I watched an episode of "House Hunters" recently in which the lady of the house-hunting couple was especially picky (of course) about not having carpeting in her potential dining area. When her husband pointed out some positive aspects of the house (the stainless steel appliances! the granite countertops! the huge yard!), she snapped something to the effect of "OK, but are you going to pick mac and cheese out of that carpet? Because we're going to have kids in a couple of years!"
Exasperated as usual about the unrealistic demands and irrational granite-obsession (you know you have to seal granite but not quartz, right? Granite is a pain in your ass, people!) of most of the people on "House Hunters," I yelled at the TV, "Bitch, you can take the carpets out when you buy the house! And WHY is mac and cheese the first food you can imagine feeding your future child?"
Of the many terrifying responsibilities of parenthood, I consider teaching my son how to eat properly one of the most important. And despite the fact that he's only a year old and I'm still very new at this, I am very careful about what he eats and how often.
I refuse to accept the possibility that he will one day refuse to eat anything but breaded chicken fingers and bow tie pasta. For one thing, maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but if I never feed him those items how can he possibly one day refuse to eat nothing but?
I was an unbelievably picky eater as a child and grew up to be an overweight adult who loves sweets way too much and has trouble differentiating between feeling full and feeling stuffed.
But now I am in charge of the food my son will be exposed to. This is a powerful responsibility.
You should know that I'm obsessed with the book "Bringing Up Bebe."
I read "Bringing Up Bebe" when my son was around one or two months old and it had a tremendous effect on my life. It influenced every aspect of how I'm raising my son and also made me a self-important know-it-all who annoys parents everywhere I go by incessantly bringing up the lessons learned in the book whenever people start to complain about how tired and miserable they are.
But right now I want to talk about food. The food principles I try to follow (largely drawn from the book) are very good and surprisingly common sense. Here they are along with how I've dealt with any issues that might come with them.
1) A child's first food should be fruits or vegetables, not cereal.
This was an easy one. My son's first food was a pureed organic pear from back in the days when I planned to be very virtuous and make all of his purees at home.
There's no medical reason your baby needs to have cereal. Pediatricians currently advise parents to start giving solids somewhere between 4 to 6 months, usually depending on how the baby is sleeping or how much formula or breast milk they drink in any 24 hour period. It also depends on what they do with the food they are given: if they instinctively push the spoon out with their tongue, they are not quite ready for solids.
We tried a few spoonfuls of pear when he was around 4 months and he did OK with it (this event produced the most hilarious baby side-eye "WTF is THIS?" face ever caught on video), but since he was averaging less than 40 ounces of formula a day and he slept well, we waited until 6 months to officially start his food life. I generally tried to give him cereal once a day (baby oatmeal, because that rice cereal tastes like cardboard) because I wanted to make sure he got the extra iron, but my doctor said it didn't make a difference.
2) Children should have 3 solid meals a day and one snack and everyone eats at approximately the same time: 8:00am, 12:00pm, 4:00pm (snack) and 8:00pm.
It took a VERY long time for me to get baby down to only 4 bottles a day, but it hasn't been that hard to get to this specific schedule. I am concerned this will be harder to follow in day-to-day life of suburban mommyhood as baby gets more active and more vocal.
I see lots of kids doing lots of continuous snacking. Snacking while running around and playing; the HORROR! But I already know well that when baby is very hungry he is more likely to eat a solid meal that includes fruits and vegetables. He usually gets up at 7:00 or 7:30 and has a breakfast of cut up fruit (banana, ripe pear, pineapple) then toast or a multigrain waffle with butter and jam (or schmancy apple butter from Whole Foods -- a new discovery!), plus a 4 oz bottle.
He usually has a midmorning nap and eats lunch at around 11:30 or 12:00. I cut up some vegetables when I start to hear him wake up. This might be roasted sweet potatoes or carrots, blanched broccoli or cauliflower, or just raw grape tomatoes cut in quarters. He starts with those while I cut up some sort of protein (leftover chicken or steak, cheese if I have nothing cooked).
I only put a little bit of food on his tray at a time because he shovels it in and has a tendency to keep too much in his mouth and gag a bit. Dessert might be some more cut up fruit or maybe some applesauce. Then, another 4 oz bottle of milk.
He doesn't eat anything else until 3:30 or so, when I give him a snack of some fruit and cheese or fruit and some sort of organic Cheerio-type cereal, plus some more milk. Then he usually has another nap. He eats his dinner at around 7:30 and this also starts with vegetables, then protein, then usually yogurt for dessert before his milk.
I know I need to give him more to drink throughout the day and if he seems especially thirsty, he will drink water. I have no plans to give him juice, as I see no nutritional need for it. He should be getting enough vitamins from the fruits and vegetables he eats and enough fluids from water and milk.
3) Everyone sits down to eat and has a conversation.
We don't always manage to do this, but we definitely try. I eat my breakfast in front of the TV while baby plays in his play yard. I usually eat my lunch at the dining table while baby eats in his high chair. If dinner is ready on time and my husband is home early enough, we all eat together. When baby is older and can converse in actual sentences (as opposed to his current style of vaguely Portuguese-sounding jargoning), I am going to be annoyingly strict about this because I think eating together and having conversation as a family is very important.
4) Children must taste everything (Not the "clean your plate" rule most of us fat North Americans were forced to follow).
This is really hard. I want to tell you that I've been writing this article in fits and starts for about a week of baby naptimes and evenings with nothing good on TV. And in this relatively short period of time my son has suddenly and abruptly become fussy about food. The carrots he devoured yesterday for dinner are left untouched at today's lunch. Ditto broccoli. Ditto cantaloupe.
My current optimistic theory is that his teeth are bothering him, which is why he has only been eager to eat purees the past few days. I desperately hope that it isn't some magic switch that went off in his head that said, "Wait, I'm a toddler now. I am supposed to refuse to eat anything you try to feed me."
Here is the other thing I keep trying to remind myself: that we can like a lot of foods and still not be in the mood for every single one of them all the time. My parents happened to be visiting last week when baby played with some mandarins without eating them. I went to get a different type of fruit and my mother said, "He won't eat that either." But he did. He just didn't want the mandarin.
I am hoping this will get better when baby gets older and has better language skills. But the mantra that I practice in my head when I (worry) think about the future is, "You have to taste it. You have to taste everything. Just a taste. Just a taste." And I've also been trying to practice what I preach and incorporate new foods into my own diet (hello, kale?). Studies have shown that it can take 5 to 10 tastes before we like a new food, so it’s important to be gently persistent about tasting.
5) Children eat in courses, with the vegetables first when they are most hungry.
This sounds like it would be hard to do, but it's actually quite easy and allows me to get lots of stuff done while baby is eating. For the past few months or so baby has been eating almost exclusively table food cut or ripped into small pieces. If I don't have something already cut up, he plays with a book or toy in the highchair while I get the first course ready. While he eats, I prep the rest of his meal and might empty the dishwasher, feed the dog, put laundry in the machine or dryer, play with my phone, and sit down to eat my own food with him.
So, yes. I've been struggling a bit to get food into him lately, but baby is happy and growing and trying to climb any and all staircases he sees.
Talk to me about feeding your babies and toddlers! If they were good eaters at 9-11 months, did they stay that way?
Suzanna very recently joined Twitter and has fewer followers than your grandmother. She is tweeting like nobody cares @SuzannaIsHere because literally almost nobody cares!