Seeing as his Mother and I relish food such a great deal, ever since he was born I had always hoped to raise a wee gourmand. With this in mind, as soon as he began to find sustenance from sources outside of the boobisphere, I was determined to present as many different sources of nourishment to the little lad as soon as I was able.
Developing The Ritual Of “Sniff-Sniff”
As a precursor to his transition from a breast milk-only diet to one of breast milk augmented with all manner of purées and the like, I invented a game that we now call “Sniff-Sniff”. Having noticed that like many infants he had an obsession with his Nanny’s uncomfortably accessible spice/herb drawer, I began to encourage him to have a careful sniff-sniff at the contents contained within. Due to his lack of the more developed motor skills, this was all extremely carefully monitored, with me opening, holding, and then closing the individual spice and herb jars. From around month 10 onwards this became a family favourite in our household, and remains so until today with the little man asking to sniff-sniff all the oil and vinegars as well.
Some of my recent readings regarding raising a child the Montessori way, speak of introducing your child to a range of different olfactory sensations as an aid to their organic sensory development, so I obviously wasn’t alone in thinking that this game plan was a real winner. One thing I will warn you of though is the serious dangers of an unsupervised child playing sniff-sniff with cinnamon powder. I’d suggest that you take cinnamon out of the mix completely, as well as the obvious irritants like hot peppers etc.
A Taste Of The Forbidden Fruits : Peanuts, Shellfish, et al.
After a fair bit of reading upon the subject matter, I decided to introduce all of the common allergy activators as early as possible, ensuring that if everything went pear-shaped I’d be able to free up an entire day to take the little fellow into hospital if required. I’ll probably take a lot of flak for this, but whilst you may view this strategy as a dangerously foolish one, there are many schools of thought who believe this to be the very best way to discover such issues, with the reactions becoming considerably more severe as the child gets older.
First up was public enemy number one : peanut butter… which turned out to be the source of much joy for the tiny chap. The only reaction its consumption brought on was a shower of ginger grins, gurgles, and giggles. The only issue was that I had served him our last spoonful of the stuff and he was demanding more. I breathed a hearty sigh of relief as we passed this first hurdle together with nary a hint of anaphylaxis ; quality peanut butter, that wonderfully inexpensive and tasty source of protein, has remained a firm favourite of his ever since.
This first experiment was rapidly followed by shrimp… and crab… and then oyster… all in the same evening around the eight month mark, down at Cluny Bistro, halfway through our deliriously eleventh-hour Xmas shopping in the Distillery District. I will state here that his first feast of crustaceans and molluscs occurred whilst Mum was in the washroom, as she was a great deal more cautious than I when it came to such matters. For the record, my later admission of this procurement was met with a healthy dose of justifiable irascibility, his Mum having some history of shellfish allergies within her family tree.
Nevertheless, I can vividly remember that he was particularly enamoured by the briny east coast oyster. Like father, like son I suppose… I was so very proud of him. Okay, so it looked as if shellfish wasn’t going to be causing any worrying immune responses either. Excellent! I was determinedly crossing off my list of foodstuffs that parents are most concerned about. And wait until you witness the sheer volume of mussels that he consumes in one sitting…
A Chip Off The Old Block : A Nod To His Scottish Heritage
It was around a week later that we found ourselves in Scotland, at Glasgow’s historied Ubiquitous Chip restaurant. Personally, I’m rather partial to that establishment’s excellent haggis, so I ordered a platter replete with the necessary neeps (mashed rutabaga) and tatties (mashed potatoes). As soon as it arrived at the table I could see that a certain someone had their eye on it, all the way from the lofty confines of their wooden high chair. I proffered a small spoonful of the holy triumvirate of Scottish gastronomy, that was duly sniff-sniffed, and then with that look of extreme suspicion that only infants can muster, trepidatiously ingested.
Seconds (that felt like minutes) passed as he played with the both crumbly and mushy concoction in his mouth, and then swallowed. There was an eerie silence, bar the sounds of festive merriment emanating from the establishment’s side bar, but this was somewhat short-lived. A toothy smile spread across his cherub-like visage, and the silence was punctuated by a loud squeal of extreme joy followed by a hopeful “More?” à la Oliver Twist.
And thus began his inherent love for the flavours and textures of haggis, and led to him consuming what appeared to be his own bodyweight of the stuff at a Robert Burns‘ night dinner a few months later, much to the amusement of our guests… and the bemusement of his blushing Mother. Having been an enthusiastic haggis devourer since my earliest days, I remember thinking “That’s my boy!”.
A Nutritional Powerhouse? : Black Pudding / Boudin Noir / Morcilla / Blood Sausage
Last summer found our family on a trip to the archipelago of the Azores, the mystically remote volcanic islands perched mid-Atlantic betwixt Canada and Portugal. And it was over a chaotic breakfast on the island of São Miguel in a hotel on the shores of Ponta Delgada that our son discovered his passion for sweet (read : not really spicy) blood sausage, especially that prepared in the Azorean style.
Oft described by its detractors as being nothing more than a big fried scab, the blood sausage AKA black pudding (UK) AKA Morcilla (Spain) AKA Boudin Noir (France) was recently touted by some enthusiasts as being the new superfood due to its unusually high concentrations of both iron and protein. Superfood or not, the fact remains that our little sausage adores the stuff. Thankfully we live in Toronto’s little Portugal, and so a ready supply of the real deal is available some two minutes from our home. As a family, at home, we refer to it as black pudding, as blood sausage makes it sound a touch visceral for a toddler to get his head around. Speaking of which…
“It All Tastes Like Chicken”
Our boy goes to a great little local daycare five days a week, and they seem to have a pretty decent food program in place there. Saying that, I think that I have recently discovered one of their little tricks to get all of the children to consume whatever they are served.
They tell the children that every one of the meats they are presented with is chicken.
The beef, the pork, the fish, the lamb, the sausage, the meatballs… it’s all referred to as chicken.
The problem is that this logic, whilst being rather clever if you are attempting to get 12 kids to eat lunch simultaneously, kind of runs counter to my game plan for explaining the very real correlations between “baa-sheep” and lamb, “moo-cow” and beef, “piggy” and pork/bacon, “bunny” and rabbit, and so on. What to do?
In Closing : What Will The Future Bring?
So at two years we are fortunate enough to have a healthy young lad with a hell of a healthy appetite. He simply loves his food, and I am proud of the fact that he enjoys a varied and healthy diet. As well as all the aforementioned oysters, haggis, black pudding, and peanut butter, he also enjoys a wide range of vegetables and fruits, cereals and legumes, dairy and meats, “fluff” from the top of his Dad’s beer (very occasionally!)… he even enjoys a properly dressed salad.
Saying all that, I have come to understand that all of this could easily change at any moment, and all of our efforts to keep him away from processed foods could come crashing down unless we continue to take the time to carefully plan his mealtimes the way we have over the past year or so. With both of us working from home, and with no commuting, we have the luxury of having the time to be able to cook seven days a week, something that I know to be simply impossible for many working parents.
Last week we took a family holiday up to a cottage on the shore of Lake Huron. As he was on vacation, and as a little treat, on a couple of occasions we served our son some strawberry ice cream. On the second last day he turned to his Mother and said with a tone of sincerity I had never heard from him previously:
“Mummy… I really love ice cream”
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s seriously enjoying his little dining companion.