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  • Writer's pictureAdam Ryan Chang

Let's Talk About Food! A Picture Book Review: Just Try One Bite

Camila Alves McConaughey (mom and healthy food advocate) and New York Times best-selling author Adam Mansbach made our family laugh in this parent-child swap rhyming picture book, Just Try One Bite.

Of course it's silly when mom and dad want a gummy worm caramel swirl milkshake for breakfast (this isn't an actual line from the book, but it gives you a sense of what you can expect). And whose kid doesn't enjoy a little power trip? I really like the Freaky Friday approach because children can start to imagine what it'd be like if parents went a bit off the rail when it came to structure and routine. It also opens the door for conversation around food. And I mean REAL food. Food that tastes good, nourishes our bodies, and doesn't leave us feeling sluggish afterwards.

Let's be clear -- healthy eating habits start with the adults. The topic can be sensitive because I know what it's like to be a new parent and not feel like one's best self after months (or years) of sleep deprivation, missed opportunities to hit the gym, and settle for the convenience that fast food offers. And let's continue to check our privilege when it comes to wealth and access to organic produce, or appreciate the fact that we can purchase any produce at all when much of America remains a food desert (The USDA defines a food desert as a place where at least a third of the population lives more than one mile away from a supermarket for urban areas, or greater than 10 miles for rural areas). What I appreciate about this book is that it reinforces balance as the main theme with healthy eating. Yes to fries, burgers, and pizza, but also yes to broccoli, chicken noodle soup, and hummus!

In Just Try One Bite, young readers can take in all the over-the-top depictions of extra sugary, super cheesy, and all too familiar dessert combos (kudos to illustrator Mike Boldt). In between the giggles and chuckles, adults can engage with young readers by asking, "What's so funny about that?" And I don't mean that we should be critical and interrogate children. It's light and rhetorical. I imagine an ideal response might be something like, "Because chocolate and pizza in the morning is cRaZy, you silly adult caregiver!" From there, adults can interject with lines like, "You're right! My tummy would hurt if I ate all that!" Or, "I'd probably get ten cavities if I ate that everyday!" See -- learning can be fun! And well, teaching can be fun too!

The rhymes are creative (although I agree with some other reviews that the writing stumbles a couple of times; not enough to trash this otherwise amazing book). I recommend taking turns with your young reader for each paragraph. My little one and I were definitely laughing and mocking one another when someone tripped over a word or missed the rhyming rhythm. Can one read with two left feet? All good fun in correcting mispronounced words.

The picture book also gets points for featuring a diverse family (white dad, BIPOC mom, and mixed-race kids).

I'm cooking more these days and that means weekly trips to the grocers with my 6-year-old. I do my best to play up to my daughter's strengths. She's really into her own independence so I'll ask if she'd like to carry the grocer basket. I try to avoid the shopping cart because she'll insist on pushing it. If we have to go with a cart, I check to see if they have the smaller sized ones. I figure there's less of a chance she'll ram it into the heel of an unsuspecting grown up.

The grocery store comes with its own sights, scents, structure, and rules. From fresh produce to cereal boxes, we talk about size, weight, and even cost. Just recently we explored cheese at Trader Joe's. They have great handwritten signs at just the right height for kids to read about Italian aged-this and goat cheese-that. The nice thing about bringing my daughter is that I can also ask her what she'd like to eat. This way, I'm building up her agency around food and also instilling responsibility that she has to eat what she chooses (I hate wasting food). Don't read this to mean I have the perfect eater. She currently hates carrots and tomatoes. But she had a turkey wrap for dinner and she's developing her own identity around food -- she let me know earlier today that she's still a vegan-tarian. Baby steps!

You can grab Just Try One Bite from Penguin Random House.

Adam Mansbach is on Twitter @adammansbach.

Camila Alves McConaughey is on Twitter @iamcamilaalves.

Illustrator Mike Boldt is on Instagram @thatmikeboldt.

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