Late last year, my pregnant wife and I were out for one of our last dinners together before we became parents. As a family with a pair of preschoolers sat down at the table next to us at 2 Amys, a part of me happily thought, “That could be us in a few years.”
When the waiter arrived to take their order, the mother put down the menu. “Could the kitchen make something for the kids? Maybe some buttered noodles or chicken nuggets? They won’t eat anything else.”
“I hope that isn’t us in a few years!” I thought.
I’m a food writer, so my diet spans the globe. One day I might be eating Ghanaian stew on a ball of fufu for lunch, then sushi for dinner; the next might include dim sum in the morning and roasted duck breast with orange marmalade at night. Don’t get me wrong: Chicken nuggets and buttered noodles aren’t inherently bad; I’ve enjoyed both. However, the thought of my child exclusively eating the so-called “beige diet” — fried foods and carbs — made my stomach churn.
So what could my wife, Indira, and I do to ensure that didn’t happen? Could we raise an adventurous eater?
As it turns out, my wife’s dinner that very night (anchovy crostini, burrata drizzled with olive oil, and prosciutto-topped Neapolitan pizza) was already stimulating and shaping our child’s tastes. So was the vegetable burrito, drenched in hot sauce, she had eaten for lunch.
“Learning about food occurs long before the first taste of food,” says Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist at the Monell Center in Philadelphia, where she studies how we learn and accept flavors. “The flavors of the mother’s diet get into the amniotic fluid.”
The same thing happens when the mother breast-feeds, she said. We had already decided that Indira would, and because her diet is nearly as varied as my own, she’d expose our child to a panoply of cuisines.
Born in early January, Zephyr was a healthy little boy with a full head of chestnut hair, a cute button nose and a ravenous hunger. The next few months were a happy blur, and it wasn’t long before we were talking about adding solid foods to his diet.
Though I have a set of rudimentary cooking skills, I’m no culinary maestro. Before Zephyr was born, Indira did most of the cooking, but now the opposite was true. Because I work from home, I had more time to spend in the kitchen.
Still, I needed help crafting the purees that Zephyr would like now and that could be the bridge to more complex solids. After consulting our pediatrician on a flurry of questions, I reached out to Tucker Yoder, executive chef of the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville and father of 11-year-old Ella, 9-year-old Joshua, 7-year-old Gabriel and 2-year-old Hannah. He agreed to come and teach me a few tricks.