|Miss E with a burger-potato slice sandwich.|
The long-ago summer when my oldest son was 11 months old, we stopped to visit friends in Upstate New York on our way to visit family in Pennsylvania. As lunch was being prepared, I was worried about how he would react to the menu — garlicky hummus and pita with a side of raw veggies. It's hard to believe, I know, that as a vegetarian I hadn't yet given him any hummus, but it just didn't seem like baby food to me. My friend's daughter was 14 months old, and hummus was fine with her. We put the little guy into a high chair and handed him a plate with hummus and pita and he immediately dipped the bread into the spread and chowed down. After that, he just got whatever we had, and he was fine with that. The second son was pretty easy to feed, too, as he liked everything we gave him. Both boys had healthy appetites and it used to irk me a little that at restaurants our friends could give their kids tidbits from their own plates while we had to buy our kids complete meals. The two of them would eat anything we gave them, no matter how weird. It kind of spoiled me into thinking feeding kids was easy. Just start them young on whatever you eat and that's that.
I remember once when we were traveling around England and the boys had gotten overtired and over-hungry to the point they wouldn't stop squabbling, and we felt we couldn't take them to a restaurant. My husband went to the nearest Indian restaurant and brought home takeout. I was horrified when I tasted it because although it was delicious, it was super spicy. I gave it to the boys anyway and they devoured it. I looked at my husband and asked, "is this child abuse?" He shrugged and answered, "maybe."
The third son wouldn't eat anything until he was 12 months old. He was nursing, and that was fine with him. We were in Australia at the time and I was dutifully making applesauce and mashing bananas like the other moms I met, but he refused anything. One day I gave him a taste of miso soup and broccoli, and he ate it. That was all he would eat for the next few months, and I wish you could see the looks I got when others saw me feeding my toddler. Eventually he joined his brothers as a connoisseur of world cuisine. The three boys are grown now and all are excellent cooks.
My granddaughter is kind of a picky eater. She's very particular about what she will eat unless it's something sweet — she has a mega sweet tooth. I'm always trying to figure out what to feed her when she comes to visit. We have a standard meal of chickpeas, broccoli and quinoa that she likes, but I don't want to always make the same thing. With her in mind, I purchased a copy of Dreena Burton's Plant-Powered 15 e-book, hoping to find some child-friendly ideas from a vegan cook known for her delicious, child-friendly recipes.
My first try was sneaky chickpea burgers. I served it with roasted potato slices and asparagus — all carefully separated on the plate the way she likes. I was thrilled that Miss E tasted the burger and didn't outright reject it on sight, but she wasn't exactly enthusiastic. I encouraged her to make a sandwich with the potato slices and, although I hated myself for doing it and won't do it again, bribed her with dessert. (Bah.) She ate it but refused the leftovers the next day. I'll keep offering her foods I know she likes as well as new foods that she may eventually like. With variety and gentleness, she may come to be more open-minded about her food choices.
Miss E's little brother hasn't started solid food yet so it will be interesting to see what his preferences will be.
I hope he is a little more adventurous than his big sister, but who knows? I still believe that offering children healthy, real, whole foods, and avoiding sugary foods, is the best approach to inspiring a lifetime of healthy eating. And I think feeding them foods free from animal ingredients is the best.
Today I'm on my way to Portland for Vida Vegan Con. If you're going too, don't forget to say "hi!"