When I was a baby and a child – OK, until I was about 18 – I only liked bland food. Pasta with nothing on it, plain grilled fish, and all my food separated on the plate. I particularly hated (OK, still do) shepherd’s pie, even though I liked meat and I liked potatoes; I just objected to the Evil Seam where the two meet. I actually still like plain pasta and plain grilled fish, but happily my tastes have expanded somewhat since then.
So when I had Joe, and when he started to eat food, I assumed that he would also like bland food. Not only because I did, but also because isn’t bland food what babies eat? Well, one of the first things Joe ate very well was plain pasta – I think he had 5 pieces on his first go. I was proud and delighted: my clever boy knows what’s delicious! But a few days later, I gave him pasta with pesto (no salt) and he ate 14 pieces. Then I gave him some plain fish and he nibbled at the edges. I gave him fish cooked in a tomato sauce and he wolfed it down. And so it has gone on – give him something bland and he might eat a bit if he’s hungry, but give him something with seasoning (cumin is a particular favourite) or mustard or balsamic vinegar, and he can’t get enough of it. In particular, he loves anything cooked in a tomato sauce.
However, it is not all angelic perfect eating in my house. My happy little eater is not a huge fan of vegetables. I have a friend whose baby’s favourite foods are broccoli and peas. They have to give him vegetables AFTER he’s finished the rest of his food, because if they gave them to him at the beginning he wouldn’t eat anything else. If you gave Joe a broccoli floret after or even during a meal he would just pick it up, perhaps sniff at it, and then drop it on the floor, or maybe hide it on his chair next to him. If we want him to eat any green vegetables at all, we can try giving them to him at the beginning of the meal, but he’s a bit too clever for that, and he might take a small bite but then he puts them all in the discard pile and waits patiently for the real food to be served. The other way is to disguise them in tomato sauce. This almost always works – sometimes he picks out a disc of courgette and eagerly eats it, and then looks annoyed because it wasn’t a meatball, and refuses to eat anything else that isn’t clearly meat – but usually he shovels in handfuls of whatever he finds in tomato sauce and seems quite pleased with it.
I made this chicken in ratatouille last night to freeze in portions for Joe, but it is delicious and could have been shared with us. I used red onion, peppers, aubergine and courgette because these seemed like good Mediterranean ratatouille vegetables, but I guess anything would work.
Made 6 Joe-sized portions, or 4 adult portions
- 2 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
- 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
- 1 red onion
- 1 aubergine
- 2 peppers (I used yellow and green, to look pretty)
- 1 large courgette
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt, if you like
- Black pepper
- Tabasco sauce, if you like
- A glass or two of wine, if you like
- Chop the vegetables into small cubes. It’s useful if you can employ a sous-chef for this task, like my husband, who cuts perfect squares every time.
- Add a little olive oil to a large heavy based saucepan, and add the vegetables, starting with the onion, then the pepper, courgette and aubergine and garlic.
- Saute until everything is softened – about 10 minutes.
- Add the tins of tomatoes and wine, if used, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- While it is all cooking, cut the chicken into small pieces if you like – I did this for Joe’s portions, but if it were just for adults, I may have left the chicken in big pieces.
- Taste and season with the vinegar, salt and pepper, and Tabasco, if used. You could also add herbs and other spices at this time – whatever floats your boat.
- Add the chicken, cover with the sauce, and put in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Serve, or cool and freeze in portions.
*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*
Calories: 243 kcal