This morning as I lifted my grinning ten-month old from her crib, I nestled my nose into her head and neck and inhaled a delightful fragrance: garlic, lemon, and za’atar. Last night Josh and I enjoyed one of our favorite weeknight dinners, a chicken smothered in all three ingredients and roasted to sputtering sienna, served with sautéed asparagus and herb-smashed red potatoes. And so did Clara, who was particularly enthusiastic about gumming the tender tips of the asparagus, after brieﬂy brandishing the stalks as playthings.
I’ll be frank: I’ve been looking forward to the feeding piece of parenting in the same way that other moms and dads anticipate teaching their kids the ABCs or how to throw a baseball. My husband Josh and I share a deep love of eating adventurously and eating well, and of continually sharpening our culinary craft with novel recipes and yet-untried techniques. Lychee season? We’ll go out of our way to the tiny Asian market several times per week until they’re gone. DIY hickory and applewood smoking? Josh has doggedly perfected his signature method, which lures hopeful neighbors to our front porch for an assurance that a pound or so of the pulled pork goodness is slated for them (we’re still working on the perfect BBQ sauce). Our reverence for all things food-centric drew us together in our early dating life, and will no doubt continue to comprise a delectable common ground in our marriage, and hopefully, in raising Clara. Upon ﬁnding out that she was on the way, our discussions often centered how we could gracefully instill our food values in her. Sure, it was going to be great fun to introduce the wonders of authentic hot and sour soup, but what if she was a picky eater? How would we ensure that she would get the perfect blend of macro and micronutrients for her developing body? How did we hit the perfect balance of feeding her for health and for pleasure?
So, while I was pregnant, I plied myself with hundreds of cups of Greek yogurt, buckets of sautéed garlicky kale, an embarrassingly high number of croissants aux amandes, and a good half-dozen books on prenatal nutrition and baby / childhood feeding. I found a dizzying variety of opinions regarding the “best” ways to feed your baby and develop healthy, enthusiastic eaters. Some authors cautioned parents to hold oﬀ on peanuts, citrus, and shellﬁsh; others encouraged parents to introduce them sooner than later to avoid developing allergies. Some advised starting solids promptly at four months (and that it always be should rice cereal); others maintained that six to seven months was more advantageous for “healthy gut” and that grains were “too hard to digest”. And purees—who knew there was such a ﬁery debate about this traditional and innocuous preparation? The “baby led weaning” proponents would have you believe that spooning strained peas into your little one’s mouth would indeﬁnitely lead to obesity or, at least, an “unhealthy” relationship with food. The directives and advice was overwhelming for any new mom, much less someone who has worked in the natural food industry.
So, when all was said and done, I decided I’d just draw my own habits: we’d feed Clara our food—real foods—the same ones that Josh and I make and enjoy at home ourselves. A mini food chopper and coconut milk for thinning made this a snap. This approach has simpliﬁed everything, and saved us a lot of money to boot, since we don’t have to buy prepackaged baby foods. I’ve also found out it’s easy to read her cues and to trust my instincts. The day she reached up to the Honeycrisp apple I was munching and, after gumming it a bit, her eyes lit up in a way I hadn’t yet seen. Yup. Even though I’d planned on waiting until six months, at ﬁve and a half, she was telling me she wanted something else in addition to mama’s milk. I don’t measure or obsess about what she gets, and other than a sprinkle of ground ﬂax seed on her morning yogurt, I keep it pretty straightforward. At ten months she’s sampled dozens of diﬀerent foods, from basics like squash to more sophisticated things like her Daddy’s truﬄed eggs, and she loves it all. Variety and fresh foods pretty much guarantee that that she’ll get a healthy mix of nutrients and new tastes. Here’s a quick list of some of Clara’s favorite foods. You’ll note that a lot of them are “adult” dishes!
- Plain full-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries & ﬂax seed
- Plain keﬁr blended with strawberries
- Maple pumpkin coconut custards
- Orange slices
- Pureed mango
- Stewed prunes & apricots
- Homemade guacamole
- Chipotle black bean refritos
- Garlicky hummus
- Natural peanut butter & bananas
- Sweet potatoes mashed with cinnamon & coconut oil
- Truﬄed eggs with scallions
- Salmon with lemon & dill
- Garlic roasted spinach, kale, and broccoli, or cauliﬂower
- Sweet peas with butter & mint
- Beef, barley, and mushroom stew
- Saag paneer
Of course, there are some basic guidelines and considerations for feeding your little one: we try to incorporate lots of protein, healthy fats, and abstain from excessive added salt or any added sugar. We also give a Vitamin D supplement and lots of green veggies to provide iron, since breast milk doesn’t supply much of that after 6 months, per our pediatrician.
Feeding Clara what we eat keeps us on track, too! Josh and I eat better because Clara’s eating with us. I’m more bound to (very automatically) make more of an eﬀort to ensure we’ve got a “power” veggie and healthy protein every night, because I’m aware that it’s going into her belly, too. I dig through my spices more often to see—what new ﬂavor I can let her sample with her pear? Nutmeg and cardamom? I’ll toss it in a pan with some orange juice and butter, and we’ve got an interesting little post-dinner sweet.
And, perhaps, the most welcome change is that we’ve also made a return to our dining room table, which had sat too neat and too dusty for any real home to bear. The TV is oﬀ, and our smartphones lay silent in the other room. The pleasures of the table now have a messier, laughter-ﬁlled quality that feels more like home than anything else I’ve had in many years. My family lives scattered far and wide across the country, and shared meal times with them has been scare stuﬀ. Now that rareﬁed feeling has tucked itself back into my life, like a well-worn napkin under ones’ chin…Or should I say bib?
-Sara Talcott (and Clara)