When it comes to mealtime with baby, are the French onto something that we’re missing in the States?
Jenny Carenco’s “Bébé Gourmet: 100 French-Inspired Baby Food Recipes for Raising an Adventurous Eater” suggests that might be the case.
The author is the founder of the French baby food company Les Menus Bébé, a second career inspired by her experiences feeding her first child.
Carenco’s cookbook contains lunch, dinner and snack recipes appropriate for babies 4 months old and up. There’s everything from pumpkin, sweet potato and vanilla soup to risotto Milanese with butternut squash and sage to lemon-yogurt cake. And what French cookbook would be complete without (baby) beef bourguignon?
I’m leery of anything that bills itself as a panacea, but “Bébé Gourmet” doesn’t claim to be a cure-all for picky eaters. When I cracked open the book, I was expecting a somewhat preachy my-baby-is-more-organic-than-yours tutorial. Not so. Carenco strikes a disarming tone from the start.
“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 homemade meal on the table every night … without ever breaking one of her perfectly manicured nails,” she writes. “This is my story, the story of your average Super Mom. She wants the best for her kids and, through trial and error, has found a way to cook tasty and nutritious meals for her baby — without quitting her job, reducing her nightly sleep to two hours or hiring round-the-clock staff.”
Might there be a way to expand my toddler’s culinary horizons beyond chicken nuggets and blueberries? (Not to mention ketchup on … everything.) While it’s not a magic bullet, it’s a tool in my arsenal.
Several of the basic fruit and vegetable compote recipes for the youngest eaters simply require the time to peel, cut, boil and/or blend the food, while others add flavor or texture with a touch of olive oil, crème fraiche or lemon juice (to keep green avocado from turning brown too quickly).
There’s no doubt that the preparation will take more time than picking up a jar of baby food at the supermarket, or popping frozen meatballs into the microwave, but the effort could be well worth it if it results in a few winning recipes to add to your baby’s repertoire. Because the cookbook also provides tips on how to adapt the recipes for the rest of the family, you might discover a few new tastes for yourself.
Example: The baby’s chicken and tarragon fricassee (a finely blended mix of vegetables) can be used to stuff baked chicken breasts wrapped with prosciutto for a flashy, restaurant-caliber meal for older members of the family. Many of the purees in the book can double as toppings for fish and meat, or mixtures for rice and pasta.
Carenco sprinkles tips throughout the book, many based on experiences with her two children, such as serving risotto inside a hollowed beefsteak tomato. Viola! Edible bowl.
Extras include an FAQ section with nutritionist Dr. Jean Lalau Keraly and an alphabetical guide to recipes by main ingredient — helpful for those days when you’re fishing through odds and ends in your pantry but don’t have a specific recipe in mind.
Carenco’s French cookbook originally was published by Marabout Editions in 2009, and the updated English language version was published in 2013 by New York-based The Experiment. It’s available for $18.95 online through Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and Amazon, as well as in e-book form.