There are many reasons why we set out to create this book, ranging from the friendship we’ve developed between our families, going all the way back to our roots as individuals. We’d like to take a moment to share that story with you. Because this project is more than just a book; it’s actually a lifetime in the making, and a true labor of love.
Alessandra (Ali’s) story
I brought my daughter, Penelope, over to Amy’s house one day when the babies were small. Amy’s son Landon is 3 months older than Penelope (he was 8 months old at the time) and had already started eating solid foods. Amy was spoon-feeding him a bright orange puree with specs of green in it, and whatever it was, he was wolfing it down like a champ!
“What is he eating?” I asked.
“Butternut squash, with rosemary and sage!” Amy said.
I sat there, baffled for a minute. “Babies can eat herbs at this age?”
“Yes, they can!” Amy responded confidently.
I went home that night and my mind began racing. I am a foodie at heart, and a first-generation Italian, meaning that I come from a whole line of people who also care a great deal about food.
I thought of my nonna Tina, my father’s mother, who would create a feast from her tiny kitchen in their apartment in the Bronx, where we’d eat until we felt like we’d burst, and all the while she was serving us more, insisting, “Mangia, mangia!” (“Eat, eat!”). Food was love.
I thought of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who was the first to admit she was a “lousy cook,” but who perfected an eggplant Parmesan that has yet to be surpassed and who used to make my day with her English muffin pizzas. She taught me one of the most important pieces of culinary advice: you don’t have to know how to cook a lot of things, but if learn how to cook just a handful of things well, and with love, you’ve succeeded as a chef.
I think of my own mother, who, somewhere in between raising five children and working outside of the home, still grew a family garden on the side of our house. I remember as a child declaring tomatoes “disgusting!” until the time I had fresh-picked, home-grown chunks of tomatoes straight from the vine, tossed in olive oil and oregano. It blew my mind that those tomatoes were still growing only minutes before we ate them. Suddenly, from that point on, they were delicious.
I had always considered myself a fairly healthy eater, but once I became pregnant, food took on a whole new meaning. It suddenly became a priority for me because it was no longer just myself I was eating healthily for—I was now responsible for our baby’s health as well.
I knew I wanted to prepare Penelope’s food when her time came to start eating, and I knew that I didn’t want it to be bland. I love food too much, and I wanted my daughter to love it too! We keep a small garden at home, where we grow herbs and whatever fresh food we can, so this seemed a natural step.
But my mind was racing from a nutritional standpoint as well. We know that herbs and spices are beneficial to adults and that they enhance the flavor profiles of our foods tremendously. Surely they had to be beneficial for babies too?
I knew Amy shared my love for food, as well as nutritious ingredients. She loved experimenting with new recipes, and I had been creating and sharing recipes on my personal website for many years already. We are busy moms, so practicality is always a top priority. We were both hard workers who had recently left our jobs to become hardworking, full-time caregivers to our babies, and we were now embarking on this journey in feeding them. Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head!
I went back to Amy’s the following week with a proposition: Would she like to collaborate on a cookbook for babies and toddlers, using delicious flavors, herbs, and spices? I thought for a moment she might think I was a bit crazy, but when I was met with an enthusiastic and resounding “Yes!” I knew she was just as excited about this idea as I was.
I vividly remember the first time I fed my son solid foods. I prepared my own homemade puree in the blender, placed Landon in a bouncy chair on the kitchen floor, spoon-fed him a few bites, and had my husband capture every moment on video! I felt alive and energized by this milestone—even more so than the first time he crawled or walked. Perhaps my enthusiasm stemmed from my passion for cooking, nutrition, and eating!
I felt confident about what I wanted to feed my son, even though my resume displayed zero prior experience. Much of my confidence came from the vast research I did on how to introduce solid foods and prevent picky eating habits in children. I also trusted my own intuition. Many of the foods I fed my son during his early years were foods that my husband and I enjoyed before we had children. Dishes such as roasted brussels sprouts with fresh thyme and butternut squash with rosemary and sage were perfect side vegetables for our dinner. My goal was to have my kids eat the same foods my husband and I ate, so why not start as soon as possible? I wanted to expose my children to various flavors and foods as soon as it was safe to do so.
My husband’s hobby is gardening. On a regular basis, we grew food in the garden, cooked healthy meals, and enjoyed romantic, candlelit dinners at home prior to having kids. We didn’t want these traditions to drastically change after kids. Once the kids came along, our candles and matches flew right out the window, but luckily our passion for eating healthy meals did not!
I had the privilege of growing up in a Parsi (Persian-Indian) household. Food was a critical part of our family life and a primary expression of love. My three sisters and I were fortunate to grow up with our Parsi, live-in grandmother. She was a well-known caterer in India, and she emigrated to the United States to live with my parents in the late 1970s. At the time, I had no idea what an influence my grandmother would have on me one day. Like her, I now take intense pleasure from watching my kids devour food I have lovingly prepared for them.
Growing up, my parents and grandmother followed somewhat of a naturopathic approach to treating illnesses. Eastern medicine, including the use of herbs, spices, and foods, was often “prescribed” by my parents. If that did not work, we would resort to traditional Western medicine. My father and grandmother were the family’s main prescribers of these herbal remedies.
