Friday, May 10, 2013
Starting Solids: A Tale of Two Brothers
When Monkey was a baby, I followed the 'standard' guidelines for infant feeding. We started with rice cereal and moved through the pureed fruits and veggies one at a time, leaving the recommended three to four days between each new food. By the time he was 9 month old, he was off purees and onto 'real' food. Unfortunately, we weren't yet eating actual REAL food, still using a lot of soy-based substitutes as well as processed snack/kid food, most of which were carbs from a box.
Up until he was about a year old, he ate almost everything I gave him, including fruits and veggies, however, I was having to cover the veggies in 'butter' (what we were calling butter at the time) and put agave nectar on the fruit in order to get him to eat it. I didn't think much of it at the time - that's how we ate our fruits and veggies, so why not?
At 18 months, he stopped eating almost everything that wasn't a carbohydrate, cheese or yogurt. I became like every other Mom whose child stops eating, I started worrying that if I didn't give him what he liked, he'd just starve to death.
I've since learned that doesn't actually happen.
At about 2 1/2, Monkey took up fruits again with a much expanded palate, but still wouldn't touch veggies. I tried everything, breading and baking them, vegetable tempura, dips and sauces, even hiding them (which worked in muffins and pancakes). I finally just decided that it wasn't worth the effort and gave up.
Over the course of the past few years, my husband and I have made incremental changes to our own diet, the latest being the switch to all real food and almost all organic. We became better role models for Monkey, but he still wouldn't budge on the veggies or even try something he thought he may not like.
When I became pregnant with Bear, I swore I'd do things differently. I had read an amazing book entitled Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce. In the book, Pearce talks about the 'standard' introduction to solids, describing the process most of us follow - spoon food in, baby spits out, spoon food in, baby spits out. He writes that this process teaches the child not to trust his own instincts and preferences about food and that food isn't fun. Pearce asserts that introductions to new foods should be playful - just like every other learning experience in a child's life.
I felt just awful - what had I taught my kiddo? Certainly not the right messages about food, nutrition, energy and health. I had taught him that veggies and fruits weren't tasty enough on their own and had to be 'doctored up.' I'd taught him that treats and desserts were special, therefore, better and more desirable than other foods. I'd taught him that even if he didn't eat fruits and veggies, I'd always have something he liked waiting in the wings. I'd allowed him to eat at all hours, never actually getting hungry enough to eat what was served. How was I going to clean this mess up?
Truth be told, I didn't, for a long time, but we'll get back to that in a moment.
On to Bear's story. Bear was born at home and was nursing less than an hour after he entered the world. From day 1, we had a fantastic nursing relationship and he put on weight like crazy. I struggled to develop that relationship for months with Monkey - having gotten not-very-helpful breastfeeding advice from nurses after my c-section.
Bear started showing interest in food at about 4 months. He was already trying to reach out for things on my plate, so I'd give him a taste of whatever I was having, a teeny bit of pear or banana or I'd just let him mouth harder foods while I held on to them since he didn't have teeth and I didn't have to worry about him biting off a chunk and choking.
At his 4 month visit to the pediatrician, she gave me the 'new' recommendations for introducing solids - no rice cereal and only veggie purees until 6 months, then fruits could be added. I listened politely, but I wasn't sure that was how we'd be doing things.
I purchased some purees when Bear was about 5 months old and we tried them here and there, but I was still just giving him tastes of whatever I was eating and on St. Patrick's Day, when he was about 5 1/2 months old, Bear ate corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, all of which had been slow cooked and were perfectly soft for baby gums (though he had sprouted two teeth a this point).
Nope, I didn't wait three days between foods. Nope, I didn't throw all that in a blender and spoon feed him. He ate it all and he fed himself. After that, he ate with us at every meal (which Monkey still wasn't doing). Bear eats everything with the exception of honey and nuts. He does still do purees only because I bought a bunch and we're using them up, but once the last few are gone, that's it.
As a side note, I also started both boys on a regular cup at 6 months. Just a tiny bit of water in a child-sized plastic cup to start. I help at first, but by 9 or 10 months they can drink out of the cup on their own. Try it - it's possible!
So now I have my two amazing boys and we all need to come together for meals, so I implemented a menu and a new rhythm to our days, which you can read about here. I planned the menu around both boys, making sure to include foods that weren't too foreign for Monkey, but would also be appropriate for Bear. We have fruit with every meal and Monkey's dessert is served on the same plate at the same time as everything else. It's not huge and it's not called 'dessert' or any other special word....it's just there, part of the meal. I'll be phasing this out as we go, but I love baking, so there will be tempting stuff around sometimes, and I want to establish a good routine.
Our rules are simple:
- You must take a bite, but you don't have to eat it if you don't like it.
I thought this might backfire on me and Monkey would say he didn't like it just to 'win', which I remember doing as a child, but I think he may still be too young for that, thank goodness! He has tasted almost everything I've served since implementing the menu, except for the very first day because it was so new and I was introducing our rules slowly.
- You don't have to like it, but you may not complain.
We say 'I don't care for that' at our table when we don't like something. Words like 'yucky', 'disgusting', 'icky' or any noise associated with those words is not allowed. I do allow polite spitting-out of food if it's absolutely necessary, but it hasn't come up, so I haven't mentioned it.
- We eat together, at the table, and we follow our routine.
We light a candle, with a little song, then say a very short non-religious blessing before we begin eating. When the meal is over, Monkey gets to blow out the candle and I'm sure they'll take turns once Bear is old enough. Monkey is allowed to be excused early, but he is encouraged to stay because once he leaves, the meal is over. That part was really hard for me, especially when he asks for a snack 30 minutes after a meal, which brings us to our next rule.
- If you are hungry, you may eat fruit.
Our meal schedule looks like this for the most part - 7am Breakfast, 1pm Lunch, 4:30pm Dinner. In between those times, when preschool is in session, we have a snack at 10:30 and at 1:30 and sometimes lunch is moved to 2pm after preschool. With three meals and at least two snacks per day, there is little time to get hungry, especially since all of the food we are eating is wholesome and filling. The requests for food between meals have diminished since the menu planning, but fruit is always available.
Only time will tell if my approach with Bear will have any impact on his future relationship with food or if the changes I've made with Monkey happened early enough to turn his relationship with food to a positive one.
Maya Angelou had it right when she said, "When you know better, you do better." All we can do for our children is our best and our best is always getting better; don't worry about what you could have done then, just do it now.
At least, that's my philosophy.