Cod & Brussels sprouts in garlic cream… & planting seeds for the pleasure of eating well

I was talking to the mom of a 12-month-old boy the other day, and
as we were casually chatting about germs and toddlers putting everything in their
mouth, I mentioned that the old French remedy pediatricians would give to moms
50 years ago in France, was to feed their babies blue cheese, Roquefort and the
like, to boost their immune system and help them with digestion. (I have
certainly followed that advice, and gave Pablo blue cheese fairly early on,
probably around 10 months. Pablo loved its strong flavor.) She was very
surprised at the idea, so I marvelled at how children have such open minds about
flavors and textures at that age, and you can get them to try a wide variety
of foods.

She responded something like, “Yeah, and then at 4 years old it’s
all over, they don’t want to eat anything anymore.”

This isn’t the first time I encounter this sort of attitude,
and have heard the same type of comment from moms of grown-ups, “Yeah sure,
you’re happy your kid is eating vegetables etc, but it’s not going to last,
you’ll see.”

I dare say this attitude bugs me to no end. I guess it does because the subtext I’m hearing is, “Just give up on it now, it’s no use offering your kid a wide
variety of foods because he may reject it all down the road.”

And my answer would be: isn’t it worth it to offer babies
and children good real foods, even if
they taste it and enjoy it just once? Even supposing (and I don’t even believe that
supposition to be valid) that tomorrow, Pablo starts rejecting every single
vegetable or food he eats now, he has been eating good, real, flavorful and
balanced foods for the past 18 months, and those 18 months are completely
worthwhile. It’s not lost or wasted. The enjoyment, the positive food
experience, the introduction of colors, textures, flavors, scents, all that is
in his brain somewhere, it’s a seed that is planted and will somehow grow and
takes its course.

It would be almost like saying there’s no point in playing
with your infant or showing him things because later on, he may be
completely disinterested in these same things and not even remember them.

A few months ago, I blogged about my friends at Gopher Springs Farm, and their desire to grow quality sustainable foods from the soil
up, making the best possible compost to get the richest possible soil to
plant seeds in and let them grow, their roots strong, fulfilled.

It’s kind of the same thing here. We know in child
development the first three years are so crucial in every aspect, how we relate
to our babies, how they learn, how the type of attachment we create during that
time will define them in many ways. And I believe this applies to food and the
education of taste. Those first couple of years of life, exposing them to a
wide variety of real foods, getting them engaged,
interested in the eating
experience in all its sensory glory, showing them the excitement of trying
something new, nurturing their open-mindedness about flavor and textures, sharing
meals with them as an opportunity to be in the moment and focused on the pleasure
of eating and doing so in each other’s company… All these things make up this
rich soil, this crucial foundation in their mind and their body. It’s planting the seeds of a life of balanced,
enjoyable eating. It’s never too late to start the education of taste, it can be done at 1 or 6 or 50, but if you have the opportunity to start early, why not do it? 

I don’t even think it is true that all children start to
reject all “good” foods at 3 or 4 or 12. That is definitely not the case for
most French children (including myself), who are expected to eat “everything” – and they do,
mostly (Karen Le Billon explains this in detail in her aptly named French Kids Eat Everything.)

Yes, neophobia (the fear of new foods, an interesting scientific study on it here) can be common among
toddlers, but it usually dissipates by age four. A couple of thoughts on that:

1/ If a child does have this fear of new foods, this is the
time for a parent to hang in there and keep offering and gently challenging the
child to eat good balanced foods, finding fun playful ways to do it, and certainly
not the time to throw in the towel and just give in to the pasta/cheerio diet.

2/ If you expose your infant/young toddler to a wide
variety of foods and vegetables on a regular basis before age 2, these foods
won’t be new to them and not so scary.

I also suspect one of the biggest culprits for toddlers and
young children not eating well is the snacking on demand throughout the day…
I was asked recently how come Pablo eats so well during meals, and part of the
reason is that when he comes to the table, he’s hungry. His body knows he’s not going to be snacking 1 or 2 hours
later, so he eats well. And he enjoys the meal all the more.

