[Little Brother at 12 months, the first time I let him play with the remains of his dinner on his own.]
When my first son started solid foods, I dreamt of creating the perfect food lover. He was going to eat a variety of foods, all organic, nothing processed. I was going to prove that it was ALL about raising, nothing to do with those pesky hard-wired genes. But as we all know, the road to a very hot place is paved with good intentions. And sometimes I feel like I have arrived in Hell, because despite my good intentions I have a fairly picky 3 year old. He likes: apples, carrots, cucumber, hot dogs, chicken (sometimes), pasta, bread, cereal (not the sugary kind), watermelon, ham, eggs, peas, pizza, peanut butter crackers. Which may sound like a lot, but really it's not when you consider the millions of other exciting foods out there. I should also point out that he likes these things more or less unsullied by any spices or exotic cooking methods. Steamed or boiled carrots only, not raw ones. Pasta with butter and cheese only. Plain bread or if it's toasted it has butter and cinnamon sugar. Where did I go wrong?
Well, the more I consider my boys and watch them grow, the more I have to admit that a lot of who they are is just there, from birth. My eldest loved cars and balls from the moment he could clutch them in his tiny baby hands. His brother? Not so you would notice. The youngest likes music, and even at eight months would start swaying and clapping when he heard a jingle on the TV that he liked. Unlike his older brother (who just bangs away), when given access to the piano, little brother carefully plays with individual notes.
So perhaps my first son was destined to be a picky eater. Then again, I think I made some classic first time parent mistakes when I started him on solid food. I worried far too much about whether he would have an allergic reaction, whether the food was organic, whether he would choke to death on a tiny piece of unprocessed food. The baby books and Internet told me that adding salt and butter to his food was a grave sin and I believed them. They told me that I should never give him more than one new ingredient at a time and I believed that too. As a result, I couldn't follow the common sense advice of my mother to just purée a bit of our own dinners for him: when was the last time you cooked using no salt, no butter or fat and no more than one spice? So now he likes plain food.
His brother, on the other hand, is an omnivore. He's an eating machine and I have yet to find a food he doesn't like. In the last five months, he has eaten curried rice, Hungarian goulash, fish and chips, English breakfast sausages, pork and lemon meatballs, Cranberry and Quinoa Salad with Coriander and Chili Dusted Chicken, roast potatoes with roasted chicken meat, and a load of other adult dishes. In addition, I have been so much more relaxed about the baby food I create just for him, using salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, mint, basil, paprika and even garlic to make them more tasty and interesting. I don't know if it's due to this early training, but he tends to eat very little of a dish if it's missing one of these elements. So I thought I would put together a list of some of the baby food combinations I have made for him recently. There aren't actually 101 of them, but still there are quite a few. And some of them have led to interesting dinners for the rest of the family when I tasted his and decided it was good. (For example, the zucchini, mint and yogurt combination, which makes a lovely cold soup!)
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a dietician, just an opinionated mother. Do discuss with your doctor what your baby can eat before you blindly trust my example. Some children are more likely to have allergies and I would hate to be the cause of a trip to the emergency room.
I use my Braun hand mixer to purée most of these, though now that Little Brother is 14 months old I am starting to mash things more and even sometimes hand them to him as finger food.
Baby food ideas
1) Broccoli, potato, butter and salt
2) Zucchini, a drizzle of olive oil and a leaf of fresh basil
3) Carrots and leeks boiled together and whizzed with a bit of crème fraîche
4) Potatoes mashed with Parmesan cheese and butter, salt and pepper
5) Carrots and turnips with a bit of butter
6) Butternut squash baked with a fennel, oregano and thyme (this recipe, minus the onion sauce)
7) Carrots and Boursin cheese
8) Zucchini steamed and then puréed with a few leaves of mint and a dollop of plain full fat yogurt
9) Puréed (cooked) celeriac with a tablespoon of finely minced ham
10) Peas and mint with a dab of butter
11) Peas and potatoes, salt, butter
12) Overcooked rottini pasta tossed with garlic butter and grated Parmesan (great finger food!)
13) Toast fingers with jam or cinnamon sugar and butter
14) Applesauce made with dried apricots
15) Applesauce made with prunes
16) Pureed nectarines (uncooked, now that he is old enough) mixed with yogurt or petit suisse cheese
17) Green beans with potatoes, butter, salt and a dash of parika
18) Fava beans with minced ham (in France, you can buy frozen fava beans - fèves - at most grocery stores)
19) Artichoke hearts with lemon butter (again, these are available in the frozen food section of French supermarkets)
20) Sole with mashed potatoes and butter
21) Leek and potatoes with crème fraîche, salt, and butter (you need to purée, not just mash, to incorporate the leek)
22) Potato, cheddar cheese and finely minced ham with a little salt and pepper
23) Potatoes with any leftover gravy you may have in the fridge (One big hit was the gravy from a Pork roast with Fennel and Apples.)
24) Bananas and yogurt
25) Strawberries and bananas
26) Zucchini and Parmesan cheese with a drizzle of olive oil
27) Carrots, butter, mint
28) Roasted eggplant with a dollop of yogurt and a dash of home made curry powder
29) Frozen artichoke hearts, peas and a potato boiled together and puréed with butter, salt, and a touch of lime juice
30) Mashed potatoes with anchovies and a sprig of fresh thyme and a dash of pepper
31) Baby borscht: boiled beets, a boiled or roasted potato and a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. You can thin it with a bit of beef broth if you have any on hand.
32) Spaghetti squash, roasted potatoes and chicken with a bit of dried sage.
33) Baby bubble and squeak: steam a few leaves of cabbage until good and limp, being careful to remove the tough center of the leaves first. Purée with a big spoonful of mashed potatoes, butter and a generous pinch of salt.
So what are your favorite tricks and tips and recipes for little ones?