One family habit that I want to get started as early as possible is sitting down at the table together every day for dinner. Not just for the food (but the food is oh so important!), but to make time for our little family unit to tell each other about our days and really get to know what’s going on in each other’s lives. At this point, all Nora has to contribute to that conversation is “Gah! Gah! Gah! Gurgle!”, but that’ll change soon enough, and I want to make family dinners a priority even when long work hours and soccer practice or whatever threaten to steal all the time we have together.
Nora has been eating breakfast with us since she was six months old (we skipped purees and went straight for the good stuff – baby-led weaning), and last week we decided it was time for her to join us for dinner, too. This required some changes on our part since we used to eat dinner (in front of the tv, cough cough) after Nora went to bed. Now I have to be a total 50s housewife and have dinner on the table when JK comes home so we have time to eat together as a family before bedtime. It’s been going well so far, with a bit of planning and prep work, but I spy more challenges in the future when Nora not only becomes mobile, but also drops her afternoon catnap.
The food itself hasn’t been a problem so far. We just avoid honey and salt – I don’t add any salt while cooking these meals, but JK and I will add some at the table. I also make sure Nora’s food is easy for her to pick up and eat without being an obvious choking hazard, but otherwise, she is just getting used to our family’s food culture…minus chocolate, which makes up 80% of my diet. We’re enjoying her openness to try everything now, before she has the will to become picky.
Nora’s first dinner was Crispy Blackened Tofu with broccoli and root mash (mashed potato, carrot, and rutabega). We don’t eat soy that often, we have tempeh or tofu maybe once or twice a month, so I’m not worried about Nora getting too much of it. I will say that the tofu usually looks better than this, but I was trying to use less oil than I normally would when cooking them, so I kind of messed up the blackened part.
Next up: Creole Hoppin’ John from Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry. We would normally eat this with smoky collard greens and mushrooms, but I didn’t think Nora would be able to chew that properly, so instead I chopped up a bunch of kale into tiny pieces, snuck them into the food near the end of the cooking process, and served some roasted zucchini on the side.
The weather was amazing last weekend, so we spent our time working in the garden, relaxing on the deck, and – huzzah – barbecuing with Nora for the first time! She had a Lentil-Mushroom Burger served with zucchini, red pepper, and a fresh tomato.
When I say “fresh tomato”, I mean “gross, watery tomato and ugh, we should just wait until summer when our own tomatoes start popping up in the garden”, but Nora seemed to like it anyway.
Eating dinner together like this gives me all sorts of feels. Nora is growing up so fast! I’m currently reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan, and this part struck a chord:
The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.
The thing is, she’s teaching me a thing or two at the dinner table as well. She takes her sweet time eating, living totally in the moment, inspecting each piece of food and seemingly savoring each bite (of whatever actually makes it into her mouth and not onto the floor). It reminds me of our restaurant meals in Rome, where a dinner could take hours of eating, talking, sipping wine. There’s such a different food culture over there – we were encouraged to stay at our table all night, while here in the U.S., the waiter usually brings you your check the second you’re done shoveling in your food, sometimes even before, because someone else needs your table and they want you out of there. Nora, it seems, was born a Roman.
Oh, and the cleanup? It hasn’t been as awful as I thought it would be – whatever Nora doesn’t eat – provided it’s safe for dogs, of course – ends up being, uhm, composted via Wellie and Basil. Nora starting solids is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to them…and it’s pretty damn fun for us, too.