Should Pablo go through a more resistant phase, where he
doesn’t embrace all foods as enthusiastically as he does now, I will consider
it exactly as that: a phase. I will certainly not label him as “resistant” and
give up on his education of taste altogether. I will keep challenging him and
offering him new foods, good foods, keep engaging him. Because the seeds we
plant when they’re infants and toddlers, need to be nurtured so they may grow
strong. We don’t just give up on them at the first sign of resistance.  The education of taste is an ongoing, lifelong process.

I guess the other aspect of this “what’s the use?” attitude
that bugs me, is that it feels like putting the blame on the child. “The child
is resistant.” “The child won’t eat vegetables.” “The child refuses.” I don’t think
that’s fair. I believe in the old saying, “There is no such thing as a bad
student, only a bad teacher.” It’s up to us as parents to keep offering, to
model balanced eating habits, to make it possible for our children to keep
experiencing the pleasure and fulfillment that sharing a good meal of real foods, give their body and soul.

All right, all done rambling on. The recipe I’m sharing here is one of those “Really!? You’re feeding that to your kid?” recipes… Yes. Fish with Brussels sprouts and garlic cream, cooked in a parcel… Do not shiver, just try it. If you have never liked Brussels sprouts, this dish might make you a convert.

Cooking them this way takes away the bitterness, and those caraway seeds you might have had sitting on your spice rack for years (as was my case) will find their true calling here (they go well with all types of cabbages).  As for the garlic cream, it makes the whole thing simply scrumptious.

I talked about the benefits of cooking in parcels before. It is very playful for kids, Pablo is always excited to be getting a cadeau (present) for dinner, the excitement when you unwrap it, the fun of pouring the sauce over it, of having your own little mystery package. You couldn’t sugarcoat it any better than that… (sans sugar, that is).



27 thoughts on “Cod & Brussels sprouts in garlic cream… & planting seeds for the pleasure of eating well

  1. I totally agree with you. I have a just under 12 month old girl and I've loved reading your blog and feeding my baby a wide variety of food. She loves eating! I get the annoyance with people who say that it's all very well she eats her veggies now but wait till she's older…it drives me mad!
    Just a couple of question, when will you have pablo's menus up for 8-12 months? And what was your approach to giving milk? My little girl still has her milk at 4pm and I'm not sure when I should cut that out and replace it with an afternoon snack.
    Congrats on such a wonderful blog, apart from being informative your warmth and care really shine through.

    1. Thanks so much, Jane, your compliment really touched me 🙂 Will most definitely post the 8-12 months shortly, it has been on my to-do list for too long! About the milk, in a nutshell, I tried to separate the milk schedule from the solids/meals. I knew I was aiming for no more than 16 oz a day past 12 mo, and it's worked out to 3 bottles for us (early morning, mid morning, and evening), always trying for 1 h away from meals. So I started offering the afternoon snack around 6 months. (Sometimes, he's more hungry than others at snack time, and sometimes he doesn't want anything). Hope that answers your question… 🙂

  2. This is such a beautiful idea, I love to cook in parchment. Your photos are lovely, and the caraway seeds are a nice surprise!

