A bébé step to gourmet glory
A new French recipe book for kids written by an 'average Super Mum' works magic
Most mothers have been there. You've slaved away in the kitchen for hours over dinner. You present it to your little darling only to have him look at it like you've presented a piece of roadkill on a plate and then point-blank refuse to touch it.
What you feed your child is one of those subjects – especially for new parents – that can leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate. Despite cooking decent enough dinners, you will always meet the parent whose eight-month-old is eating very exotic adult-sounding foods.
You come away from those encounters feeling like a failure for not having tofu burgers and polenta pie on the menu.
There's no doubt that when I analyse the week's lunches and dinners that my two boys eat, I end up feeling they could be a lot better and a lot healthier. Like most mums I have good days when I make a big pot of soup full of leafy greens and root vegetables as well as protein-packed fish dishes. There are, unfortunately, other days when I fry up a few sausages, boil some potatoes and open a tin of beans for their tea.
So I was hoping that a new baby recipe book, Bébé Gourmet, wasn't going to make me feel like the bad mammy I do sometimes when I serve up a fish finger.
I have to admit the French-sounding title Bébé Gourmet put me on my guard. Was this yet another book about the wisdom of French parenting styles? Perhaps it's just that I get a little defensive when the French way to do things is held up as an example, especially when it comes to food and eating.
Having spent several summers as part of my undergraduate degree in France, I didn't find French women's attitudes to food particularly healthy. The ones I lived and worked with were on permanent diets and you risked the wrath of hell if you ate around them.
I also have an admission to make that I am probably one of Annabel Karmel's biggest fans. For those who don't know her, Annabel is the queen of baby and toddler recipe books. I think I have probably tried most recipes in her meal planner book for my boys, Dallan (5) and Oirghiall (2).
As a result, I have an unswerving loyalty to Annabel. Any new contender for my time with a blender will have some convincing to do.
Trying to put all my own issues aside, I take a closer look at Bébé Gourmet and find myself wanting to read more and more. Written by Jenny Carenco, a Swedish-born management consultant turned baby food expert who now lives in France, her mantra is that children's eating is not just about pure fuel – it's about them experiencing as wide a variety of tastes as possible.
In the opening note accompanying her book, she says: "This is not the story of one of those perfect mothers who, for some reason the rest of us will never understand, manages to put a home-made meal on the table every night, including home-baked rolls that she prepares without ever breaking one of her perfectly manicured nails. This is my story, the story of your average Super Mum."
She doesn't have to convince me any more. I will give these recipes a go.
I start with the two-fish pie with vegetables as it's not a far cry from a fish pie I make from time to time. Mine doesn't turn out quite as lovely as the one pictured in Bébé Gourmet but it's tasty and the boys eat it readily.
Maybe it's since our second child arrived, a child who eats everything, that I have become more relaxed about what my children eat. Instead of breaking out in hives and hovering around the table as I did when my eldest was having dinner as a baby, I now leave dinner on the table and if they eat it, they eat it and if they don't they don't. It has taken years to achieve this basic feat.
I say this by way of explaining my reaction to Bébé Gourmet's carrot-courgette-lentil galettes. After quite a bit of preparation, cooking and blending, my galettes (which didn't look as good as they do in the book either) were brought in and casually put on the table.
My eldest son wouldn't even try one as he didn't like the look of them. The youngest, who tries everything, made a very strange face and spat it out. And that was the end of that. I promptly removed the offending galettes.
Carenco's Italian meatballs went down well with the adults as well as the children in my house and I believe this recipe is one that will enter my own personal recipe hall of fame alongside Annabel Karmel's tasty fishcakes.
I decided to try the oatmeal biscuits from the "big kids snacks and treats" section of Carenco's book. I often make fairy cakes that are usually all eaten before they've gone cold, so I thought these would be a pleasant home-made change in treat terms. They were gobbled up in no time.
As most mums know, meal planning can be a chore.
What to cook can be a constant nag. Carenco points out in her book that the secret to successful baby cuisine is organisation. She dedicates two pages in her book to make life easier in terms of meal planning, including a list of regular foods you should always keep stocked in the cupboard.
As with most things, cooking and trying out new meals on children is perpetual trial and error. I will keep trying to be a better mammy although I know there will always be some days like yesterday when we went to the beach and got home late, that fish fingers will be on the table.
Bébé Gourmet by Jenny Carenco published by Ebury Press is in bookshops now.