When we first found out that we were going to have a baby, I immediately started planning meals.
Victoria and I had just moved into our new home. It was January, and the first of what seemed like 1,000 days and nights of endless snowfall had begun. The weather had knocked out wireless infrastructure. Our provider, focused on getting service back up in affected areas, had abandoned our scheduled installation. So, the next morning, my wife went to the office, and I went to work out of the local library.
Between the wind and snow, my feet were cold and wet. An app on my phone informed me that our child was the size of a poppyseed. Crying in the library, tears equally of joy and fear, I chose to be proactive the only way I’d known in my life: by cooking.
I checked out some books — What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Eating for Pregnancy: An Essential Guide and Cookbook for Today’s Mothers-to-Be (I passed on Vegan Pregnancy and Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven). That night, having nestled into a warm bed next to my wife, I began reading about pregnancy and nutrition.
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If the books’ aim was to plant the seeds of anxiety, then they succeeded. They listed daily dietary requirements and noted that maintaining certain quantities of iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, carotenoids, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain growth, eye development, and bone density. It can all be very overwhelming.
But when I looked at what they were actually recommending — 75 grams of protein, 1,200 milligrams of calcium, three servings of vegetables, six servings of whole grains — I realized that it looked a lot like what we consume every day. Friends concurred. They advised me to ignore the parenting books and cook the way I normally do, to trust that our balanced diet, which includes lots of fresh vegetables, would be good for the baby’s development as it is for us.
Then the food aversions started. Just as soon as I’d calmed down about what to feed Victoria, she stopped being able to eat. These seemingly random changes were exactly what the majority of pregnant women experience during the first trimester. They would pop up and disappear, ambushing my most carefully laid dinner plans with the unpredictability of a surprise Beyoncé album.
“Honey, I don’t want you to be offended,” she’d say, gently pushing away a plate of food. I didn’t need her to continue. I knew what was coming next.
In professional kitchens, I’ve seen good food go uneaten enough times to know that there are always other factors at play beyond the quality of my cooking.
I knew it wasn’t personal. One day, steamed broccoli with brown rice would be the perfect thing to settle her stomach. The next day, the very mention of it would revolt her. In the pantry and freezer, I stockpiled ingredients for dishes that she’d loved the week before. Then, suddenly, foods that she’d wanted every day of the week — udon with spicy chicken broth, say, or a BLT — would lose all appeal. Carefully packed lunches with separate Tupperware compartments for portions of grains, vegetables, and proteins would come home untouched.
She was always nice about it, never wanting to create more work for me. But I love cooking for her. It’s never work. I also love control, however, and the ability to plan meals. I had to let go of that. Very quickly, I realized that the third person in the room, our unborn daughter, had more than just the tie-breaking vote when it came to our dinner menus — she had complete veto power. To adapt, I start offering options.
In the afternoons, I began texting proposed menus to Victoria. Would you like fish tacos or roast vegetables with barley? Mussels in gochujang sauce or rapini with grits? The variety and choice seemed to free her up from guilt. And if she didn’t want either option, at least the process helped her figure out what she did want.
Soon, I switched to photos. Sometimes, annoyingly, I take a few moments to snap pictures of dinner before anyone’s allowed to eat (some of these photos end up on Instagram, but 95 per cent of them are for my own organizational purposes). The practice ended up coming in handy: I turned some of the pictures into an album called “Vic’s menu.” For a time, rather than pitch Victoria alternate menus every day, I’d simply send her photos and ask whether she was interested.
But, one day, she bought and ate a raw beet, biting into it like an apple. I knew then that predicting her tastes was a pointless exercise and understood that there was no need to take it personally.
Some nights, she was so disgusted by the idea of any food at all that she’d go to bed without eating. But I’d start prepping another meal in the kitchen anyway, knowing that she’d soon be out of bed and hungry. And if not, she could take it for lunch the next day.
Eventually, her stomach settled, and she started requesting protein-rich comfort foods — burgers, turkey sandwiches, omelets. Then, after a brief spell of carnivorous hunger, the desire for vegetables returned to balance things out.
There is joy in watching her eat — partly because it means that our little baby is getting the nutrients she needs, and partly because Victoria and her body are working so hard to grow another human being while I’m sitting on my butt like a chump. It feels good to contribute.
I just bookmarked an article about making baby food. Predictably, I’m going to be that bozo. But even as I gather ingredients with which to line the freezer — puréed sweet potato, peas, barley, red lentils — I know that my preparations are likely to be pointless. My daughter, a being of free will, is certain to develop her own likes and dislikes. Learning that my child won’t eat what I cook for her will be the next frontier in futile good intentions. I’ll just need to grow a thicker skin.