The Kitchen Reader: Hungy Monkey

September 30, 2010

This month, The Kitchen Reader gang read Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton. Meryl, from My Bit of Earth, selected this book. As it just so happens, Meryl is cooking up her own Hungry Monkey right now, and will soon be experiencing the adventures of feeding a small child.

What I liked about this book was the writing; I think Amster-Burton is very funny. I don’t have kids, so I can’t relate to his experiences on that level. He fully admits that his situation is not like that of most families: he’s a writer and works from home, he spends a lot of time in the kitchen, and he goes to the grocery store on a daily basis. He’s telling his story, not necessarily trying to tell other parents that he’s figured out how to feed kids.

When Amster-Burton and his wife Laurie had their daughter Iris, they decided that they would eat dinner together as a family: no mac and cheese at 5:00 and then an “adult” dinner later on when she was sleeping. When Iris was old enough to eat solid food, they began their quest to eat together. And Iris ate enchiladas and lobster, and even fish eyeballs at one point. But pickiness came and went, and of course she didn’t always eat what they were eating, although they worked hard to adapt so that they weren’t making a whole separate meal. Dishes that could be “built,” like something with rice, vegetables, and meat, worked well because each person could put together a different combination. The recipes in this book are not what you’d expect in a book about eating with kids: Pad Thai, Stacked Green Enchiladas, Shredded Beef Tacos, Thai Shrimp Curry, and Potstickers to name a few. Yes, Iris ate these things, or at least parts of these things, at least some of the time. Like most children (and many adults), she’d prefer a cupcake with extra frosting most of the time.

A few of the many funny things in the book that made me laugh, and kept me reading:

  • On the subject of sugar: “And as much as I enjoy playing the iconoclast, I can’t advocate turning kids loose on the dessert cabinet. (Okay, I don’t have a dessert cabinet. I want one now, though, because it sounds awesome.)”
  • Discussing how kids start out not picky and become picky as they get older: “I didn’t realize Iris would gobble a huge plate of Brussels sprouts one day and then decide two days later that Brussels sprouts were grown in Hell and sent up via dumbwaiter to torment her.”

Want a sample? You can download the first three chapters of the book here. Also be sure to check out what the other members of The Kitchen Reader thought about this one.


  1. Thanks for the review. I’ve seen the same phenomenon, with kids eating something and turning off it overnight. I still don’t understand it!

  2. I love funny books, especially those about food. This looks like a real good read.

  3. Cute story – and an excellent synopsis. Once you have kids, you will understand.

  4. This sounds like a great book, particularly if raising your own kids. My brother won’t go much beyond meat and 3 vege, and he’s in his mid-30s.

    • Ha, some people never get over being picky! I don’t think I was very picky, but my mom might disagree.

  5. I agree – i thought the author is a great writer and it made for an entertaining read. I’m not sure how many recipes I’m going to try in the book since my primary goal isn’t making meals that ar kid-friendly, but the one that got my attention was a Thai shrimp curry on page 228. Other recipes I’ve tried have left out the fish sauce and his has it, which makes me think it will be more authentic (the other versions I tried were too bland).

    There are definitely things I wouldn’t eat as a child that I will happily eat now – most of them are vegetables and it’s cuz I now know-how to cook them. And having just come back from vacation in Europe, I wonder what children are like in food-culture countries such as Spain, France and Italy – are they as picky as North American children?

  6. What a funny read. I loved the way he approached this subject – it really needed to be done. And he’s such a talented writer that the book can speak to and make people laugh whether they have kids or not. Great question about European children. We have a house in a French hamlet where there are kids and hence we spend a lot of time eating – and watching other people eat – over there :). There isn’t the same pickiness factor at all!! In fact, you should see the menu for the school lunches: lamb, carrots, salad, a slice of cheese…and when my son broke his arm when we were living there and had to have surgery guess what they served him in the hospital when the anesthesia wore off? Pate and cheese (he would have preferred chicken nuggets)!!!

    • Pate and cheese sounds fabulous post surgery, though I wonder if I would be too out of it to really enjoy myself!

      Any idea why the French children are such adventurous eaters? Do the parents do something differently? I’m curious since the author seems to be doing everything he can to expose his daughter to all sorts of foods, but she’s picky nonetheless.

    • My guess is that for French children, pate isn’t adventurous. Chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly probably would be adventurous to them!

  7. I agree, a dessert cabinet would be awesome. Those bits made me laugh, too!

  8. A dessert cabinet. Oh, how I would LOVE that!!!!

  9. So glad you enjoyed the book! It made me laugh out loud, and it sounds like everyone else has had the same reaction, so yay!

  10. I’ve been thinking about why French children may seem more adventurous than American kids and I think it’s a result of a combination of factors. For one thing, they don’t have the same amount of salty, processed convenience foods lining their shelves that we do over here. It seems like the since WWII corporations and businesses have been developing a snack food and freezer food culture in America so that’s just what a lot of kids get used to – whether or not it’s at home, at friends’ houses or at school. And then there’s just plain different food over here. We don’t have markets that sell stinky cheeses, pates and paella so as kids we’re just seeing and eating different things like hamburgers and white bread. I don’t mean to sound judgmental – just reflective – because I myself have been know to eat and love white bread and hamburgers. Hey, I’m an American after all!

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