As promised, I am returning to the topic of baby food products in French grocery stores, which I skipped in my grocery tour. As I browsed the baby food section in the store near my in-laws’ house, I found a few interesting things.
One is the presence of an intermediary formula for ages 1-3 called lait de croissance, or “growing milk.” I first heard about lait de croissance when my sister-in-law requested that I buy some before she and her then-2 year old arrived in Chicago. I had no idea what she was talking about. She said that before they drink lait de vache or “cow’s milk” French children drink lait de croissance, of course. I thought that was silly since of course all milk from the store comes from cows. What else would it come from?? Anyway, I now have a better understanding of what this is, and it is basically a stepping stone between formula and whole milk. It is still modified for complete nutrition and easy digestion, and sometimes even flavored, but is not as expensive as formula. This is indeed what pediatricians here recommend for toddlers. So we have been buying it for our newly-minted one year old. It is purchased in small or large shelf-stable plastic bottles, a welcome change from powder, and he seems to like it just fine. Especially since our little guy was premature, I like the idea that he is still getting the specially-formulated nutrition of formula but without the hassle.
Next, I moved on to “petits pots” or little jars, i.e. baby food. There were two notable things about the little jars: one is that, unlike US baby food, French baby food does not mix sweet and savory. No apple/chicken, pear/spinach, etc. This most likely reflects the French aversion to blending sweet and savory, much more common to the American palate. I am torn between thinking that they might be right not to make everything sweet, and thinking that mixing fruit with vegetables or meat to make them more palatable to babies can’t hurt. This is especially relevant to me because my son is very fussy about puréed food and is more likely to eat the fruit blends. I guess on some level I sympathize with him also because savory food without salt is very bland. They say that babies don’t know this and that you have to accustom their palate to salt or sugar, but I’m not sure I believe this. What do you think?
Secondly, I noticed the wide variety of proteins in baby food, unlike American baby food which is pretty much limited to chicken and beef. I saw veal, lamb, and a variety of types of fish that I have never seen in the US. A few appetizing-sounding meals that I saw include salmon with vegetables; cod and vegetables in a cream sauce; rice, mushroom and tropical sole; and lamb with ratatouille.
While all the fancy blends in the world don’t make my son more enthusiastic about purée, he has found some foods here that he loves. The fruit sauces, or compotes, are varied and wonderful here. Some are marketed especially for babies and children, but adults consume a good deal of compote themselves, often at the end of a meal if a yogurt sounds too heavy. We’ve tried apple/apricot, apple/rhubarb, quince, and pear/mirabelle. No high fructose corn syrup here.
He also loves baguettes! It turns out that chewing on the heel of a baguette is what French babies do when their teeth hurt! So next time you have a little one whose gums need soothing, get a crusty baguette and give them the heel. It has an added bonus of keeping them quiet for a while.