Marshmallow treats - great for seasonal programs! Melt the butter and marshmallows in the microwave, stir in cornflakes and green dye for wreaths, chow mein noodles for bird nests (top with jelly bean eggs and Peeps), or Rice Krispies and rainbow sprinkles for a birthday confetti theme.
  • Decorating cookies or cupcakes - always a blast.
  • Dirt & Worms - mix chocolate pudding, cool whip, and oreos; each child gets extra crushed oreos and gummy worms to put on top.
  • Melting chocolate and dipping food into it. (Kids will eat anything covered in chocolate - sour cream & onion potato chips, cheese crackers, you name it.)

I always started with the rules: The first step is always "wash your hands," don't put your mouth on anything until we are ready to eat, parents can have some if there's any left once all the kids are served.


Cooking with teens can be more fun and involved than children's programs are. If you have access to a toaster oven and a microwave, you're in business! A hot plate would be nice, too. Teen recipes can include all the children's recipes as well as:

  • Smoothies - I brought my blender in from home for this one.
  • Nachos
  • English Muffin Pizzas
  • Decorating cookies or cupcakes (including Cupcake Wars and other programs)
  • Melting chocolate and dipping food in it
  • Pancakes (if you have a hot plate)


Adult cooking classes can, of course, be even more complicated. It all depends on the space you have available, but demonstrations are usually easy enough to set up. Everyone can eat while questions are answered, variations are discussed, or future meals are planned. Some program ideas include:

  • One pot meals
  • Slow cooker meals
  • Pasta dishes

Nutrition Classes

It may surprise you how many people could use, and may enjoy, a class on nutrition. The rules have changed quite a bit over the years, from the 4 Food Groups to the Food Pyramid to the My Plate guidelines, and when you get used to eating a certain way, it's even more complicated. (A recommended serving of pasta is HOW small?) Try to include samples of well-prepared healthy foods, because things can be much more delicious, and therefore inviting, when prepared well. (Have you had roasted broccoli? It's life-changing!)

Food Tastings

Take your taste buds on a ride with some delicious food tastings! Learn about chocolate, and try different brands and intensities (white, milk, or dark). Test different teas and see which one you like best. I went to a library program where different teas were paired with different cheeses - it was delicious!

If you're not sure where to start, perhaps locate a local store that specializes in a certain type of food, and see if they're interested in collaborating. As a coffee fan, I would be very interested if a local cafe taught me the differences between blond roast, regular, and dark roast coffee, or what actually is the difference between a latte, cappuccino, and macchiato.

You could also do blind tastings of different brands; perhaps one cheese pizza from each of 3 different restaurants could be compared, or see if patrons could tell the difference between generic and name brand items.

Have you tried it?

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  1. Any word on food consumption/distribution policies? If we have presenters come in to do demos and samples, what type of licensing/certification requirements should be considered?

    1. Unfortunately, my research shows that every library is different. In most libraries, there have been no specific certifications required, but your mileage may vary.
      I would suggest asking your library director for your specific requirements.