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Picky Eaters

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Long before my nearly 5-month-old son first lunged at a spoonful of rice cereal, I had been anticipating and fretting over his transition to solid food. As a home cook, food writer and locavore—a local food enthusiast—I spend lots of time in the kitchen. This means that Timothy also spends lots of time in the kitchen. Watching him feed on formula meal after meal, I wondered if he was tiring of his unvaried diet. The day his hand found its way into my dish of grilled fish and sautéed arugula I knew it was time to begin the food adventure.

The issue of what to feed him was complicated. I knew how to introduce new foods—one at a time. And I knew which foods to postpone adding to his menu—no summer melon this year. I had long resolved that we would make his baby food, as we do with our own food.

All I needed to do was to chart it out. Mind you, we had never “charted out” our meals before. When we began eating with the seasons 10 years ago, my husband and I let the market—and a well-stocked pantry—determine our menu. We were mostly happy to let whatever vegetable looked fresh and perky determine our dinner.

This way of viewing our meals didn’t quite translate for Timothy. I soon realized that his menus were going to require a lot more planning. I’m not the spreadsheet type but I put together a simple list and progression chart that seemed to make perfect sense … at first. Then the reality of eating locally and seasonally set in.

The big complication came because there isn’t much fresh food available in spring in Central New York. I had put up many jars of delicious stores: corn relish, cranberry chutney, apple butter, strawberry jam. The freezer was stocked with tomatoes for sauce, pasture-raised goat, chicken and oxtails. But these are the sweet and savory foodstuffs of a varied adult diet, not exactly first foods for an infant. I did find several jars of homemade applesauce that I canned last October. Then I searched for a butternut squash until my husband reminded me that we consumed the last one a week before—oops! At this rate, Timothy might not get off cereal until August—not exactly a good plan for building a well-rounded and nutritious diet.

I decided to reassess. First, I reminded myself that Timothy’s first solids are just the beginning of what I hope will be a life-long love affair with food. I have all kinds of expectations and hopes—mainly, that he won’t have to wait until he’s well into his 20s to begin enjoying vegetables as I had. But the main concern is that he’s fed and has a pleasant experience acquiring a taste for new flavors and textures. Second, this was not the time to be a purist.

A confession: Ours is not a purely locavore home. My husband loves Oreos, Crunch ‘n Munch and fruit punch. Our carts at the grocery store are filled with bags of bulk bulgur, oats, lentils and fruit, along with the snacks my husband craves. So I’ve already rehearsed a speech for Timothy: “When you are an adult living in your own home you can eat all the Crunch ‘n Munch you want, but for now, feel free to grab an apple or some raisins!”

Nevertheless, I’ve accepted that Timothy’s diet will have to grow into a local and seasonal one. This mental shift allowed me to add mashed bananas and avocados in the early weeks of solid-food eating. The chart soon became less about slavish planning and more about Timothy’s tastes and gentle organization.

Thinking this way also freed me up to consider the frozen food section of the supermarket anew. While our homegrown organic butternut squash was gone, there were still bags of already peeled and diced squash in the grocery store freezer case for me to buy. Yes, it would be great to save the squash for the fall, but why? If he tries the frozen version now, perhaps he’ll really love it when it is fresh in season.

I’ve also rethought our garden. We try to grow herbs and vegetables that are fixtures in our daily meals. So instead of planting chamomile for tea and chocolate peppers in our small raised beds, for the first time we are growing carrots. And instead of waiting until next January to plan the garden, I’m already looking ahead to next summer when Timothy will have teeth and, I hope, an appetite for more unusual fare. But until then, we’ll take our time with our food explorations.

I already expect to learn as much from Timothy as I hope to teach him—perhaps more. Why should food be any different from the other subjects? From the garden to the farmers’ market to our kitchen—our culinary adventures are just beginning. Here’s to a delicious and uncharted ride.                            ■

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is creator and writer of the food blog Cookin’ in the ‘Cuse and contributing editor for Edible Finger Lakes magazine.

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