It was a warm day, so driving to Santa Monica was a relief. Mid-city Los Angeles can get sticky and muggy, but on the west side, the ocean sweeps through to cool you down. It reminds me of when I was a child, walking through a misty sprinkler after playing on hot concrete all day in the city. The location for The Little Foodies workshop was a corner spot called Books and Cookies. I was on the phone with my boyfriend when I walked up from the sidewalk. “Oh my God,” I said. “I think I found heaven.” There were little t-shirts that read “Snack Nap Read”, children’s books lined the wall, a play area with a tee-pee and a swinging rope chair, a My Mini’s Menu with “cutie quiche”, “pancake bits” and vegan food for kids. And best of all, there was espresso! A sign in the window said, “Now Hiring Part-Time” …. “Someone Creative”.
“They are hiring!” I exclaimed, as my boyfriend fell silent. “Can I commute an hour each way for a part-time job?” (at $4 a gallon, I psychically added)
“Let’s just move to Santa Monica,” he said. I laughed because I wanted to. I laughed because we couldn’t afford to. It is one of the best places in the world.
Books and Cookies offers 45-minute “Storytime”, not to be confused with “Princess Storytime” where children are led into a fairytale by a real life princess. There are special activities for “Wiggle Worms” too. Baby and Toddler Playtimes, Creative Cookies (design your own cookie), Yoga Tales (incorporating body movement into storytime), Crafty (using crafts and story), Music with Sandra and Baby Sign Story Time (baby learns to communicate using their body before they master verbal language).
In front of the food service counter, in the center of the store, was Chudney Ross. She owns this little slice of heaven, and I watched her gently rock back and forth with her own baby strapped securely to her chest.
“How is it running a business as a new Mom?” I asked.
“Absolutely exhausting, but luckily I have a very good baby,” she said.
Across from the book section, I saw mommies lining up. That was Club MomMe’s Little Foodies seminar I would be attending for the day. Club MomMe is a community organization hosting social, educational and wellness events community for moms, expectant parents and families in five cities: Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orange County (California) and Los Angeles.
They host 6-10 events per month for any mom, dad, grandparent or caregiver. Each event features food, social time to meet other parents, gift bags and giveaways. A mother-to-be walked up to check in.
“How are you?” someone asked.
“Pregnant, how are you?” she said.
Along that wall was a little baby food sampler from What’s Good, an organic food company for babies and children. I tested all the flavors: Roasted Banana Puree, Creamy Carrot Puree, Simply Sweet Potato, Apple of my Eye, Sweetie Pie Blend. There might be a natural resistance to eating baby food, but if you don’t want to eat what your baby is eating, then your baby shouldn’t be eating it either. One by one, I took a little spoon and scooped each flavor into my mouth. It was soft, but not mushy. The single ingredient purees filled my mouth and nose with color. The creamy carrot puree (just carrot, nothing more) stopped me. I had the moment where I closed my eyes and tasted the sunshine, the leaves on the carrot, and the water from the gardener.
“Oh my God!” I said. I am not even a big fan of carrots in general. I eat them, they are good. Something about this carrot puree felt special, maybe because it came from an organic farmer and was made with love. Sometimes that makes all the difference.
A mother sitting at a table nearby looked at me, “Good?” she asked, half-curious.
“Really good.” I nodded, covering my mouth with my hand and spoon. I looked over at her large, sandwich. There were deli slices between thick slabs of bread. Somewhere between the little one falling asleep in the stroller and the mommy all grown up, we made food complicated. It hasn’t necessarily made eating more pleasant. After the creamy carrot puree, that sandwich looked heavy and lackluster.
In addition to the puree, Sarah Schier’s What’s Good sells vegan teething rings made of puree and maple syrup. You simply keep it in the freezer and reuse. The company is only 6 months young, but already expanding. In addition to delivery throughout Los Angeles, they will be coordinating pick-up stations, at places like Books and Cookies, for customers to pick up their order at a discounted price.
As babies and MomMes settled down on the carpet, blankets were unfolded, baby carriers rocked, ginger kisses dropped, Jennifer Smigelski of WELLthy Families sat in the front of the room to educate these new moms on how to feed their babies. A little boy was stumbling towards me. I hunched over my pen and paper. “Don’t touch the baby!” I thought. “Don’t touch the baby!” God, I wanted to touch the baby.
