I recently read the book French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen LeBillon. I quite enjoyed the book, and—when it comes to preparing food for Alma—it gave me lots of “food” for thought. (Sorry!)
There are a number of interesting observations LeBillon makes in the book, but I’ll save them for another post. Today, I wanted to focus on the idea of starting dinner with a simple pureed vegetable soup. LeBillon says that the French start their meal with a soup several times a week. This soup is almost always a vegetable soup, and often a simple pureed vegetable soup. These soups supposedly make great starters for babies and toddlers, as they’re an easy way to introduce them to a lot of different vegetables. Also, it gives them a vegetable at the start of the meal, when they are most hungry. Finally, they’re really fast to make. Just saute some aromatics, throw in your veggies and broth, simmer briefly, and puree. All in all, that’s pretty easy, which is definitely a plus when it comes to cooking with a busy toddler underfoot. Finally, they freeze really well. You can freeze the soups in small jars and then defrost them quickly when needed—no need to scramble to put something healthy on the table at the last minute.
I thought I’d give it a try. I started with LeBillon’s simple French carrot soup with dill recipe. Although most toddlers seem to like carrots, Alma usually does not, I’m not sure why—maybe a texture issue? I thought pureeing them was worth a try. The first time I served it, Alma ate one very tiny bowl of it (a mise en place bowl), without too much complaint. She didn’t love it, but it helped that she’s just learned how to use a spoon, and so anything that requires a spoon is therefore very exciting. I had made quite a bit of soup, so I decided to take half of the leftovers and add in some roasted red bell pepper and jarred tomatoes, and pureed the soup again. I refrigerated a little bit of each soup, and froze the rest in small glass jars. The version with red bell pepper and tomato was definitely a bigger hit (with both Derek and Alma) than the straight carrot soup, but over the last several weeks Alma has eaten the plain carrot dill version several times, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes less so.
After the sort-of success of the carrot dill soup, I decided to try LeBillon’s recipe for Sophie’s Spinach Surprise, a spinach and zucchini soup. It was super easy and both Derek and I enjoyed it. Alma didn’t seem to love it, but she did eat a (very) small bowl of it with dinner. The next time I served it, I said it was a sauce to dip her baked tofu in, and that was a bigger hit. Again, she’s eaten it several times over the last month, sometimes happily, sometimes less so. I made it a second type in June, and we didn’t like it as much. The texture wasn’t smooth enough, even after pureeing. Maybe I put too much spinach in? I forgot to measure.
I started looking for another pureed French-style soup to make for Alma, and came across this page on simple Spring soups inspired by the French, with lots of ideas. I had celery root and mushrooms I wanted to use up, so I decided to make the celery root, mushroom, and potato soup. It has leeks in it too, and as a result it tasted a lot like a vichyssoise with mushrooms and celery flavors on top. When I first served it to Alma she looked askance at it. I think the brown/beige color really turned her off. She likes colorful food and texture, not brown goop. She refused to eat the soup, so I gave her her next course—roasted cauliflower and black beans. I left the soup on her tray and eventually she gave in and started dropping pieces of cauliflower in the soup, and then fishing them out with her spoon. She ended up eating the whole (tiny!) bowl of soup that way. The second time I served the soup to her with cauliflower, beans, and cooked tomatoes. Again Alma looked askance at this soup. She tried to refuse everything, but after I insisted (several times) that that’s all there was for lunch, she eventually gave in and ate everything. I served it a third time a few days later, but this time with tons of green peas in it, for color and texture. She ate the whole bowl, no complaints. That girl loves her peas.
Next, I tried this recipe for Potage Crécy, a simple carrot, potato, leek soup seasoned with thyme and nutmeg. I didn’t have any vegetable broth, so just used water. The recipe is quite rich. It has butter and olive oil, and calls for half-and-half as well. I halved the amount of half-and-half, and Derek said it tasted like “light French food.” The author says that that no one flavor dominates, and I agree. You can taste the carrots, the potatoes, and the leeks, but none of them stands above the others. I actually thought it was just a bit boring. Derek said it was excellent though. Alma refused to try the soup. Got very pissed off about it. She made us take it off her high chair tray. Later in the meal, however, she finally consented to try it, and then she ate her whole (small) bowl. Apparently she liked it. She ate it happily on a second attempt.
Update May 8: For dinner tonight I made this asparagus soup with fennel and potato. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find fresh basil or tarragon, so I just added 40g of frozen basil and 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon. I used creme fraiche instead of sour cream, and so used significantly less. I used a very large fennel, but couldn’t taste it at all. I couldn’t really taste the asparagus either. If I hadn’t made the soup myself, I would have thought it was potato broccoli! We found the soup a bit bland, perhaps because of the absence of fresh herbs, so I added a little lime at the table. Alma really liked the soup. She ate 3 (tiny) bowls of it.
Still to try:
There are a million other possibilities. I’m interested in trying some of the soup recipes on the French Foodie Baby blog. I’m intrigued by the celeriac sunchoke soup, but I’m nervous about feeding Alma jerusalem artichokes. The asparagus, arugula, and avocado soup is also on my list—I’ve never convinced Alma to eat arugula, and it’s one of the few dark leafy greens I can get here. I also want to try this recipe for cauliflower, spinach, turnip soup with tarragon. Alma likes cauliflower a lot, but is not usually a huge fan of spinach and has never willingly eaten turnips. So I’m curious how that one will go over.