  3. Oh so much here I agree with! I feel pretty strongly about presenting a wide variety of foods as well though as a new parent I found it intimidating and frustrating. Whenever J spit out or didn't like what I gave him it felt very personal (not sure if this was because I made his good or not). I would say up until 2.5 I would make him his own dinner separate from ours. He also ate earlier than we did. At about 2.5 I realized I was insane. I moved out dinner times earlier and started giving him what we eat. I have been astonished at the change in him. Suddenly he is eating everything, trying new things and excited about dinner. He says "mmm delicious!" And is a great eater. I'm so proud of him. I think. And this is just my supposing. That there is so much contradictory information out there and we, as Americans, don't have a cultural norm, and parents are lazy because they're tired and stressed and its easier to give into a screaming or whining hungry kid than it is to tell them no (don't even get me started on the lack of no in this country), that parents are really just clueless. It's so much easier to just give your kid what they want versus what they need. Letting the children dictate isn't good for them or us as parents but its so much easier. Along with having a family sit down dinner in the 'fancy' dining room, I'm also letting J help cook and snacks are at a minimum and what we do have is homemade. All of this combined has led to a remarkable change in him and his attitude towards food. I assume it will only get better from here because I expect it to. I certainly don't expect him to suddenly stop eating the things he has been. I think it's also a control issue with kids, getting what they want and food is an easy thing for them to influence. All that said, these parcels look amazing and I'm going to make them this weekend. Would any type of white fish work? I'm a huge Brussels sprouts fan and garlic cream? Yum!! Sorry for the typos, I'm on my phone and its hard to correct from it.

    1. Thanks so much for this awesome comment, Robin, and for sharing your invaluable experience and the inspirational turnaround you've seen with your son! You make so many good points here: the family meal, kids wants vs. needs, getting kids to help in the kitchen, and food as a battleground for control issues…
      As for the fish, I would pick a thicker cut of white fish, the original recipe calls for haddock, which is smoked, you could try if you can find it. Black cod is delicious but it can be expensive. Other cods would probably work. Let me know how it turns out! 🙂

  4. Also, you see every other parent doing it. I am definitely the odd ball in my circle of mom friends, and even in my family, with how and what we eat. I don't feel a huge societal pressure but I definitely know that I'm the 'strange' one. At least everyone knows what I'm like 🙂 I don't get any flack or teasing for it!

  5. Thanks for another wonderful post!! And so timely for me! My son just turned 2 and I have been hearing from almost everyone how he is going to stop eating and how their kids were just like him until they turned 2 and then they suddenly refused to eat. It makes me nuts!! There totally are days where he will eat less and then there are days where my husband and I look at each other and ask – is it ok that he is eating this much! But overall he comes to each meal looking forward to eating. If anything I think he is becoming more accepting of food that he hadn't been very interested in before – for example he loves a lot of the more bitter greens like kale and broccoli rabe which a couple of months ago he would chew and spit out – now he shovels the forkfulls in! And he is finally accepting a few bites of salad which he refused for months. I really think the major part of it is the snacking. I think most kids just get too many snacks to be hungry for meals – and I also think parenting is harder in so many ways as our kids become older toddlers and many times snacks or treats are used to ease tantrums or bribe good behavior. I also think that serving the meals in courses has been a big help (thanks Helene!) – he gets his veggies or any new flavors first when he is most hungry. Thanks for a great post! And I am looking forward to trying this black cod recipe – it is a favorite fish in our home!!

    1. Thanks, Sarika, it is comforting to know other moms are going through the same thing! What you talk about your son and the greens is a perfect example of why you just keep offering and not jump to conclusions that kids don't like something just because they spit it out the first time. You make a very good point with food used to manipulate kids' behavior. So glad to hear adopting the courses worked out for your family! Can't wait to hear what you and your little gourmet at home think of the cod and Brussels sprouts! (Hope he loves the parcel presentation as much as Pablo does :-))

  6. Thanks for the reply Helene. It can be befuddling sometimes with all the information that gets thrown your way with babies but I think common sense and instinct go a long way.

    1. Thanks for sharing this great article Robin. It's definitely a concern for the future. This has actually brought many thoughts to mind and I'm inspired to write a post on the topic, most likely next week. The good news is that the article got an amazing response on FB, which means more and more people feel this way and want things to change, so that's encouraging.

  7. Thanks for another wonderful post, Helene. This dish looks really tasty and I think my nearly 8 month old will really enjoy it. Brussel sprouts would be his new food from this dish to try. I'm really glad that I found your blog 2 months ago when I started my son on solids. And perfect timing for me on your 8-12 month recipes posts.