Jennifer is a Health Coach and Family Wellness Expert. Before she started, I applauded her and Club MomMe for the event. “Going through our own experiences [as mothers], you learn you don’t have to do things the hard way. So going out and talking to women helps them understand that they don’t have to figure things out alone. We provide support, friendship and community,” she said.
All four of these women, Jennifer, Chudney, Sarah and Rachel Pitzel (Head of Los Angeles’ Club MomMe) were mothers, determined to provide resources for families and organize events where they could learn and commiserate. “It Takes a Village” never seemed so realized as it did in this corner cookie paradise, with four hard working women fighting to make knowledge accessible.
Stages of Eating:
Newborn to Age 1: “Up to the age of 1, children will mostly drink milk,” she said. “The AAP revised their guidelines and said children should wait until 6 months of age before eating solid food.
6-8 months of age: Jennifer suggests you introduce single-note puree, like the What’s Good samplers. Apples and sweet potatoes are non-allergenic, so they are safe to start with. “People get enthusiastic and combine lots of foods and flavors but then it is harder to decipher what foods [their children] might be having problems with,” she said.
Moms and Dads should hold on spices, onions and garlic until after 8 months of age. Always make sure they get most of their fruits, vegetables and grains to identify any allergic reactions. Jennifer says parents shouldn’t even include cinnamon on apples. The digestive tract is still maturing.
Family Meals. “We don’t make ‘kids foods’. We make family foods. If you are feeding your child kiddie meals it traps you in a cycle where they always want those kiddies packages. There is still a way to make every meal child appropriate.
Create Consistency. Put your child on a schedule. Don’t force them to eat lunch. “If they only want a few bites,” Jennifer says, “I am all for it. The world is exciting for a baby. They have things to do, places to go and people to see. Don’t force a schedule, encourage one.”
Control. Put out condiments. They can add them to meals. Put out a selection of finger foods so they can choose for themselves.
Quality ingredients. Natural taste will be naturally appealing. Do not assume kids want powdery, artificial cheese all over their fingertips, or greasy, bright butter lathered over their pizza crust. Good food tastes good. It is not a matter of acquiring that taste, but a matter of realizing kids are part of nature, and enjoy (yes, even love) natural foods.
Relax and Have Fun. It’s all a phase. It too will pass. “Just when you start to think it’s going to be that way forever, they start something new.”
I started to get the picture here. We don’t have to control our children. It seems like an obvious revelation, but I am not so sure it is. I came from a family who forced me to eat lima beans and broccoli at the table. They pushed meat on my plate when I wanted to be a vegetarian at age 4. American parents are ready to fight a war. They know best. Children don’t.
Actually …. sometimes they do. Did you know kids lean towards sweet foods because they tend to be naturally safer? Foods that are bitter or sour tend to be more poisonous in nature.
Trust your child to understand what tastes good to them. I am sure you wouldn’t want someone else ordering for you at a restaurant. Or insisting you eat cilantro if you hate cilantro. Personally, I can’t stand breakfast food. Oatmeal. Toast. Pancakes. I never liked it; they taste bland and fill me up too fast. As adults, we appreciate that about each other. My boyfriend stocks up on vegan sausage and lentil soup because he knows that is what I like in the morning. Why can’t we offer our kids the same consideration?
There is a greater message here too, about life. You can’t control your child’s life. Here we were, a group of strangers in a room with one common goal: to learn how to feed children. One little boy got up to play the drums and then walked around the room touching and shaking things. “Don’t worry about it,” Jennifer said to the mom. After all, the child was doing what children do. He was exploring and learning. As adults, we can still focus over mild distractions.
One child cried. Another burped. Someone pooped their diapers. Mothers were apologetic, holding their children over their shoulders and blushing. That is life. It is messy and sometimes poop happens in public. You can love your baby. You can teach your baby. But don’t ever control your baby. Life isn’t made that way, and thank God.
Chudney Ross- Writer/Teacher/TV Host/Owner/Mommy
Books and Cookies
2230 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA