Book Review – Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

by Naveen Agarwal

in Helpful Tips,Product Reviews

HungryMonkeyCoverThe title of this book resonated with me a lot! Except that in our case, we have two hungry monkeys on our hands!!

I first came across this book by Matthew Amster-Burton when I read a review in the New York Times last month. I contacted Matthew who graciously sent me a complimentary copy so I could write my own review on this blog. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as I read it cover-to-cover during the last couple of weeks. I wish I had time to try out a few of his recipes before writing this review, but I don’t want to delay presenting to you my first impressions about this book. I will surely be writing more about it as we try some of the recipes and tricks with our kiddos.


Overall, I found this book honest, delightful and deliciously funny! And of course, extremely useful because of over 50 recipes spread across the 21 chapters. Don’t let that scare you though – the book is just a little over 200 pages and reads extremely well, almost like a nice story!

Written in an informal and conversational tone, it keeps your interest while delivering a few chuckles if you have lived through the daily battles with a picky eater. As a dad, I could relate to Matthew’s trials and tribulations on many levels. In all honesty though, I must admit that I frequently felt pangs of envy since he gets to spend so much time with his daughter Iris while having a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of recipes. His knowledge of food, different cuisines and cooking methods is very impressive. Although he has the right experience over the years as a restaurant critic and food writer, he does not take the high ground in this book and writes in a down-to-earth practical way. Here are a few things I really liked about this book –

  • His overall attitude that you don’t have to be a good cook to share food with your child. No need to put so much pressure on yourself to make perfect recipes all the time.
  • No reason to prepare a different meal for your child; make something that all of you can eat as a family.
  • I loved the Little Fingers tips in his recipes for getting the kids involved in a cooking project.
  • His attitude on picky eating – picky eating is annoying but not a medical problem. It sure puts things in perspective.
  • Reading the chapter Sugar Makes Parents Hyper made me realize that my son’s interest in anything sweet is perfectly normal. Of course, it is fine to regulate the overall sugar consumption, but there is no point getting agitated by a few cookies during the day.
  • Eating = Fun, that’s the attitude we need to cultivate as parents.
  • Amazing stories of how he managed to teach Iris to cook pancakes and grilled sandwiches.
  • Good breakfast tips- McCann’s Irish Oatmeal, french toast and syrup, homemade waffles

10 things I learned from this book I did not know before

  1. You can blend spinach into meatballs. I want to try his recipe for chicken and spinach meatballs.
  2. Some veggies, especially leafy greens can irritate the taste buds of a small child. That could explain the early aversion to vegetables.
  3. All eel sold in the US comes from China even though a lot of eel is caught off the Southeastern US and shipped to Japan. Doesn’t sound very “green” to me!
  4. Chicken Teriyaki is Seattle’s favorite lunch. I have never been to Seattle, so I did not know that. Amazing coincidence – our twins love to go to the local Mall to enjoy the Japanese style fast food Teriyaki chicken with fried rice.
  5. Meat grinding at home can be fun for kids to watch as the “worms” come out of the other end. It also gives you higher quality meat since oxygen has not had enough time to turn it “stale”.
  6. Quote from Ellyn Satter – involving children in cooking and gardening in the hope that doing so will make them eat better does not work.
  7. You can mix shrimp with grits. I always thought grits were something you had for breakfast – and for some reason – I never thought of mixing it with shrimp.
  8. Taste for food develops over time and is based on personal experience. Based on an experiment from MIT, if you know you are not going to like something, it is unlikely you will develop a “taste” for it after trying it. This flies in the face of “try a bite” strategy for getting your child to eat new foods.
  9. Peer pressure works very well in getting people to develop a taste for different foods later during the adult years. I wonder – can it start early?
  10. Iris had raw fish at 11 months in the form of mashed tuna from a spicy tuna roll. Bottom line – be adventurous (but not foolish) when it comes to exposing your child to new stuff.

What I did not like so much

  • I thought Matthew was a little too harsh on Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food especially when it comes to food allergies. I admit, I have not read this book, nor do I plan to. I am glad things worked out well for Iris, but there is nothing more nerve-wracking for a parent than to watch her child throw up violently for no reason. In my opinion, it is better to be cautious at least in the first two years. I do like his attitude that of still finding ways to enjoy food when you have known food allergies by experimenting with recipes and ingredients.
  • I am surprised that he did not mention Basmati rice even though Iris is a big rice-eater. Unlike jasmine rice, basmati rice is low in glycemic index and has a great texture and fragrance.
  • He uses  a little too much butter in his recipes. I am also not a big fan of pork and bacon.
  • I would have liked a few more vegetarian recipes.
  • I love pictures, so it would have been nice to see the pictures of his recipes.


Overall, a very entertaining and yet a very informative book, which you may consider in case you find yourself

  • wanting to read a real dad’s real experiences when it comes to raising a healthy eater;
  • wanting to experience a variety of foods and eating experiences with your child;
  • feeling overwhelmed and confused by tons of heavy technical information related to nutrition;
  • feeling motivated to bring a sense of fun, adventure and enjoyment to family mealtimes;
  • wanting to enjoy your child’s growth in the early years when the daily battles at mealtimes make you want to say I quit!

Overall, I give it a big thumbs up! Visit to read the first 3 chapters and information on how to buy this book.

Leave me a comment if you found this review useful.


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  • rebecca subbiah

    great review

  • rebecca subbiah

    great review

  • cathy

    Glad to read this review! I think that I’ll have to read this book now.

  • cathy

    Glad to read this review! I think that I’ll have to read this book now.

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