Bon Appétit Baby! Say Goodbye to Mashed up Peas

Baby diets aren’t what they used to be

I’m off to my friend Monica’s house for a playdate. She’s asked me to return the Annabel Karmel baby cookbook I borrowed months earlier. I crack it open for the first time just before I go. Thank God I didn’t look earlier. I could have suffered months of guilt over all the fabulous meals I’m not making my child.

Braised beef with sweet potato, butternut squash risotto, banana with tofu puree, baby’s first beef casserole. Why not just make the kid a soufflé?

While the babies wrestle over toys, I ask Monica what she feeds her daughter. She lists the same veggies I use: peas, carrots, broccoli, etc., as the choice is limited in the country of Georgia where we live. But then she says she starts the meal with a vegetable stock of carrots, potatoes, zucchini, salad, peas and onions. To that she adds fresh vegetables or cereal or meat — chicken or beef, horse or rabbit — she’s Italian and brought horse and rabbit meat from home. Sometimes it’s fish.

“What kind of fish?” I ask. (Serving fish hadn’t crossed my mind, nor had horse or even making a vegetable base for babies’ puree.)

“Oh, I buy sole or plaice,” she says, “but the other day I gave her hake and she loved it.” She tops it all off with olive oil and parmesan cheese — or ricotta or chevre.

Here I was feeling smug about not feeding my kid from a jar.

My idea of the perfect baby meal is to steam or boil and then puree whatever veggies I can find and then freeze it all into cubes in ice trays. Then I microwave and mix them together in random combinations — often adding a cube of apple so she’ll eat the veg. I’ve been doing this since my daughter was six months old. Recently I added pasta and poached chicken. Here I thought I was a mothering genius!

On my way home, I tell myself that Annabel Karmel makes elaborate baby meals to sell books. And my friend makes them because, even though she’s a sophisticated journalist who’s lived all over the world, she’s also an Italian mama who feels compelled to cook like crazy for her kid.

Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better for not doing more.

For a reality check, I ask another friend, Eveli from Estonia, what she makes her baby boy. She replies that she makes different porridges for breakfast — oatmeal or 4-cereal, with a little butter and fruit. That doesn’t sound too fancy.

For other meals she makes vegetable purees to which she adds things like ginger, garlic, and cinnamon.

Ginger?

Perhaps babies eat better in Europe. I turn to American friends, confident they’re serving their babies food from jars.

They don’t. Christi from Florida says her daughter gagged on food from jars. So she makes everything fresh. One Christmas at the grandparents’ house, desperate to get her daughter to eat, Christi fed her baby scrambled eggs off her own plate.

“I know, we didn’t wait until after a year,” she says, “but with no food allergies in my family, we thought we’d risk it with a small amount. She devoured it.”

Next she tried French toast. That worked too, as did sweet potatoes and other food off her own dinner plate. “To this day, my daughter will eat broiled mahi and broccoli, turkey meatloaf, steamed vegetables, anything but bland baby food,” she says.

So no jars, but at least a more casual approach.

Finally, I heard from my high school friend Jen, a kindred spirit. She says with baby three she kept it simple: “I tried to feed Jake mushed up versions of what the family was eating rather than be a short order cook.”

[A post from the Flashback Series from when my daughter was a baby. 2009]

Writer, editor, parent. Concerned about the world around us. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.

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