Monday, August 08, 2005

Baby Food – An Easier Alternative

This is a partially fictionalised account for our local parenting magazine. Feedback please - I want to improve it! You'll spot the breastfeeding and autonomy subtexts...

I’ve never bought a jar of baby food. And I’m not one of those efficient mothers who (apparently effortlessly) boils up vats of vegetables, puréeing and freezing them in ice-cube trays so that there are always home-made meals ready for the baby.

Instead, I’ve just been following the guidelines of the World Health Organisation. They advocate exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and then a mixture of breastfeeding with suitable food until at least the age of two. Babies don’t develop the digestive enzymes to cope with anything other than milk before around 6 months, so there’s little point in hurrying the process. I think the important thing is to let your child dictate the pace.

How much food?

If you continue to breastfeed on demand after 6 months, you never need to worry about whether your child is eating enough. By 18 months, my children probably got more than 50% of their nutrition from solid food, but to be honest I wasn’t counting. The ratio of milk and food shifted very gradually. I always offered my child small helpings and plenty of them, and avoided trying to force just-one-more-mouthful in to finish the helping. Only the child can decide when they are full.

What if they don’t like it?

Do you eat food you don’t like? Does forcing it down make you like it any better? Well, why try to force a small child to eat something, then?

Some food I offered was rejected with contempt first time, and then was soon after enjoyed. One or two things were left of the side of the plate lots of times, so I made sure I offered alternatives and eased off on the unpalatable item. After a few months, these foods could often be easily reintroduced and hugely enjoyed.

Letting the child decide what to eat and how much of it means that those battles of wills over eating are much less likely to develop in the future. Relax now, and save real stress later!

What sort of food?

Remember, food is fun! If you are house proud, I recommend putting one of those waterproof tablecloths over the area where the child will be eating, and then… let them have at it! We soon gave up on bibs as completely inadequate (if you’re going to have to wash the cardigan anyway, why wash a bib too?).

If you give the child a spoon from the start, they will soon get the hang of it, especially if you are showing the way with another spoon. I found myself being solemnly (and pretty dextrously) fed yoghurt by 1-year olds as often as I fed them.

Finger foods are as good for playing with as eating: slices of apple, carrot sticks, a thin slice of cheese, a soldier of toast (With LOTS of butter on) and so on. Little things a child can pick up and pop in (like peas or those little pasta twirls and shells) are often appreciated.

Different textures, colours and flavours are much more interesting for a child than beige-coloured purée, and being introduced to them early means that children are more likely to accept all kinds of different foods later. Offer lots of variety – and offer what you eat yourself, so that joining in with the family foods is just normal.

Food doesn’t appear by magic. At 6 months, I started including my children in food preparation. They enjoyed playing with the vegetables as I prepared them, and ate lots of raw brussels sprouts, parsnips and even garlic – ah well, I expect they were following some deeply healthy Californian raw foods diet! With help, children little over a year old can start chopping vegetables; even younger ones can stir successfully.

What about choking?

A certain number of things will go down the wrong way to start with. Either the child will cough the things out again or you can quickly scoop them out of the mouth with a finger. I was careful to avoid really hard things like nuts. By waiting until past 6 months, the child will quickly get the hang of chewing (even with no teeth) and swallowing, and the chance of choking just gets smaller and smaller.

So introducing your child to food needn’t be traumatic, hard work or expensive. By keeping the breastfeeding going, you can relax about letting your child play with food and gradually eat more of it when they are ready.


Dawn said...

Isn't this how everyone does it? I live in such a bubble...

Anonymous said...

I agree. Everyone seems to think our son is a genius because at six months he can use a spoon - well he actually uses three spoons but what is the difference. We just gave him a spoon from the beginning. I mean, when you think about it fom his point of view -would you really want someone shoving food in your face?

Lovely post!

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