Monday, June 5, 2017

Of Baby-led weaning, purées and smoothies: a feeding story.

When Yu was around 6 months we decided to start experimenting with solid foods. I had been reading well in advance about feeding methods and recommendations. I went through the Canadian, British, American, French, Mexican and Dutch advise from their respective pediatric organizations. All advise was contradictory. Should you start with proteins? With vegetables? With fruit?

In the end I trusted my gut and made a mish-mash of methods. Some things are really absolutely out of the question, mainly not giving any honey until after the 1st year (knowing well about the Clostridium botulinum risk I waited well until she was 18 months) and avoiding hard round pieces of food that could present a choking hazard like nuts or whole grapes. We also avoided salt and sugar, but did use some spices in a little tea infuser to gradually add flavour to her food.

I mostly followed baby-led weaning, starting by letting her play with soft-steamed little broccoli trees, sweet potato or cucumber sticks (to suck and bite). But I was also super excited to make my own purées, I received a french book with tons of baby recipes a present ("Family cookbook" by Laurence Haurat)  and all the recipes sounded so tasty that I decided to give it a go. Baby-led weaning purists will tell you not to combine methods or it will somehow "go wrong" but I didn't really believe it and just did a bit of both.

We did introduce 1 food at a time, letting her have it for 3 days to observe her reactions and only afterwards making mixes of previously eaten foods. We never gave her rice meal as it is completely stripped of nutrients and preferred to use a mix of cereals (oatmeal, wheat) with her steamed-fruit in the morning. When she was about 10 months old we started with yoghurt and different types of cheese. We also started with peanut butter on her bread (a very common Dutch breakfast staple) as I read that starting with allergens early might decrease the risk of developing allergies later.

She was always an avid eater and tester: she loved zucchini, eggplant, carrots, pumpkin, avocado, banana, blueberries, spinach, green peas and most fruits as well as egg and little pieces of meat.

Everything you read tells you that in order to avoid fussy and picky eaters you should introduce a variety of flavors and foods very early on. Well, ha ha. I say. Yes, sure, right. I guess those people's children did not  reach toddlerhood yet. Our girl was really used to all kinds of food: she would eat things like ratatouille and surinamese roti with pleasure. And then, slowly, she developed her own will; learnt how to say no and there were days where she would only eat orange food. Or green food.

She is now 3 years and a half and we struggle. She goes through phases -that last 2 to 4 days- where she will eat a lot of food but she then reverts to requesting the classic bland foods small kids like and refusing to even try veggies she used to love so much. So she eats a lot of yoghurt, bread with peanut butter, pasta and cheese. And we have to bargain and bribe and negotiate to get her to eat a few pieces of carrots or green stuff. We have tried all the tricks: have her help me cook and prepare her meals (which she loves), arrange food on her plate in fun figures, ignore her, let her starve. In the end she eats when she eats and she doesn't when she doesn't. I like to give myself praise as a parent whenever she eats a whole plate of spinach (over her cheesy thin pizza) or when she requests carrot soup, but most days it is still something I worry about. Trying to make sure she is getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients while not making meals a battlefield is a challenge.

 Lately we have tried things like spinach-banana-orange juice or cucumber-ginger-apple smoothies, which she loves, but I am still uncertain if those are actually any good, with all the finely cut fibers and (natural) sugars concentrated.

Spanish pediatrician Carlos Gonzalez's words on this interview really struck a cord:

 "You should eat vegetables, leave your children alone and, in the end, they'll probably eat vegetables also. But there are changes in food preferences in a lifetime. Between one and 16 years, most children would prefer macaroni to vegetables. They will change again, unless you make them really hate vegetables."

I do not have any answers but in the end I think there is only so much you can do as a parent but the child will still decide what it needs and what goes into his/her body. And toddlers will be toddlers and what they are is defiant, strong willed and stubborn. I want to trust that as long as she keeps seeing us eating a varied, healthy diet she will pick it up and start trying and enjoying all kinds of food again. 
This post was written in collaboration with The Honest Company's Feeding Stories Campaign.

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