Books that encourage you to play with your food

Tired of books that tell you how to hide the broccoli in a pan of brownies? Need a fresh approach to making healthy food fun for the kids? Check out "Bean Appetit."

The book from Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen, founders of Bean Sprouts cafe in Madison, Wis. (published earlier this year by Andrews McMeel), offers goofy, eye-rolling chapter titles - "Let it Bean" and "Peacasso" - and kid-friendly recipes the little ones can make for themselves.

Some of the recipes rely on gimmicks - tomato faces and spinach-and-chicken palm trees - but most present a full-frontal view of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

A spinach-and-cheese omelet becomes a finger-friendly "Ready to Roll-Up" and the apple-sweet potato "Snuggle-Up Soup" gets served in a hollowed-out apple. "Pinwheel Pot Stickers" flaunt carrots, edamame and avocado.

Part activity guide, part cookbook, "Bean Appetit" also includes skill-building challenges, such as how to crack an egg and how to use chopsticks. Tips on table manners are supplemented with conversation-inspiring questions ("If your family were to form a band, what would you name it?") and fun food facts (a hard boiled egg will spin longer than a raw one).

This is a wonderful little volume for creating fun at the table, as well as lifelong habits for healthy eating.

Once they've eaten all their veggies, you can treat the whole family to a work of art for dessert. "What's New Cupcake," a sequel by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson to their best-selling "Hello, Cupcake," makes pastry artists out of even the most butterfingered parents.

Ordinary candies, such as malted balls, M&M's, candy corns and marshmallow peanuts, are used to transform ordinary cupcakes into fish, suns and lobsters. Jellybeans masquerade as flower petals and butterflies. An entire meal of pork lo mein and Chinese fried rice - take out container and all - emerges from a tumble of green Tootsie Rolls, puffed rice cereal and jellybeans.

The beautiful photos and easy-to-follow directions (diagrams included!) help even the cake-mix challenged create cupcakes that look like lattice pies and critters from ducks to moose to flamingos. It'll make you want to stock the pantry with pink and blue sugars, mini-marshmallows, flaked coconut and tiny pretzel sticks that double as animal legs, trees or buttresses.

"What's New, Cupcake?" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson