I finally started trying to feed my oldest son, Parker, solid food after waiting and waiting in vain for him to show the slightest interest in consuming anything other than breast milk. I had had visions of my darling little boy happily gobbling up spoonful after spoonful of healthy, lovingly prepared homemade baby food, but the reality couldn’t have been more different. Every time I extended my arm to proffer a pea-sized amount of smashed banana or puréed yams or “super porridge,” my son’s brow would furrow, his lips would purse and his face would turn away. I tried feeding him in the morning, I tried feeding him in the afternoon and I tried feeding him in the evening. It didn’t matter. He unfailingly turned up his nose at solid food, often with a look of utter disgust on his face, as if he were doing his best impression of Anthony Bourdain being served undercooked Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Eventually, every so often, my son would open his lips instead of purse them and allow me to spoon in some baby food. By that point, I’d given up on making my own; too many attempts at feeding him had ended in painstakingly prepared purées washed down the drain. But then the supermercado that supplied the island we were living on with groceries ran out of plain baby food. For weeks on end, there was a huge empty space on the shelf next to the meat-added “entrée”-style and sugar-added “dessert”-style jars of baby food. So everyday I mashed up some local avocado, stirred in some nutritional yeast, smiled big and offered the concoction to my son. There wasn’t much else to make for him. A cornucopia of fresh produce the island was not. A week or so after I was finally able to once again buy some jars of regular old baby food (no meat or sugar added!), Parker astonished me by eating with actual gusto. His little mouth kept opening and accepting spoonful after spoonful. “At last!” I thought to myself. When he seemed sated, I pulled out the bottle of multivitamin drops the pediatrician had urged me to give him. I’d yet to even open the bottle; feeding him had been such an uphill battle I hadn’t wanted to risk the added challenge of vitamin drops. Parker drank the drops down, paused a moment and then threw up his entire meal. By the time I’d cleaned up all the bits of regurgitated baby food, we were both exhausted and ready for bed. I threw away the rest of the bottle of multivitamin drops, figuring the nutrients in my breast milk were fortifying enough.
A week or two later, I needed to do some important errands so my husband, a chef, took our son with him to work. “I don’t know why you keep saying he doesn’t like to eat!” my husband exclaimed when I arrived to pick Parker up. There sat our son, in a high chair in a corner of the restaurant’s kitchen, little legs happily swinging as he ate savory morsels of the three-potato hash his dad had prepared for the restaurant’s dinner menu. I stammered, “B-b-but that has butter in it! And, Mike, it has salt! SALT!” My husband smiled and said, “Well, yeah. That’s why he likes it.” Then, with a smirk and a “Watch this, Megs” Mike handed our son a piece of the P’tit Basque cheese he’d been slicing. Parker’s legs went into high gear and he practically levitated off his seat as he nibbled on the fancy French sheep’s milk cheese. I didn’t know whether to scold Mike for giving our baby boy decidedly non-baby food or to jump for joy that Parker was actually eating in earnest. I did know that the health nut in me was totally freaking out about all that salt and animal fat corrupting my son’s taste buds.
I’m a second generation health nut. As a kid, I never got to eat sugar cereal and I thought carob was chocolate until I was about eight. My mom has only recently started using salt–but only pink salt–and has always, as far back as I can remember, swallowed down a mysterious hodgepodge of vitamins and supplements every morning. Once I flew the coop and could do my own grocery shopping, I unconsciously gravitated to the health food stores. By the time my oldest son was born, I’d been eating mostly vegan for years. For me, not eating animals and only very occasionally eating animal products is about choosing to live holistically, with minimal impact upon our planet. It’s a lifestyle choice. I guess I forgot, though, that it really is a choice. I’d been attached — pretty much literally — to my son from the moment he’d been born. I breastfed him and co-slept with him and took him with me almost everywhere I went. How easy it is to forget that your child has a mind of his own when you’re deep in the attachment parenting trenches. When it came time for Parker to begin eating solid food, I expected him to become a happy, health nut-y mostly vegan just like his mom. Watching him chow down on salty, buttery potatoes and über-rich cheese that afternoon was my first big reminder that he was his own (albeit very little) person, patently capable of making his own choices even at less than one year old. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to eat solid food; he just didn’t want to eat unseasoned vegan mush.
