By Herb Gardner –
According to a recent Time magazine issue, 41% of American two-year olds’ daily vegetable calories come from French fries. Clearly, too many families have abandoned the produce aisle for the drive through line.
Enter author and mother Pragna Parmita to restore discipline and sanity to meal planning for youngsters. Vegebaby as the title implies advocates a vegetarian diet for a healthy body, bright mind, and sweet disposition. What distinguishes Vegebaby from others in this genre is its prescriptive philosophy. Eating the right foods in the right combinations can help alleviate many conditions that vex parents and trouble tots, such as constipation or frequent infections.
Parmita, however, is neither a physician or nutritionist. Her credibility rests on careful observations of her two sons eating habits supplemented with professional consultations and research. The small sample size and unattributed “foods that heal” claims gave me pause, though she was correct to point out that vegetable iron differs from animal, or “heme”, iron in how it is absorbed by the body.
My major criticism concerns more practical issues, such as expense. To make all of Vegebaby’s recipes for parathas, a versatile Indian flatbread stuffed with vegetables and spices, will require whole wheat flour, barley flour, rice flour, flaxseed meal, soy flour—not to mention carom seeds, asafetida, jaggery, and fenugreek leaves (fenugreek gives lamb saag its distinctiveness). Many Vegebaby hot soups are made in a pressure cooker. Do you have the counter space for yet another cooking appliance?
Good cookbook layout and design should unobtrusively carry content on its shoulders. Vegebaby’s extensive use of red in backgrounds, margins, and typefaces was annpying. Overworked and outsized graphic elements sometimes undermined legibility. Judicious photo editing alone could have shrunk this tome into a more manageable size.
Busy households may find a modest return from Vegebaby’s more conventional recipes (like the one below) where the majority ingredients are readily available from the megamart. Parents may also want to cherry-pick recipes and preparations that offer relief for common childhood ailments like indigestion. It is unlikely, however, that Parmita will convince harried Western moms to turn their pantries into apothecaries and consistently cook complex foods for their children that don’t resemble their own lived experience and traditions.
Despite my reservations, Vegebaby does contain flavorful soups, rice dishes, sandwiches, desserts, and the like that a loving parent would be pleased to serve his/her child. The following recipe contains vitamins A, B, C, K, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids to optimize growth and promote better sleep. Carrots and peas are two of Fauna’s favorites.
Carrot and Fresh Green Pea Soup
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
2 small cups fresh green peas
2 carrots, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
mix all ingredients together. Set aside.
Steam the carrots separately. Set aside. Heat the oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds, peas, and garlic. Saute until tender. Stir in vegetable stock and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower the heat and cook until peas are soft. Process in a blender for a smooth puree. Sieve and transfer puree to the pan. Add the carrots, sugar, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Mix well and stir in the milk. Simmer until heated through. Remove from heat and top with a dollop of cream to serve. Makes three servings.
Vegebaby—Recipes for Happy Healthy Children by Pragna Parmita. Self-published. 2011. 380 pages. $19.99.