Having kids has most definitely changed the way we eat. Time is a big factor here. Spending more than half an hour cooking, especially on a weekday, is nearly impossible, and for a long (veeerrry long) time that meant we were eating a lot of takeout. Or frozen pizza (Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio imported from Italy, but still). Or both.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with the variety of food our kids eat. Kasper’s still on fruit purees, rice cereal and full-fat yoghurt, but he’s just seven months so we try to cut him some slack. His brother Jules, at 3 ½, has what I’d consider a pretty varied palate, though he doesn’t do spicy, and for a long time would avoid anything green that touched his plate. He’s got a pretty big sweet tooth, which needs to be managed, but is also a fruit-a-holic with a soft spot for mangoes, and will try just about everything, which is all I expect of him. Of course that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t eat yoghurt for dinner a few times a week because he’s turned his nose up at whatever we’ve served him. But we keep serving him. One day, who knows? Maybe he’ll start gobbling up that asparagus and pesto risotto and ask for seconds of the salad greens.
I have to admit I’m jealous of people whose kids are what you might call ‘adventurous’ eaters. Kids who love spicy food, eat cauliflower like candy, don’t shy away from leaves. Kids who have no weird quirks like being half-Belgian and never touching potatoes, even when they’re french-fried (which is just WRONG, by the way). So many of the ‘experts’ tell you that your kids’ tastes for food develop in infancy (some even say in the womb, which is why I packed in as much spicy food as I could, heartburn be damned, so I could enjoy it with my kid when he joined me earthside), so parents like me start feeling the pressure to not turn their kids into Dorito-stuffing slobs (of, in my case, their own childhood) while that babe is still just a twinkle in mama’s eye.
Did I not heed the call and make my own organic fruit purees? Yes, I did. Religiously, for the first few months. Check the labels on cereals, yoghurts, whatever, for grams of “sugars” or “trans fats,” and scan ingredient lists for mercuric traces of high fructose corn syrup? Well, of course I did. I love my child, don’t I? And let me tell you, to keep this up while all the while every spoonful you shovel in is greeted with a gag and shiver that says, “WHY must you torture me this way?” requires the patience of a saint. Mommy guilt and mommy martyrdom walk hand in hand.
So I bought jarred baby food (organic, naturally). He slurped it up. I bought Gerber Graduate Veggie Puffs (not organic to say the least, but they were sweet potato and how can you go wrong with sweet potato?). He developed a newfound confidence in his pincher grasp as those little bits of chemical goodness dissolved in his mouth. To make up for this, I pureed some home-made lentil, spinach, brown rice, cranberry goulash until it looked like dogfood. He liked that, too. For a time.
The second time around I’m a little more relaxed. While I’m not dunking Doritos in formula (can you tell I love these chips?) to soften them up for the baby, I only felt the tiniest twinge of guilt when it came to buying that first jar of fruit puree. Jules is proof to me (as if I weren't proof enough) that “taste” is part inherited, part shaped by your environment, and can be re-shaped (within certain limits) at just about any point along the way. My goal right now is to set my kids up for success with food to the best of my abilities. One of the ways I know I can do this is by involving them in making their own food, from growing it, to harvesting it, to cooking it, to talk talk talking about it. So we planted a garden. Jules started eating lettuce. We visit farms. Jules joins me in the kitchen, helping out sometimes, talking about cooking, or just getting in my way. I'm glad he's there. He loves it. And I hope he keeps loving it, because I sure do enjoy it much more than I do crawling around the floor with a dump truck making deep raspy engine noises.
More updates on this, most surely, to follow. But for now, I’ll leave you with a picture of a cake Jules and I baked. Together. For me.