For me, vegetarianism is easy. Not only do I like vegetables, I like meat-free food. Even before my journey into vegetable love, I regularly skipped meat, eating out and at home. Vegetable love doesn’t come as easily to my husband, but he sticks to his principles all the same. Yet Joe and I had the luxury of deciding to go veg ourselves--Mir does not.
It’s not that I intend to force my beliefs on Baby--I’m a strong believer in informed choice. But with vegetarian parents, it’s unlikely he’ll run into meat-centric meals anytime soon. Most babies are vegetarians for the first six months of life--those with lactose and other milk intolerance could be considered vegan. Solid foods enter the scene at between four and six months, starting with grains, fruits and vegetables. Pumpkin, sweet potato, avocado, and apple become the order of the day. Lentils and beans follow. Then, around eight months, stewed pureed meats become an option. As appetizing as pureed beef flank sounds, Baby will be giving it a miss.
Of course, it’s common knowledge that growing up without meat stunts growth--according to some of our family, anyway. Phone calls are filled with tales of iron deficiency and lectures on the perils of a meat-free diet. “Give him some steak,” suggests one uncle. “That’ll build him up good.” Build him up? At 7 months, my child is heavier than some 1 year olds, and at least as tall besides. If he gets any more built up, I won’t be able to carry him down the stairs.
Much as I hate to admit it, our families are right--to some extent. Baby may not have the chompers for steak, but he will need protein. And much as I love a good tempeh stir fry or a tofu hotpot, they’re not exactly baby-friendly. When I asked our pediatrician about protein and vegetarian baby foods, she looked at me askance. “You’re Indian aren’t you? There are millions of vegetarian Indian children and they’re doing just fine.” Colour me embarrassed. I mumbled something about having an omnivorous Scottish mother then hustled us out of there.
Once home, I pulled out my trusty Charmaine Solomon book. The doctor was right--page after page detailed baby-friendly recipes overflowing with protein. Baingan bharta (my personal favorite), mushroom saag, curried chickpeas, good old yellow dal were bursting with nutrition. But would they be too spicy? And would Baby really care for eggplant and chickpeas?
A few days later, I settled Mir in his booster seat and fired up the grill. We sang songs (Panch Chota Bandariya, my pigeon Hindi version of Five Little Monkeys, is a favourite); I cooked. Half an hour later, I gave Baby his first real taste of Indian food--a lightly spiced version of baigan bharta, sans yoghurt. Ever-hungry, he grabbed at the spoon, jamming it first into his chin, then into his mouth. Seconds passed; faces were pulled; the spoon was banged; food was swallowed. Trembling, I scooped up some more, waiting for a tantrum, expecting a torrent of spit up. Bang, bang, bang. Baby thumped his hands on the table, universal infant speak for “more”.