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Playing with Our Food

Feeding one’s baby involves lots of decisions. Store bought or home-made? Organic or Conventional? Pureed or in its natural state? It’s more complicated than I had originally thought.

I knew early on that I wasn’t that keen on the jarred stuff. It just doesn’t taste that good to me, so I figured it probably didn’t taste that good to Simon, either. Plus, I’ve grown up with stories from my mom about what a pain I was to feed as a baby. Once she put me on table food I was just fine, but I disliked and widely rejected the baby food on offer. It seems that, in my case at least, food snobs are born and not made…

Still, when Simon was about six and a half months old, I got out a jar of sweet potatoes. Now I love sweet potatoes, I’ve eaten many a sweet potato in my life, and that, sir, was no sweet potato. Next up, I tried jarred squash, which more closely resembled its unjarred brethren. Much better. We both liked it.

But the entire episode got me to thinking. How much better would real, home-cooked squash taste to Simon? Only one way to find out: I cooked some, pureed it, and froze it in ice cube trays. Simon ate it right up and seemed happy to do so. That put me on the path to puree fun and success.

Except instead of blending my way to bliss, I continued reading about infant feeding and nutrition. And for every cookbook out there giving recipes for baby purees, there was an Ellyn Satter or Gill Rapley arguing that if the kid needs the puree, he’s not developmentally ready for the food itself. And that spoon feeding may lead to overeating and a lack of decent self regulation later on. That, in fact, pureeing and spoon feeding can make your baby a picky eater and then a picky-eating, obese adult. Ugh.

This school of thought, known as baby-led weaning, argues that you should prepare food for the family and let baby try to eat what she can. If she can scrape off part of that carrot-great. If she can’t-she will be able to soon enough.

Sounds reasonable. Except that the pro-puree camp has a counter for nearly all of it. After six months, babies need more iron than formula or breast milk alone can provide. From months 6-12, you have a window to alter and develop baby’s taste-buds. The early foods in weaning are all about exposing your baby to new tastes and new textures that will encourage healthy habits and a wide list of favorites later on. It’s now or never!

So, to puree or not to puree? Which is it? Heck if I know. I’ve decided to seek a middle course. I’m going to puree, but I’m also going to offer commercially frozen or homemade food as often as possible, I’m going to speed up my rate of food introduction and start combining more flavors, and I’m going to let Simon try to feed himself more often.

Here’s how our fist day after this pronouncement went:

At lunch, I gave Simon a spoon to try to eat his yogurt with. The results were amusing. First he grabbed the spoon, turned it upside down, and shoved it into his mouth. As the yogurt did not fall off the spoon, some actually got into his mouth. Success! I was so proud of him! Then for the next bite, he grabbed the bowl of the spoon and started gnawing away at the handle, all the while his chubby little hand was squeezing the yogurt over his hand, bib, high chair, and leg. Well, at least he was smiling and I was letting him try. Success!

Then, come dinner time, I got out home-made peas. Too much texture for him, so he made gagging sounds and let the peas fall out of his mouth all the while looking at me like I had just done something terrible to him. OK, Plan B. I got out the commercially prepared frozen peas. These had even more texture, despite the label saying “very smooth”, and Simon gagged harder and grimaced wider. OK, Plan C. I got out the detested (by me) jarred peas, which are gray and rather stale tasting. Simon loved them. Opened wide for each bite and swallowed happily.

Lesson learned. You can research. You can plan. You can hypothesize. You can theorize. But in the end, baby will show you the way. His way.

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