Have your taste buds grown up yet? Maybe one day they will!

Hello Everyone!

What an interesting foodie household we have had here in the past few weeks.  Kirina is almost three and Ela is almost 3 months.  Kirina, my original “ethnic baby” (aka guinea pig for recipes from my please-let-me-get-published-soon-book) is in toddler-eating mode and Ela is in full-on nursing mode (forming her own tastes through breast milk based on what I eat).  Mommy and daddy eat when we remember to, often late-night suppers once Kirina is in bed and Ela snoozes in my lap.

The main dinner table drama these days involves dear Kirina, who, as a toddler, has her own will, her own wants and her own tastes.  Which would be fine, except her tastes involve graham crackers with cream cheese, grapes, and hummus with strawberries….over and over and over and over and over….and over again.   Coming from someone who craves variety on a daily basis, I just don’t understand how this little munchkin of mine can have such a boring (to me) diet.  She used to love variety, but has now settled into a sort of cracker and dip complacency.

Which is why I keep introducing new tastes, just so we keep up the habit.  The other day we were eating an eggplant and potato curry, two vegetables that she hasn’t warmed up to (yes, she is the only child on the planet that does not like potatoes.  she will not take them mashed, she will not take them fried, she will not take them baked, broiled or otherwise, Sam I Am).  The vegetables were cooked in an onion, tomato and yogurt gravy and sautéed with spices such as cumin, coriander and garam masala.  She took a small spoonful and made a face.  Not a happy one at that.

The title of this post is based on some words from my dear friend Valerie, who shared this wonderful (non-chicken) nugget of advice that she tells her own children when it comes to new foods or flavors.  Which we promptly said to Kirina when she made her yucky face:

“Maybe one day your taste buds will grow up and will like potatoes later!”

Oh my goodness, this sentence was great! She started asking us if taste buds grow like hair (hair?) and we told her yes indeed, taste buds grow like everything else! And truly they do.  Imagining taste buds like any other organ in the body helps to understand…they, like other body parts, need time and nurturing to mature and grow.  Only with taste buds they grow to appreciate new tastes and flavors.   We have used this sentence with Kirina for all sorts of things she doesn’t have a taste for yet–olives, squash, eggplant.  And the key is not giving up.  I always ask Kirina to taste everything, especially if it is a new ingredient, usually telling her she doesn’t have to like it, but she at least has to try it.  Now with this new bit of advice about her taste buds growing up, she really does try harder to taste new things.  She’s excited by the concept of things growing and this helps her relate to new things instead of just shutting down the idea, as many toddlers are prone to do.

Motherhood is SUCH a day-by-day learning experience.  I never fully feel like I know what I’m doing or if I am doing it right (no matter the topic).  Little nuggets of advice from other mommies surely helps lead the way.

From Kirina’s highchair to yours, bon appetit!

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Welcome, Bienvenue, Hola, Willkommen, Namaste!

Hello world!

Welcome to the Masala Baby Food blog site.  This is my first foray into blogging, and there is much to learn but I am very excited to share my thoughts on a topic I find fascinating: baby food.  Yes, baby food.  As someone who has been through graduate school, the socratic method and other academic pursuits, I find it pretty funny that baby food has become the thing I’ve found a fascination with.  But I’m not ashamed!

I am a recovering lawyer (recovering from a career that slowly munched away at my soul).  After having my now two-year old, Kirina, I found myself at home and going a little (a lot) batty (as enjoyable as motherhood has been, that first year felt like a hazing ritual gone bad.  I still don’t know what I am doing most days).  For the first time in my life I had to stand still and think about what I wanted to do next, find out what I was really passionate about, what was going to feed my own soul.  It definitely was not the law.

I have always been a foodie at heart and a culturally curious soul.  I have an ongoing romance with all the different foods of the world, culinary customs and history.  When I lived in Manhattan for five years, I would devour all the different cuisines I could get my hands on.  I would scour blogs and restaurant reviews for the best piece of pizza or meal.  It was the first time in my life I had all of the world’s cuisines at my disposal, where Vietnamese Pho and Squid-Ink Pasta were just a delivery phone call away. 

You can imagine how excited I was when it came time for my daughter to start “real food,” aka “solids.”  I was going to raise a foodie 2.0! I bought a special bowl, a cute spoon and had the camera all ready for the sweet smile Kirina was going to give us after her first spoonful.  

It definitely did not quite go as planned.  The week we got clearance to feed Kirina we started with dried baby rice cereal, just as the pediatrician advised.  I had never seen these dried flakes before.  Well, maybe I had actually.  It sort of resembled the dried fish food flakes I used to feed my goldfish as a child.  Anyway, I mixed the flakes with milk as directed and excitedly waited for Kirina to gulp it down.

Kirina spit it out.  With gusto. 

On day 2 she spit out even more.  We tried several days in a row, but no luck. 

I was so deflated!  Here my little foodie-to-be was not taking to solids.  I finally tasted the pasty mush we were feeding her and nearly spit it out myself.  To use one of Kirina’s words, “yuck.”  I mean, I wouldn’t eat this bland stuff, why would she?

On day 5 or so we tried mashing up an avocado and boom, it was like magic!  She gobbled it up with such zeal.  Spoonful after spoonful the avocado went down so easily.  It suddenly occurred to me that maybe she wanted something with more flavor. 

Flavor became my mission, my obsessionI soon discovered this was the most exciting part of my day–feeding her new things, introducing her to new tastes.  I thought about what my husband and I eat (a lot of Indian and other ethnic foods) and how I could make it baby friendly.  I was eager to introduce her taste buds to things other than pasty cardboard rice cereal and strained peas from a jar.  Little by little I started to “baby-fy” our dinners for Kirina.  I started mashing Indian dal and adding rice cereal.  Then I would add one spice (coriander powder for instance).  Sweet potatoes with garam masala.  Carrots with oregano for an Italian flair.    A bit of cardamom to her applesauce, or cinnamon to her pears.  Over only a few weeks time, I realized that Kirina appreciated these new tastes and in fact preferred them to bland food.

I became so obsessed with spicing up Kirina’s meals that I began to research what babies around the world eat as their first meals, talking to parents, researching ingredients and inventing recipes based on my findings.  Kirina began to develop a taste for well-seasoned foods, which in turn encouraged me to delve into more research about taste, how taste buds develop in young children, and what we as parents in this country can do to broaden our babies’ taste buds. 

What else did I learn on this journey? That I am passionate about this stuff! As crazy as it sounds, I think I’ve finally found something in life, career-wise, that totally feels right.  I have never been more passionate about a subject as I am with this one.  I am constantly motivated and excited to develop baby, toddler and kid’s meals that are ethnic, but approachable, seasoned and different, and inspired by the global community of parents and caregivers.  I love teaching my daughter how to eat not only a variety of foods, but how to introduce flavor and seasonings from an early age so that she will (hopefully) be a less picky eater as she grows up (so far so good! she loves eating ginger-spiced lentils more than she loves a chicken nugget.  No offense to chicken nuggets.  We eat those too).  I have so many recipes and notes on this topic, I actually wrote a book (notes on the publishing process are for another day.  I am learning a lot about that too).

In the coming weeks I hope to discuss what parents around the world feed their babies, along with helpful facts, books, and research on this topic.   I want to change the way babies eat. And I would like to share and communicate with other parents who are interested in helping babies eat better. 

From Kirina’s highchair’s to your child’s….bon appetite!

Leena