Pregnancy Cravings and Palate Training
As soon as we found out I was pregnant, instinctively we wanted to do what is best for our child. So began our parenting journey, starting with finding out how to support optimal foetal development on top of taking the required vitamins. My general passion for food meant I quickly included palate training during my pregnancy.
It is a curious thing, as a bit of a controlling personality, to shift from the idea of mothering to mothering in utero and finally mothering out of utero. Shifting from ultimate control to primary influence and as they grow to partial influence. It was this thought that prompted me to look into how I could maximise the ultimate control in utero that would translate into influence transferred into the subconscious of my child. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that the “loss” of control is replaced by a sense of pride and satisfaction as our child reaches milestones and makes independent choices. At the same time that I was thinking about the changing levels of influence I’d have over my child, I also began thinking about what kind of human I wanted to raise. The answer was someone who has integrity, is strong, brave, kind/fair, and curious with an adventurous palate.
“While I feel strongly that to try and make a small child into one’s own image as a pint-size ‘foodie’ would be at best annoying and at worst a form of child abuse, I am secretly proud when she reaches for a hunk of salty Pecorino, a caper, or an anchovy, as she is apt to do on visits with my wife’s family in Italy. I admit to shamelessly praising her when she, to our surprise, became enamored with oysters on the half shell.” – Anthony Bourdain
The adventurous palate if I am honest is also somewhat a proxy of him sharing our (his parents) love for travel. It is important to us that we transfer our passion for experiencing new cultures and perspectives.
I fundamentally believe that as human beings our palates are based on our heritage/cultural context, our parents’ food experiences and then our own experiences or “taste memory”. I decided that it was my mothering duty to not only be conscious of what I consumed while pregnant but to teach good eating habits in utero while consistently including the introduction of as many key flavours as possible.
There are challenges for a foodie who wants to expose their foetus to as much as possible during pregnancy: one is the recommended food restrictions coupled with, for myself, the all-day sickness that characterised my first 16 weeks. While traveling in Italy all I could stomach was gelato al limone during the day and in Paris the smell of pastries wafting out of a patisserie would turn my stomach. I did manage a small plate of seared foie gras with cherries at Avant Comptoir. My advice to you: don’t travel during your first trimester. To me the recommended food restrictions during pregnancy meant a simple question: how risk-loving are you? I mean, I’ve already given up the tipple so mama deserves the occasional soft cheese, raw oyster and sushi – albeit as fresh as possible from a reputable establishment.
I also wanted to fully understand the impact that my eating habits would have on my foetus. Beyond simply taking prenatal vitamins, I made sure I ate high nutrition meals regularly, with a side of healthy snacks and fought off tooth-and-nail my unhealthy cravings. I managed to substitute my late pregnancy cravings for sugary pastries and salty burgers with healthy alternatives like almonds, cheese and avocado. I have to be honest that I did on most occasions indulge my fortnightly crispy, deep fried squid head craving with a visit to Parea in Illovo, Johannesburg – I mean I happened to be in the area after meetings. I also indulged in expensive imported Italian orange soda that I craved right to the end of pregnancy – mama deserves nice things. And for control/cultural context I simply had to indulge my craving for curried mogodu (tripe) and trotters, as well as chicken feet. I was told that craving feet/hooves was a sign that the baby was going to be a boy.
The palate training balancing act did not end there, I mean why stop there when you’re doing the important work of growing a human being? In my 17th week prompted by the What to Expect When Expecting app update that our baby is practicing sucking and swallowing amniotic fluid as they get ready for the real thing, I discovered prenatal flavour learning. My layman’s understanding was that I could flavour the amniotic fluid through the things I was eating and build familiarity of certain flavours. I decided to up the ante and bolster specific flavours by having flavour days where I would focus on one primary flavour carried through the entire day. On bitter flavour days it also meant that I wasn’t necessarily balancing these with sweeteners as I would normally do – purity of flavour was key in my mind. I was steadfast in my approach to flavour days repeated weekly, for almost 5 months, despite questioning looks from my husband and a pinched nose on every green day to get the unusually bitter green juice down. To give you an idea, we would have a spinach, morogo and kale day meaning a (bitter) green juice with breakfast, a spinach frittata at lunch and a hearty morogo stew at dinner. If my child turns his nose up or spits out his first helping of morogo, a staple in my parents’ household, it would be my first failure as a foodie parent.
The carrot days featured my least favourite: sweet carrot and orange juice. The highlight of those days were my husband’s famous carrot salads with a variety of dressings. If it’s nice repeat it twice, which is what I did eating carrot salad as the vegetable side for lunch and dinner. Lunches would feature French-inspired dressing with a Dijon mustard, olive oil and parsley base. Dinners featured an Asian sesame oil based dressing, and the addition of sesame seeds.
Our child will be two months old in July so we are still waiting for the day that we finally get to test our in utero flavour teachings, but so far we’ve been through three brands/types of formula, in addition to his underlying love for breastmilk, and he has drunk all of them with no rejection or complaint so I am quietly optimistic we have succeeded with a child whose hunger trumps fuss.
Thando Moleketi-Williams is an entrepreneur with a love for food, travel and writing. She is also the creator of the Jozi Foodie Fix and most recently the creator of a human being named Bathandwa.