“Drink warm milk with turmeric!” my father would advise in a heavy, British-Indian accent. “The turmeric will help break up the mucus and knock it out!”
Have a sore throat?
“Take hot water, brandy, and honey before you go to bed. Use local farmer’s honey. It’s the best!” he’d explain.
“What’s the honey for?” I’d ask.
“The honey helps coat your throat and makes it feel nice. The hot water helps the honey mix well.”
“And the brandy? What medicinal purpose does that serve?” I’d ask.
At first, I got no response, so I asked the question again.
“The brandy? Well, that’s just to help you sleep well,” he admitted softly.
Nauseous? No problem!
“Take lavang (clove)!” my Parsi grandmother would recommend. She’d excitedly run upstairs to her bedroom, open her top dresser drawer, and pull a single clove out of a McCormick’s spice bottle. “Suck on this slowly,” she’d say. I’d be left standing there in awe, uncertain of what to do with the bizarre-looking spice that was shaped like a small, single-stem rose.
“Take isabgol (psyllium husk) mixed with a little orange juice!” my mom would exclaim. “It makes your bowel movements smoooth as silk!” She had an American accent that sounded so natural, you’d never know she was actually born in Bombay.
As a child, all of these herbal remedies sounded more superstitious than medicinal. But over the years, I grew to believe that foods, herbs, and spices can play a big role in our overall health. I believe that in some instances, they may even aid certain ailments.
In October 2013, Alessandra approached me about working on a baby food cookbook that featured the use of herbs and spices. To say I was excited is a gross understatement—I was thrilled! Two months later, my husband, Landon, and I boarded a plane to Houston. We were on our way to spend Christmas and New Year’s at my parents’ house. The day after we arrived, my father unexpectedly suffered a heart attack. Later that week, we attended his funeral. I never imagined that would be the last time my father would see Landon. Due to geography, my father had met our son only twice: once when Landon was 2-months-old and then a second time at 8-months-old, the day before my father passed away. I had exactly two photographs of them together.
After my visit to Houston, I grappled with some difficult decisions. Would I be in a healthy mind-set to work on this cookbook? Could I fully focus and commit to this project? Somewhere along the way, the answer to these questions became clear. My parents are the reason I am feeding my kids the way I’m feeding them. Creating this cookbook would be an opportunity to work on something I love, something I am doing with my children anyway, and, on many levels, it would help me keep memories of my dad alive. He was the one who made me a believer in the importance and benefits of herbs and spices in the first place.
During the many late nights I stood in my kitchen inventing recipes for this cookbook, I’d hold different foods, herbs, and spices in my hand and hear my dad’s voice in my head. His voice was telling me the same things he told me over and over when he was alive:
“Amy, garlic is very good for the immune system, nutmeg is good for digestion, cardamom is good for heartburn, lime is good for dehydration…”
Our journey begins
Before we knew it, our get-togethers with our babies turned into sessions filled with cooking, recipe testing, and writing, peppered with feeding our babies and planned (and failed) attempts at nap synchronization. As anyone with a baby or toddler knows, taking care of babies is hard work! But the good part was that we had built-in recipe testers right there with us. Many times we would meet at night after our babies were in bed to work on marketing, management of our project, and business details, which we still do today.
When it came to cooking styles and flavors, we drew upon our own ethnic backgrounds and family favorites (Italian and Indian), as well as favorite tastes from around the world and classic American favorites too. We also interviewed and consulted with pediatricians, dieticians, specialists, and other experts when crafting our recipes to ensure we were creating the most nutritious food combinations and using the healthiest ingredients, all while being respectful to our little ones’ sensitive palates. And, perhaps the most important part of our journey, we tapped our growing network of moms and dads who are also raising and feeding little ones and who willingly took our recipes for test drives and gave us real feedback and suggestions along the way. We knew we did not want to cook separate meals for our children, so we also made sure that many of our recipes could be enjoyed by the entire family, too.
The result of all the above is the beautiful book in your hands: one we know is filled with not just recipes and flavors, but also thoughtfulness, gentle encouragement, and lots and lots of love.
Read more about Alessandra and Amy, here.
Where We Are Today
We certainly don’t have, and don’t pretend to have, obedient little eaters who will feast upon anything we prepare for them without fuss or protest. After all, they are toddlers now, and they have plenty of opinions! But we can say with confidence that they do eat very well, enjoy a nutritious diet, and are open to trying new things—and we credit much of this to our recipes and our commitment to offering a variety of flavors, textures, and ingredients. We also discovered several recipes that quickly became favorites for our families, providing us endless options at mealtimes and freezers filled with ready-to-go meals on the fly.
What a Good Eater! is available for purchase on Amazon–and we could not be more excited and proud! Whether you are a regular foodie and novice cook with plans to prepare the majority of your family’s meals, a super busy parent with limited time to cook, a newbie to cooking who would like a beautiful reference book with great recipes to try, or a family member looking for a great gift for a mom-to-be, we believe there is something for everyone inside these pages. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it.
Where to Find Us
Thank you for supporting us and following us along on our journey. Here’s how you can join our mailing list for free recipes and tips on feeding the family (we only email about once per month): Join the What a Good Eater mailing list
Become a member of our “Private Discussion Forum: Parents Helping Parents”, by going here: Request to Join Discussion Group
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