I had the pleasure of traveling home to Nova Scotia for a week this month. Kim and Keira also flew in from London. So there we were – three generations under that roof that sheltered us from the inevitable rain of springtime in Nova Scotia. Quite apart from the excitement of being en famille, I was happy to watch Keira eat. And eat and eat.
Her arms and legs would flail as soon as she was strapped into her nearly full-body bib. A smile burst forth as food was proffered from Kim’s plate to her high chair table. She ate apple pancakes, blueberries, porridge, an omelette, avocado, steamed broccoli, plain tofu from Acadiana Soy Products, banana, sweet potato mash, steamed salmon, and aged cheddar cheese. She was less enthusiastic about plain yogurt and a lentil stew, but ate them nonetheless. Her legs kicked most vigorously when she saw dessert coming – lightly cooked pear or apple.
I would venture that Keira’s diet is more varied than the average adult in North America. And yet, our family had many conversations about what Keira was eating. Kim expressed worries about whether Keira is eating the right things in the right quantities. It’s not easy to know how much babies should be eating. Kim has consulted guidelines and is careful to make sure that Keira gets enough iron, for example.
Feeding Keira jars of baby food might make things seem simpler. Parents might find comfort in ensuring their baby eats a whole jar of mashed (insert fruit or vegetable), but I’m not sure that’s the right approach.
It all smacks a bit of nutritionism – the idea that foods are simply the sum of their nutrients. Michael Pollan discusses this concept at length in his illuminating In Defense of Food. According to Pollan, because of food lobby groups (like the cattle farmers who sued Oprah), the government is forced to give dietary guidelines that reduce foods to their component parts. They can’t single out particular foods as healthy or unhealthy. But the trouble is that most of the food science is done with the whole foods. That means that researchers don’t really know if broccoli is good for you because of a specific vitamin it contains, or because of something else about its broccoli nature. And these discussions of individual nutrients reduce our relationship with food to a scientific exercise. We may as well be taking all of our meals in pill form.
Don’t get me wrong – it is important to ensure that babies get enough fruits, vegetables, protein, etc. But look at that list of the type of food that Keira ate in one week. She was presented with a great variety of foods with a huge diversity of nutrients. She ate some of each, and she drank a couple of bottles each day. I am a social scientist with no training in nutrition, but it seems to me that there is little reason to think that Keira is undernourished.
That said, I know that Kim is particularly concerned about Keira’s intake of iron. So, one morning, I whipped up some spinach pancakes adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have been steadily cooking my way through this beautiful book, so I relished the opportunity to convert one of the recipes for Keira. To add more protein, I used a bit of quinoa flour in my gluten-free flour mix. I’ve also included the recipe for Yotam’s lime butter, which really guilds the lily of these pancakes but is not intended for babies.
Green pancakes with lime butter (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)
Makes about 10 medium-sized pancakes
For the pancakes
250g spinach or swiss chard
1 tbsp baking powder
1 large egg, separated
30g butter, melted (or oil)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
150ml plain yogurt
1 small onion, finely diced
If your spinach has tough stalks, pinch them off and dump them in the compost. If using swiss chard, I recommend reserving the stalks for another use, like a stir-fry. You may need to wash the leaves in a few changes of water to make sure all of the dirt is gone.
Wilt the spinach by putting it in a large pan over low heat. Drain the spinach, and when cool squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Roughly chop and set aside.
To make the pancake batter: whisk the flour, baking powder, egg yolk, butter, salt, cumin, milk in large bowl. Add onion and spinach, and mix. In a separate bowl, whisk or beat the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold into batter with a spatula.
When your skillet or griddle is greased and hot, drop the batter by approximately 1/4 cupfuls.
Spread the batter a bit when it first hits the pan. Cook the pancakes about 3 minutes on the first side (till slightly brown on the bottom) and then flip, cooking for 3 minutes more.
I find these pancakes pretty killer on their own, but adults might enjoy the extra decadence of the lime butter:
For the lime butter
100g unsalted butter
Zest of one lime
Approximately half the juice of one lime
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
1/4 tsp salt
Allow the butter to come to room temperature. Dump everything in a food processor and whiz until well incorporated. Store in a clean jar in the fridge. The butter can be used on pancakes, but other applications are welcome – think baked sweet potato, fish, etc.