It’s not always easy to find something that Baba will eat. That’s not to say she’s a fussy eater; she really isn’t at all, and we’re very lucky that she doesn’t appear to have any food intolerances either. But I would describe her as a moody eater – you’re never quite sure how she’ll react to something.* I suppose that’s true of all of us though. As adults, we get to choose what we eat, but for the most part we put food in front of our children and expect them to eat it, even if it’s not what they feel like right now.
Baba is just 13 months old so while we can ask her what she’d like, she’s not exactly equipped to express her desires, so she’s confined to whatever list of suggestions Mammy and Daddy can come up with. “Would you like a cheese sandwich?”, comes the question, which is often met with an enthusiastic bobbing of the head and a breathy sound akin to “yeah yeah yeah”. And even then, when presented with the agreed cheese sandwich, if something else catches her eye say, I don’t know, a punnet of strawberries or a box of cherry tomatoes, the once glorious sandwich is instantly repulsive to her and there can be no substitute for the shiny red fruit.
In particular, Baba likes food she can pick up and put in her mouth herself. She’s happy enough to relinquish control of the spoon and prefers to play with it once the bowl is empty, but largely she enjoys being able to feed herself. And for the most part it is hugely entertaining. Just last night I stifled the giggles while she leaned in very close to her bowl of grapes and appeared to whisper to them. Whether it was menacing threats or soothing tones I can never be sure, but all the grapes met the same gruesome end.
We’ve noticed recently that Baba eats better when she has company at the table, much like her mother. I mean, who prefers eating alone? Increasingly we’re trying to eat together as a family, although this isn’t always easy with everyone’s different schedules. But when it is possible we eat together at the table, and we all eat the same things. This means we have to come up with meals that are appealing to us and suitable for her, which, again, isn’t always easy. At the same time it’s a fun challenge, and the reward is watching Baba try something new and enjoy it, while also being delighted that snap!, she’s got the same food as Mammy and Daddy.
With this in mind I decided to make some fish cakes. Baba has had them before so I knew it wouldn’t be too much of a gamble, and they’re a perfect dinner idea for the whole family, served with a bit of salad or steamed vegetables. Cooking them in the oven rather than frying them is the healthier option but it did dry them out a little bit, so for the grown-ups I would recommend serving them with a little sweet chilli sauce, zesty mayonnaise or even humble salad cream.
So, on with the how-to. We had some mashed potato left over from the night before. (Honestly, how does one measure out the correct amount of pasta/rice/potatoes?) I took two heaped tablespoons of mashed potato and added them to a tin of salmon (bones removed). Next I added a few of Baba’s favourite vegetables: peas and cherry tomatoes, and some that she’s not overly keen on: sweetcorn and carrots. I hoped that the obvious presence of the preferred vegetables would distract her from the presence of the less popular ones, and on the whole, I did manage to fool her. Ha, one-nil to Mama!
Because I had used milk to mash the potatoes I found the mixture was quite wet and didn’t need anything to bind it. In fact, I found it was a little too wet so I added some breadcrumbs to make the mixture a bit firmer. But if you prefer not to use any dairy you could always use a little beaten egg to bind the mixture together.
Then came my favourite part – digging my hands in and shaping little fishcakes in the palms of my hands. I made them about the size of those mini rice cakes made for children, about two adult bites, and found I had enough to make 8 portions, just right for little fingers. Then I popped them on a baking tray and placed them in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, turning once halfway through until both sides were golden brown.
They froze very well, although I have to admit they didn’t hang around in the freezer too long. When we find something Baba likes to eat it’s hard not to keep going back to it. These little fishy delights will definitely be making another appearance in the Hamm household!
*This is not entirely true for strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Without fail Baba will munch any amount of soft, sweet, red fruit placed in front of her, and will behave like an addict forced to go cold turkey if there’s even a suggestion that she’s had enough. But it could be worse. We’re happy to indulge her fruit addiction.