    1. Thanks so much, Kathy. It makes my day to hear you've been finding the blog and the recipes useful! Hope your little one enjoys the Brussels sprouts!

  8. Oh Helene! Thank you for this post. And the comments have been so encouraging too. Our daughter is 10 months and I get so frustrated feeling like the odd parent. My husband and I read French Kids Eat Everything while we were pregnant and I found your blog via Karen's site. I'm so thankful! I've used a lot of your methods and lists and our little one is an excellent eater. I hate when people are so negative and putting terrible expectations on children and on my kid! No one seems to realize that what you expect is likely to happen. Expecting bad behavior and food refusal just sets you up for failure rather than making food a joy. Thank you so much for constantly being honest and sharing your views and food habits too. Our little family appreciates you greatly!

    1. Dear Caryn, I appreciate your kind words with such gratitude, the fact that what I write here is actually useful to your family makes it all worthwhile. I really agree with you, expectations and labels tend to be self-fulfilling with children, I'm always inspired by young children's open minds, what a model they can be to us in this area.

  9. I know I've never had to go through the whole experience of a difficult child (though at 22 months we are definitely seeing this phase now playing out, but it's really hard for me to not think "you're child wasn't born a picky eater. All kids have predispositions, but can't you just accept the fact that maybe you did or are doing something wrong?" When I talk about my child and the food process, I get so annoyed by people's comments like "good luck with that" or "that just won't/doesn't work with my kid".

    1. Thanks for your comment Jodi, I would have to agree with you there. I find putting the blame on the child by labeling him/her as "difficult" or "picky" exceedingly unfair.

  10. I totally agree with you Helene and I stand on the same side. My kids are now almost 7 and 5 and they eat wide range of food because from the time they don't really know much about food, I cooked and feed wide ranges of food. When we dine out with other families, they always applaud and say how well my kids eat. But they just eat as they usually eat. To them, my kids look gourmet or unusual kids, but they know what's good already. Sure they love French fries etc but they have developed more sophisticated tongue not only to differentiate but appreciate what food offers. I think anyone can develop such thing at any age, but I don't think anything is wrong with trying early, it's not like it's hard for both of us to do. I admire you for your hard work Helene and I am happy that I can communicate and relate at the same level! I love black cod and this looks yummy!

    1. Thanks, Nami, I think the French and Japanese have a similar approach when it comes to feeding children, and with your wonderful cuisine, I'm not surprised your kids are little gourmet foodies 🙂

  11. We made the cod recipe last night and my kids (ages 5 and 10 months) LOVED it! I really appreciate your approach and thoughts. We have always fed our kids what we eat, sometimes with spices a bit toned down, but the core dish the same. My 5 year old has a broad palate and loves to try new foods, often to the astonishment of other adults. It seems to me that if you respect children as capable of complex appreciation of food, they will respond in kind and greatly enjoy meals more than being served chicken nuggets for the 100th time. Cheers!

    1. Hear hear to all of that! I am so thrilled to hear they loved it, thanks for letting me know, always makes my day 🙂

  12. Hello! So happy to find your blog! I'm so happy to see you post recipes that your baby also enjoys. I have been cooking my way through the Bonne Femme Cookbook and your recipe fits right along with how wonderful all the recipes are that the French cook every day! And I'm super into showing my little girl, Olive (one year) a wide variety of foods! We made this today and it was wonderful! Olive loved it, too. Thank you, again, so much!

    1. Hi Alisa! Just visited your lovely blog! Looking forward to following you. Thanks very much for the kind words, always warms my heart when I hear good feedback on recipes, glad you and your family enjoyed this one! 🙂

  13. Made this tonight too (with the pea salad). We used halibut and it was incredible. I am thrilled with how delicious these recipes have been and not difficult at all!

  14. I am so glad to hear you liked it! And good to know it worked well with halibut, I'll have to try.

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