I recently launched a baby food delivery company here in Los Angeles. Little Foodie Club is all about helping parents to palate-train their babies, teach them to love fresh, health and delicious food and raise the next generation of foodies. Here’s my story on why I have invested everything into trying to change the way babies eat.
Have you ever wondered why French kids eat everything and American kids don’t? Why petit Jean will happily tuck into a plate of spinach and blue cheese salad topped with roasted duck breast but little Johnny won’t touch anything other than chicken nuggets? Why do some kids love to eat vegetables and are open to trying new foods while others turn their noses up at anything fresh, green and remotely exotic?
I have been working as a professional food writer for over a decade. As part of my job I’ve traveled and eaten my way around the globe and have been able to acquire an international perspective on food and food culture. Through this I have developed a deep love not just for learning about ingredients, dishes and flavors but also eating and more importantly cooking. Food is quite frankly the love of my life.
When my daughter Maxine was born, I was determined to pass my passion for food onto her. I knew first hand from friends and family that babies and kids can be really fussy eaters and it was my biggest nightmare to end up with a child who hates to eat good food. Wanting to instill in Maxine a love of healthy, delicious food and to raise an adventurous eater, I started doing research into how to bring up a child who truly enjoys eating. This is when I came across a concept called palate-training.
Palate-training basically means that during the first months of a baby eating solid foods we can train their palate and influence their future eating preferences. The way it works is that during these vital first few months the kinds of foods that babies are exposed to will be the kinds of foods they will like later on. So if you want your baby to grow up to love real fruits and vegetables and be open to trying new foods, you have to palate-train them with real fruits and vegetables and an evolving variety of tastes and textures right from the start. Through consistent exposure to different types of fresh foods you can influence your child’s “anatomic palate” and neurophysiology to love healthy and delicious foods.
On the flipside if you consistently expose your baby to foods out of a jar or pouch, you’re conditioning their palate to prefer processed foods. The purees out of jars and pouches have little or no resemblance in taste or texture to those made from fresh ingredients so it’s no surprise that babies who are exclusively fed these bland and often tasteless manufactured purees turn out to be fussy kids who refuse to eat real vegetables and demand processed foods like chicken nuggets.
So going back to those gourmet French kids – the reason they are such great eaters is because they are exposed to great food right from the start. French babies’ diets consist of lots of fresh produce, whole gains, meats and cheeses all with added herbs and spices and lots and lots of flavor. The same goes for other countries: In Vietnam, for instance, babies are served soups that are seasoned with fish sauce and bone broths, while in India babies are introduced to spices like coriander, turmeric and ginger from the age of six months.
These are flavors babies in America rarely get to experience. What I came to understand was that in American culture many of us underestimate babies’ taste preferences thinking they favor bland, tasteless food when other cultures so clearly show us that the exact opposite is true. I realized that if I wanted my daughter to become a great eater who not only loves vegetables but has a truly adventurous sense of taste, I had to be inventive with what I fed her.
Way before it was time to start solids, at about three months, I began to introduce Maxine to the smells and scents of food. I took her out into the garden and let her smell the different herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil and lavender or some of the spice jars in the kitchen like cinnamon or cumin to open up her senses to things to come. I carried her in a sling while preparing dinner, exposing her to the aromas of home cooking and explaining to her what the different ingredients were.
When the time arrived for Maxine to start eating solids, I first introduced her to very simple vegetable purees such as zucchini, carrot and potato. I made my own fruit purees and it didn’t take long before I started to add a few herbs and spices to her food to liven things up. I added vanilla to peach, rosemary to butternut, turmeric to carrots. The more I cooked for Maxine, the more I got into making baby food, trying out different ingredient combinations and making my own bone broths to season some of her vegetable purees. I won’t lie, it was a lot of hard work but the more adventurous I became with my cooking, the more Maxine started to enjoy her food and mealtime was fun time in our home.
Eventually I started chatting to other mothers about what they fed their babies and many of them admitted to only buying the baby food from the shop. This was due to a number of different reasons: some moms just didn’t have the time to cook baby food, others lacked the inspiration and didn’t know what to cook, while still others said they’d tried and given up because their babies didn’t like it. A lot of them revealed that mealtime wasn’t a fun time in their home and that there were only a few things they could get their babies to eat. I’ll always remember one of my friends saying she was so desperate for her daughter to eat, she put apple sauce on everything as this was the one and only thing she liked. I realized how lucky I was to have a baby like Maxi who is such a good eater. But then I also realized that the reason she was such a good eater was because I had consistently palate-trained her right from the start.
This was my Aha! Moment, where I realized that palate-training really works and where the idea for Little Foodie Club began. I felt a real need to share my experience with other parents and enable those who weren’t able to cook their own baby food to still palate-train their babies and raise healthy eaters by supplying them with delicious fresh homemade baby food.
After months of research and menu development as well as getting all of the legal stuff like health permits in place, Little Foodie Club finally launched last month. It was a hell of a journey to get there but we are now delivering handmade, organic baby food all across Los Angeles. Some of our signature baby purees are: apples, pears and rooibos tea; baby Bolognese (pictured) made with slow-cooked organic beef, vegetables and Italian herbs; lamb, potato, spinach and rosemary; and sweet potato and garbanzo bean curry with mild spices and coconut. Our simplest purees are not just vegetables: our carrot puree for instance is made with homemade chicken bone broth and has a hint of turmeric in it for added flavor; while cauliflower comes with a bit of pear and tarragon.
The idea is to provide healthy delicious food that will really open up a baby’s palate, get them used to a wide variety of different ingredients, herbs and gentle spices and inspire them to love fresh, healthy and delicious food right from the start.
Today, Maxine is a toddler who loves to eat and is always open to trying new things. She doesn’t like everything but she’ll always give things a try. She’s now at an age where she can join us at the dinner table and thanks to her eating with us, we are eating a healthy, varied diet together as a family. Of course, there are days when I’d love to reach for the chicken nuggets but when I dare to serve her processed foods, she turns her nose up and demands something fresh and tasty. Like those French kids, her palate has been trained.