I was raised in a family for whom food was very important. We are all adventurous eaters – for example, I started eating sushi when I was three, and the first sushi restaurant opened in Pittsburgh. There are almost no foods my husband and I don’t like, so it was important to us that our children be willing to eat everything.
My sister had children before me, and when she would visit, she would bring bags of homemade frozen baby food for her kids. One night at dinner when she was struggling to feed her son, my dad tasted her food and said, “Yuck! That’s so bland! No wonder he won’t eat it!” My sister was offended, but it made an impression on me. When our first son was born, I did a lot of research into breastfeeding, and all the authorities said to wait until six months to introduce solid food. When he was six months old, he didn’t seem big enough to eat food. He was nursing great, so I left it alone.
When he was eight months old, I ordered a plate of German wursts at a restaurant. I noticed that as he sat on my lap, he was intently watching as my food went from plate to fork to mouth. He kept smiling and waving his little fists, so I speared a chunk of bratwurst and let him lick it. He loved it! It was so funny to see this tiny baby avidly licking and gnawing on the German sausage. I finally had to pry it away from him because I was concerned that it might make him sick, but he didn’t end up having any problems digesting it. He really was just getting some of the flavor, not any chunks.
At this age, solids are for fun – nutrition still comes from breastmilk.
From then on, anything we ate was fair game for him. He expected to try everything we ate, and we let him. At first it was just tiny dabs to taste it, but when we saw he could move the food from the front of his tongue to the back and then swallow it, we began letting him really eat. We didn’t buy an expensive food mill – we just used our forks to mash a bit of our food and fed it to him that way. For meats, we would cut a large chunk and spear it with a fork and let him suck a bit of the juices (meat doesn’t really mash and you need molars to chew it.)
We rarely used any prepared baby foods – we did let him eat dry Cheerios on occasion as a way to keep him busy, but most of his nutrition still came from nursing. We did buy some baby food fruits in the winter when good fruit is hard to come by, and harder to mash. He continued to try all of our foods, and when he turned one, I stopped nursing him – not because I wanted to, but because I was three months pregnant and was not able to keep nursing him. I took advantage of the 12-month-old’s natural busy-ness to wean him so gently that he didn’t even notice (I was very sad about it, though.) At this point, we just fed him what we were eating, mashed or chopped up.
We did the same thing with our next two children, though they nursed for two and 1.5 years respectively. What was interesting to me was that our third child didn’t get teeth until she was almost 12 months, and she also was not interested in food until that time, too.
I think that is a neat way that nature works – the urge to eat comes when the body is ready for it.
Number four is only three months old, but we will do the same with him. My dad and husband already want to give him bits of ice cream, but I won’t let them because his gut is still developing the perfect flora that breastfeeding creates, and I don’t want to disturb that since the gut flora have so much to do with immunity.
The benefits of baby-led solids have been huge. I think the most important benefit has been that they like a variety of foods, and they do not have any bad feelings around food. We never had to force them to “finish their peas” as babies, because if they didn’t like something, we could just finish it because it was our food in the first place! No expensive jars or time preparing it went to waste. It was more of a game to them – “what new flavor will this be?” – and not a quest to get them through every mashed vegetable in the baby food aisle. To this day, our kids eat some foods that shock any unfamiliar adults: sushi, salad, fish, the strong Greek olives, and especially vegetables – our kids actually eat their vegetables first and literally fight over green beans! We take them out to eat often because we enjoy eating foreign cuisines that are harder to make at home, like Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. We have a rule that you have to try something before you can say that you don’t like it, but if you don’t, you don’t have to eat it at that meal. When it is served again, you have to try it again (and their opinion often changes!)
The way we approach food has also made our lives as parents easier, which is important for a family with four kids and two working parents. We make one meal – not one for the parents and one for the kids. When we eat something new or weird, they don’t make “yucky” comments – they want to try it. My husband’s recent experiment with a Giada De Laurentiis recipe (mozzarella, rosemary and raspberry jam panini) was well-received by the kids, if not the adults. Now, our kids aren’t saints – they do like “Old McDonalds” and our daughter will almost always order chicken fingers and french fries at a restaurant – but they also eat anything else they are served. We value politeness and good manners, and their openness to new foods will serve them well as adults in this multicultural world.
Lillian and her husband Adam own Happy Baby Company, Pittsburgh’s natural baby store, carrying cloth diapers, wooden and organic toys and baby carriers. They offer free cloth diaper orientations on Saturdays and have a playroom for your kids while you shop. Read their blog and visit them on Facebook for the latest news, giveaways and coupons!
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