For me, food is so much more than sustenance. It is a way of experiencing a culture. It is the pleasure of taste and texture. It is discovery. It is creation and art. It is a way to connect. So to me, I inevitably and naively assumed that food would be as integral a part of my children's lives as it was of mine. I envisioned us cooking, eating out and creating gardens together. I hoped that food would be as much an entry point to their world as it was to mine and that of our family.
However, when we discovered that our first child was allergic to a number of food, that image dwindled and became complex. That combined with the fact that he, like most toddlers, prefers the comfort of noodles and chicken nuggets made it hard to include him in food preparation.
However, as he as gotten older (he is now 2) and his allergies have decreased to peanuts and eggs, I have begun to try to let him experience more tastes and to include him in cooking. In fact, his allergy to peanuts has pushed me to expand my range of cooking since doctors have discouraged us from taking him to restaurants. Thus he has recently tried (and liked!): tofu in black bean sauce, jab chae, dosas, radish greens, roasted beets and spinach with sesame sauce.
Recently, as our friends' children turned 2, R's allergies meant that the birthday party circuit was challenging. Our options: buy a vegan cupcake at Whole Foods, use a vegan mix or make our own. The reality is that the vegan cupcakes taste like dirty cardboard and the mixes are incredibly expensive. So, I invested in one more cookbook: Bakin' Without Eggs by Rosemarie Emro.
And I decide that 2 year old R was ready to start cooking with me. I laid out the ingredients and put his booster seat on his stool. Telling him it was time to bake, I helped him to put each ingredient in the bowl and turn on the mixer. When the mix was done, he declined the joy of licking the bowl (how many more years will that last?), but was happy to press "start" on the oven. And, when the cupcakes were finally done, he jumped with excitement to try them. Two bites later, he was done. Whether because they weren't up to Betty Crocker standards or because he is so unfamiliar with sweet desserts, muffins and cakes due to his allergies, I am not sure. My husband was certainly impressed with their moistness despite the lack of eggs. (I reassured him that sour cream generously made up for it!)
Ultimately, it was just so fun. His pure pleasure at the simplest aspects of the cooking process were delightful. He didn't mind or realize that he was merely putting pre-measured flour in a bowl. To him, he was doing something fun with mommy.
And despite R. not really eating them, he talks about them almost every day. And, of course, it is nice to have him be part of parties as he brings his cupcake along. Since then, I have begun to include him in more and more of my cooking even if it sometimes means choosing his frozen chicken nugget or picking the beet greens at a farm. But I hope that he is beginning to create his own foodie memories.