Hungry Monkey is the story of one man’s coming to realize that kids don’t need puree in a jar or special menus at restaurants and that raising an adventurous eater is about exposure, invention, and patience. A restaurant critic and food writer, now a stay-at-home dad, Amster-Burton writes of the highs and lows of teaching your child about food–the high of rediscovering how something tastes for the first time through a child’s unedited reaction, the low of thinking you have a precocious vegetable fiend on your hands only to discover that a child’s preferences change from day to day. Sharing in his culinary capers is little Iris, a budding gourmand and a zippy critic herself, who makes huge sandwiches, gobbles up hot chilis, and even helps around the kitchen sometimes.
Hungry Monkey takes food enthusiasts on a new adventure in eating, with dozens of delicious recipes and notes on which ones can accommodate help from “little fingers.” In the end, our guide reminds us: “Food is fun, and you get to enjoy it three times a day, plus snacks!”
1. Matthew Amster-Burton writes in his introduction, “Enjoying food is how Iris and I get along. I don’t have that much in common with a little girl . . . But I never get tired of sharing food with Iris” (p. 7). In what ways does food bring you and your children, and other people in your life, together? What are other ways that you bond with your child?
2. What was your baby’s first food? How did you decide what it would be? Like Amster-Burton, was it a sleep-deprived choice that you can’t explain now, or a carefully thought-out plan?
3. Starting on page 31, Amster-Burton gives advice on breaking what he sees as socially ingrained baby food rules. Who makes these rules? Where do they come from, and is it possible to change them? What food rules do you break, either for adults or children? Do you use salt and spices in your food? How did you deal with the possibility of allergies?
4. As more and more new books about parenthood, and specifically about feeding our children, appear, Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron seems to remain a staple for many families. Did you use this book, and if so, what did you think of it? Why do you think it has had such enduring popularity? Why does the author take issue with it? Other than books, what else do you rely on to figure out what to feed a growing family?
5. “Like many families, we have a sacred Sunday morning ritual. I’m talking about French toast” (p. 66). What food traditions does your family have? Why do you think we hold food traditions so sacred — not just our individual family rituals, but events like Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl, and Fourth of July barbecues?
6. Have you tried any of the recipes in Hungry Monkey? What did you learn from these recipes about feeding your family, ingredients, or preparation?
7. Matthew and Iris have mixed results when they plant their own garden (chapter 8, “Vegging Out”), though eventually they have a lot of fun. What are the pros and cons of gardening with children? Many schools have added gardening to their curricula, most famously advocated by the chef and restaurateur Alice Waters. What can gardening teach children? Do you think it’s a good addition to a community education program?
8. “Overly restricting sugar is mean,” Amster-Burton writes (p. 95). Was dessert usually a part of meals when you were growing up? Do you eat dessert regularly in your household now?
9. “It’s easy for kids to get involved in making desserts” (p. 97). How do your kids help in the kitchen? What tips can you share with other parents? What can kids learn about food from helping prepare meals?
10. On page 113, Iris asks to eat the eyeball of the fish her father has cooked and then, to her father’s amazement, proceeds to eat not one but both of the eyes. What foods has your child surprised you by eating? Are there foods she eats that you might deem disgusting or refuse to eat yourself? How do you encourage an adventurous eater?
11. In chapter 14, Amster-Burton admits to hating what to decide to make for dinner every night. Who decides what to eat in your family? How do you divide up the responsibility?
12. The author defies long-standing stereotypes in American society: he’s a stay-at-home dad who does all the cooking. Is it important to you to promote (or negate) this type of role model to your children? Amster-Burton was the only father on snack duty at Iris’s school; how do you think his presence affected the students’ perception of accepted gender-defined roles, if at all?
13. In chapter 18, the author takes us on his food fantasy to Japan. Do you have food fantasies? What role has food come to play in our society, where it feels normal to have food fantasies? Do you think the inundation of food-related media — the Food Network, Top Chef, and celebrity chefs who are household names — has changed the way we think about food? How do you see food’s role in our lives changing in the future? How do you think the media will help bring about that change?
Copyright © 2010 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Discussion questions written by Hannah Harlow.