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By contactus
May 10, 2012
Category: Baby Blog
Tags: Untagged

As a child ages, his tastes get more discriminating.

Our approach to feeding Jack has always been to offer him as wide a variety of healthy foods as possible.  The foods that a child comes to like have to do with culture, environment and repeated exposures, so we don't shy away from things we might not otherwise eat ourselves. It has helped us broaden our own palates: last winter we ate turnips (since root vegetables are so simple to steam and mash for a baby) and cauliflower (which neither of us would otherwise have prepared). We also try to take advantage of our own disagreements about food: I don't cringe as Jack devours sardines (although I might leave the room), and my husband looks the other way as the slippery texture of avocado gets sucked down.  There is no better opportunity that these early years to help a child eat right.  All people innately find sugar, salt and fat appealing (perhaps even addictive) so we try feed him the more subtle and exotic flavors when he is at his hungriest.

Jack has been known to act as the human vacuum cleaner, but in the last three months, as his relationship to food has changed, he has become more selective.  At nine months, children start developing a pincer grasp, so as he was learning to feed himself, meals start getting messier and taking longer to complete. Food ended up on the floor, the face, the clothes, and hopefully at least some in the mouth.  He had never previously refused food, but all of a sudden, things changed.  The mouth still opened wide, the food went in, but then slowly rolled right back out. By 10 months, he no longer automatically opened his mouth.  He would closely inspect  the food with his eyes crossed and then either open his mouth, or demurely shake his head "no."  Sometimes the "no" was because he preferred to have a drink of water before proceeding with his meal, sometimes he was waiting for a new food, sometimes he was full, and sometimes, he just meant "no" because he felt like it. 

Now that he is beyond a year, we take full advantage of his ability and desire to feed himself and offer him almost entirely with finger foods. They are still all homemade and very simple: steamed carrots/squash/sweet potatoes/green beans cut into bite-sized pieces, peas, kidney or black beans, small pieces of cheese, small cut up pieces of chicken or other meat, spinach patties (his favorite), small pieces of bread or toast with peanut butter, etc.  And for dessert: any kind of berry, raisins, or other fruit will make him go absolutely wild.  Allowing him to feed himself avoids food battles and allows him to stop eating when he is full and maintain his own internal sense of satiety.

Something my husband and I have both encountered along this journey to feed our kid "right" has been the friction between our perspectives towards food and common cultural assumptions.  I often hear "kids won't eat that" (referring to anything from sweet potatoes or plain yogurt to all of the greens that he loves).  There is no question that we are blessed with a hungry baby who loves to eat, so this has made our job easier.  But we take his food very seriously: children learn from their experiences and it is much easier to teach him to prefer and enjoy healthy foods now, then to have to teach him to like these things when he is 5 or 6 years old, or as a teenager.  The also model their parents' food habits, so we make sure to eat things that we are willing to share (he's always asking for food off our plates), and we save the cake for after he's gone to bed!

The challenge comes from wanting to share my own tastes and fond memories of food with Jack. These may not be healthy choices, so it is a conscious effort to steer his tastes in a different direction.  Many of my fond childhood memories around food center around "treats," like ice cream at the local Carvel in the summertime, loads of candy at Halloween (I used to eat through the chocolate in 3 days), or going out for pizza.  What parent wouldn't want their child to share in this enjoyment? There is nothing wrong with enjoying these foods. But what we are trying to create for Jack is just as wonderful a memory around raspberries or fruit salad (and yes, spinach patties!). 

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