There are more than a few topics about child rearing that can lead to friends never speaking to one another again, tears, shouting, and quite possibly, physical violence. Let’s tackle one of them as my very first post, shall we?
How and what to feed your kid.
(DISCLAIMER: One, I am not a pediatrician/nutritionist/GI Specialist. Second: I am blessed to NOT have a child who has food allergies, dietary restrictions, texture issues, or any of a number of other conditions that make it almost impossible to just feed them. C – parents who have to address those issues or who face a force of personality across the table that takes picky eating to Himalayan heights have my deepest sympathies and I will offer any suggestions I can think of to help, just ask!)
First, it’s important to understand one of the very few guiding principals of my approach to parenting.
Thou shalt not inflict your fears/insecurities/general oddness on your child if you can help it.
What that means is even though my preferred method for dealing with spiders in the house is to either yelp and get The Daddy to come get rid of it or to run for the Dyson, when confronted with spiders in the presence of The Baby, whenever possible, I calmly get a piece of paper to scoop it up and relocate it to the outdoors. Barring that, I calmly get a paper towel, try to squish it without feeling it and flush the remains. I’m generally not bothered by insects and arachnids but having things come skittering at me makes me go all girly. I don’t want that for The Baby. If she develops an aversion to spiders it should be on her own, not because she decides “If Mommy is frightened, I should be too.”
Keep that in mind. It becomes important later on.
So. As I’ve mentioned, The Baby was a preemie. She missed out on almost an entire trimester in utero. Most fortunately, she came out of it relatively unscathed. She did have one brief bout of medical NEC. A big problem preemies face is that they have to be fed before their digestive system is ready to tackle that skill and it can lead to severe problems, including necrosis of the bowels. In her case, it met the technical definition but we caught it very quickly, treated it fast and she recovered. We were also supremely lucky to be able to benefit from a sister hospital’s participation in a trial of a breast milk based supplement. Human breast milk does not contain enough calories for the smallest preemies so additional calories had to be added to what I pumped for her. We suspected that her NEC was the result of an immature digestive system not tolerating bovine proteins in the supplement. After we brought her home, we continued to supplement the breast milk (with a different supplement than the trial one) until we were all satisfied that she was gaining weight properly.
All of this history is to explain why we took our time moving from milk/formula (I’ll discuss breast feeding/pumping/formula another time because I like to spread out the contentious topics) to solid food. I will throw out there that, while I made myself crazy reading different things about what you should and should not do while breastfeeding, aside from briefly removing dairy from my own diet until we were sure The Baby could handle bovine proteins, I pretty much ate anything I wanted. Spicy foods, cruciferous vegetables, onions and garlic…you name it. And that’s even with a baby who suffered from reflux. Her reflux was more a case of needing small meals often and being upright than a problem with the actual contents of her tummy (hey, look! Another post…projectile vomiting babies).
When she was well over six months adjusted age (let me know if you need me to explain chronological age vs. adjusted age. It’s a little confusing at first) we introduced cereal. Again, I read a bazillion different “experts” to make sure we didn’t cause allergy problems. Our only preemie issue had been digestive, so I didn’t want to wake the kraken with a bowl of cereal! I was lucky enough to have a pediatrician who took a very basic approach to babies. He said, “It is your job to put food in front of her. It is mother nature’s job to get her to eat it. She will eat when she is hungry.” That became my mantra for a VERY long time.
We started the way millions of other babies have. Rice cereal. Have you tasted baby rice cereal? No wonder they fling it against the walls.
(Side note here: I do not give my child anything I haven’t tasted first. That includes those evil brown vitamin drops that turned her bottles of milk puke green.)
We did cereal as a developmental experiment for a couple of months while she still got her nourishment from bottles. Look, there’s no rocket science here. You are feeding them bland, boring, harmless mush so they can figure out how their tongues work and so their little guts can get used to something other than liquid.
After awhile, we were all bored with rice, oats, multigrain, you name it cereal. So we decided to start with purees. Again, I have tasted the stuff in the jars and I wouldn’t feed that to someone I hated, much less to the most important person in my world. Plus, I’m a Live-To-Eat person. Food, to me, is an event in life to be savored and enjoyed. I’m not sure that shelf-stable mushy peas thickened with tapioca is the way to create another foodie. I decided to make my own baby food. I bought a food mill and special containers to store single serving portions in. I got cookbooks for babies. I made charts to ensure that I only introduced one new flavor at a time. I bought organic produce and free range meats and spent an entire day steaming, poaching, braising and pureeing. That lasted about a month.
The Baby loved real food. She loved garlic and cumin. I pretty quickly realized that as long as I got whatever we were having smooth enough, she would eat it. Obviously, I left the hot peppers out until I’d dished out her portion (for awhile) but she wanted OUR food. It bore out what I had read about breast milk taking on the flavors of the foods Mom eats. She already KNEW these tastes.
When we moved her on to chewing foods, we had finally stopped trying to read the experts. We fed her the things we liked. We also made sure to feed her the things we don’t like. It isn’t my place to decide that she doesn’t eat bok choy just because I don’t like it. The Daddy doesn’t get to turn her against black olives. It means we have both taken bites of things we would usually quietly pick out of a dish and push to the side because The Baby was watching.
What this means is, not only do I have a kid who prefers roasted broccoli and steamed kale to just about anything else, but I have a kid who will, at the very least, try a taste of anything you offer her. Dried seaweed? Bring it on! She can down an entire package of it. Spicy black beans? She loves them, particularly when they are made with chipotles in adobo sauce. I make her fish cakes with salmon, tuna and sardines and she asks for seconds. Now, don’t get me wrong, she will devour some french fries and I’m pretty sure it is her life’s goal to see just how much chocolate one kid can consume (she prefers dark 85% chocolate) like any other three year old.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned. You have this proto-human, just waiting to be shaped. You can take this opportunity and create a duplicate of yourself or you can try to make version 2.0 better. It requires a lot of self-reflection and honesty. Food is one of those power play subjects. If you can check your opinions at the door along with any prejudices you have developed over a lifetime and just let the newbie explore freely I think, maybe, just maybe, you can avoid the situation where all you can fix for dinner is plain noodles or scrambled eggs. Remember the anti-drug PSA with the kid screaming, “YOU! I learned it from watching you!” Will a baby develop preferences? Of course! Will some kids naturally be picky eaters? Absolutely. But you can at least try to temper that by not letting them see you turn up your nose at something before they ever get a chance to try it. I got lucky and I had the luxury of time to be patient. I didn’t need to get food into someone in time to get to daycare before going to work. I got to spend an afternoon’s nap cooking lentils into a nice, smooth dal that could be made into a spicy curry or a gentle soup.
Another thing I’ve figured out? It’s never too late. The trick is to remember it isn’t the end of the world. Want to try new things? Make a game of it. Take a bite at the same time. Make a meal of favorites and one new flavor for everyone to try. Try new things more than once. Don’t yell. Don’t threaten. Don’t be afraid to push YOUR boundaries. And in the end…it’s your job to put the food on the table. It’s mother nature’s job to make them eat. What do I do when we find something The Baby absolutely won’t eat? I’m not a short order cook. If she doesn’t like the meal, she can have a bowl of cereal or a PB&J sandwich. If I know ahead of time that I’m making something she is iffy on or absolutely won’t eat, I keep a stash of turkey meatballs in the freezer, along with a variety of frozen veggies. She still is expected to try a taste of what we are having, but I eliminate the power struggles.
Now it is your turn. How have you approached food? What advice do you have on getting kids to eat and on creating kids who eat? Do you have a difficult eater? How do you deal so it doesn’t take over every meal?