After that day, I didn’t just throw in the towel and start serving my son bacon, but I did realize that I needed to begin “thinking outside the jar” if I wanted him to eat nutritious, earth-friendly food. Though he’s now six and his days of being fed smashed vegetables are far behind him, it is still a constant challenge finding food both that is good for him and that he’ll actually eat. I know I’m not the only parent struggling with the what’s-for-dinner dilemma. Whole books have been written about sneaking vegetables into kid-friendly food (an endeavor which has never been successful for me — the so-called hidden vegetables are always too detectable for my kid). In this new “listen to your body” era, with the clean your plate club and starving children in Africa guilt trips thankfully relegated to the compost bin, continuing to allow your child a fair amount of autonomy over what he eats can be trying when he hasn’t eaten anything green in days. I just keep trying new foods, new recipes, even new presentations (Look! It’s shaped like a TIE fighter!) and sometimes persistence pays off. My son ate pounds and pounds of fresh English peas this summer, for which I owe the local farmers market many thanks. And when we’re out and about, I allow him to eat omnivorously. I don’t want meat to become the forbidden fruit (so to speak!). My son definitely likes certain non-veg foods (salami, chicken tacos, the occasional hamburger). I’ve been talking with him for years about why I eat the way I do. He always shrugs and says, “Yeah, but I like meat.” That’s OK. It took me about thirty years to realize my parents were right about A LOT of things. Hopefully one day, Parker will realize I was right about not eating animals. In the mean time, I mentally take note of what non-veg foods he likes and then try to rework them, vegan- (or at least vegetarian-) style, at home. Usually it helps if I don’t tell him they’re my own healthier, more ecological version.
Starbucks Marble Loaf Cake, Vegan-Style
Note: My mom and stepdad are Starbucks fanatics. (They even use the Starbucks iPhone app! I had no idea there was an app for that.) My stepdad in particular likes to treat his grandchildren to Starbucks goodies. I was OK with Parker enjoying the occasional slice of pumpkin bread but ever since Starbucks farmed their pastries out to La Boulange, my son has been eschewing pumpkin bread in favor of the crazy decadent mini marble loaf cake. I figured it was time for a healthier home version.
Adapted from Ms. Martha Stewart
Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup vegan margarine (e.g., Earth Balance)
1 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
2 tablespoons egg replacer (e.g., Bob’s Red Mill)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
I tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup mini vegan chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with coconut oil; set aside.
Make your “eggs” and “buttermilk”: in small bowl, mix flaxseed meal with three tablespoons warm water; in another small bowl, mix egg replacer with six tablespoons warm water; in a liquid measuring cup, add ACV to non-dairy milk; set all aside.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer* fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the coconut oil, margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add flaxseed meal and water mixture, then egg replacer and water mixture, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the non-dairy milk and beginning and ending with the flour. Set aside 1/3 of the batter.
In a bowl, mix cocoa and 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons boiling water with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the reserved cake batter; stir until well combined.
Stir chocolate chips into vanilla cake batter.
Spoon batters into the prepared pan in two layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife (or wooden skewer) through the batters in a swirling motion.
Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a cake tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack to cool ten minutes. Turn out cake from pan and cool completely on the rack. Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days.
*I don’t own an electric mixer so I just cut the oil and butter into the sugar using two table knives, then I used a whisk to make the mixture nice and fluffy.
Back in the ‘burbs after living in the Caribbean for more than half a decade, I’m a widowed mom of two young boys. I do my best to practice attachment parenting and peaceful parenting, to live mindfully and holistically; sometimes, though, this roller coaster called Life derails my good intentions. Above all else, I strive to be happy and grateful for each day as it unfolds.