Momma Bakes, Baby Learns - Cooking with Recipe Developer Sarah Copeland

By Lindsay Hunt

When people think of the food industry, they often think of chefs and restaurants first-that the entire world of culinary careers takes place in a restaurant kitchen. However, there are a slew of careers that don't entail cooking for hungry patrons. One such career is that of a recipe tester and developer.

Sarah Copeland is a professional recipe developer, but those two words hardly encompass all that this woman accomplishes in her day-to-day life. She is a food and lifestyle expert, writer, gardener, cook, baker, photographer, wife, she has a new appellation: mother.

In addition to all of these accomplishments, Copeland is the author of The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and For Each Other, which is due out from Chronicle Books in January 2012. You can preorder her book here, but if you just can't wait for her delicious recipes and stories, you can follow her on her blog, EdibleLiving.com.

I recently caught up with Copeland and interviewed her while she baked whole-wheat scones from her upcoming cookbook with her 7-month-old daughter, Greta. Since Greta's birth, Copeland has quickly gained essential knowledge about how to stay in the kitchen with baby, and cook and bake well while she's at it.

Growing and eating fresh, seasonal food are essential to Copeland's life as a food writer culinary educator, and mother, so naturally she wants to get Greta started early. Copeland gives her daughter roasted ginger, cinnamon, and garlic, all of which are expanding Greta's young, but highly open-minded palate. It's not hard work with babies who are just starting solids, according to Copeland, who says that "you have more taste buds at birth than the rest of your life, so it's great to introduce babies to food with lots of flavor."

Copeland started cooking and baking with Greta tucked close to her body in a sling from birth, and later facing out in a baby Bjorn, so Greta could touch the ingredients and get acquainted with the kitchen. To start her culinary education early, Copeland talks to Greta about what she's doing while she cooks.

Now that's she's bigger and old enough to reach, Copeland cooks with Greta in a sling on her hip where she's safe-she can multitask and know Greta is protected from heat by her body. Sarah doesn't slice, steam or saute with Greta on her hip, but she can prepare a good portion of their family meals with Greta nearby.

"If you want your kids to cook and be adventurous eaters, start them early," Copeland says. "They just want to be with you when they're really young, so if you are in the kitchen exposing them to the things that you're doing and making, they'll naturally be interested."

As a mother, Copeland remarks, mealtime is so much faster and immediate than it once was. She doesn't want to cook two separate meals, which means that Greta is getting to taste grown-up flavors early.

"Our neighbor, who is from Bangladesh, has four healthy, beautiful kids, and I asked her, what did your kids eat at this age? She said, 'Everything we ate, as long as it was small enough.' I've had her cooking, and it is spicy, and delicious."

Starting in the garden and in the kitchen early will help ensure that Greta eats well as she grows up, Copeland believes. Though she bakes for work and for special occasions, Greta only gets to nibble on tiny pieces of whole-grain baked goods, no sweets yet, though she admits its hard to keep from sharing the things that give us pleasure as adults. Copeland advocates for positioning fruits and wholesome home baked goods as treats (since they'll be exposed to sweets without your help!), but suggests introducing all foods in moderation and eating with perspective to develop a healthy relationship with food in your child. "Most mothers have very, very good instincts about what's right for their own child."

While Greta is learning about foods, Copeland remarks how much she is learning too. "As I continue to engage Greta into my life in the kitchen and the garden, I see just what an amazingly simple learning and playing ground it is, for us both," Copeland says. When she is in the kitchen, it's the time that she "slow[s] down and watch[es] her every move, her fascination with textures and colors and shapes. The whole world of food becomes new again."

Greta's favorite foods at 7 months old? Salmon, spicy salsa, marinara, peas, peaches. She loves egg yolks with chives and hot cereal with cinnamon. Copeland believes that "all babies, if given the chance, are born gourmands." There's something every parent could learn in that!

Sarah's Tips for Cooking with Your Baby

Invest in a high-quality toaster oven: When you're cooking with your baby in a sling, it's difficult to bend down to use the oven. For small batch baking and roasting, a toaster oven provides easy access for the chef and keeps keeps curious babies and crawlers away from harm and heat.

Start teaching early: Talk to your baby about what you're cooking with, naming each ingredient and step as you go. They'll be soothed by your voice and increase their vocabulary and their interest and comfort with food at the same time.

Eat the Rainbow: Both you and your babes should aim to eat all the colorful foods nature provides. Let your kids handle the foods before you chop and dice so they can get acquainted with the colors and textures of knobby avocados or ruby red peppers.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Hunt