feeding baby

Don't panic. I'm not suddenly turning this into a parenting blog. So, if you're not interested in this, then just tune in again soon.

I am going to try to be succinct. It probably won't work, and you'll all end up bored to tears. But, just suffice it to say that I'm going to try. Please do bear with me, as I get to where I'm going with this.



On the other hand, if you wonder how someone, to whom food is really important to, is feeding her baby, and what I am feeding him, then this is for you. As I'm sure you can imagine, there are a few underlying questions I have been thinking about for a long time; "How will I instill a love of food, and the social connections it fosters, in a positive way? How can I encourage my child to enjoy food in a healthful and nourishing way? How can I teach him that eating is a necessary part of life, but it needn't be something that is rushed or mindless or boring, just because we have to eat each day?"

And perhaps beyond all of that, I don't want Carter want to learn to love junk food. I want him to like food, love food even, but real food, made by real people, food that is made with love.

Do notice that I didn't say, "I don't want him to be a picky eater". Because actually I DO want him to be a picky eater.

I want him to ask him how dinner was at his friend's house, and I want him to say, "Mom, we had pasta from a can. It had no taste, and it was mushy. We put white fluff on it from a green bottle. They said it was cheese. I'm not sure I believe them. It didn't taste like cheese. I asked if they had any parmigiano-reggiano, but they didn't know what that was."

Yes, that would be my proudest day in parenting. The day my child would know he was being fed garbage, and he wouldn't even like it.

Okay, so in all seriousness, I am joking. But it would be a great day, even if Carter was thirty-five years old...

So let's just say that even a few years ago, I had assumed that I would be puréeing all kinds of things for my baby. My husband and I had even flirted around with the idea of getting a fancy (aka ridiculously expensive) blender. I certainly knew that I wouldn't buy my kid food from jars. My Mom pureed food for me, including vegetables from my parents garden, and as luck would have it, I'm pretty darn healthy. So I would follow suit, and do the same thing for Carter. Didn't even question it. Until about a month ago...

Before I was about to start feeding Carter "solid" foods, I thought I'd read up a little bit, and see what I'd start with. I knew I didn't want to feed him any kind of fortified baby cereal... for not wanting to write another essay, I think it's garbage. I wouldn't eat it, so I'm not feeding it to my baby! For those of you who argue that babies need iron, you'd be right, but the iron in baby cereal is unlikely to be absorbed anyways. In the process, I somehow I happened upon this whole "Baby Led Weaning" thing, and it kinda just made sense.


It actually sounds quite strange, but once you start, it is so cool, so very, very cool. First, there is no puréeing of foods. You actually give the baby whole pieces of food you would eat yourself, and the babies feed themselves. You skip purées and go straight to finger foods. You sit and eat with your baby.

There are a couple things that drew me to this straight away. First, that kids get used to texture, and secondly that they get used to taste. Foods are bumpy, and lumpy, and crispy, and chewy. Not everything is soft and glue-like... Plus, we can eat together, and I don't have to force him to eat. Up until now, he has decided how much to eat, so why would I force the issue with solid foods.

Some people do it in different ways, and apparently you don't need to worry as much about allergies because the baby is six months old, and their digestive tracts are much more developed than the babies who were four months old and fed solid foods, as used to be the case. But I figured I would still introduce just fruits and vegetables slowly, and not give exactly what we are eating at the table, but we would still eat the foods he is eating.

Now, there's a couple really strange things. First off, apparently babies who are fed purées first, do gag more when they switch to finger foods because they assume they don't have to chew. If it's true, I can't tell you, but I can tell you that Carter has really gagged only once, and ever since then is pretty cautious about how much he chews/gums at things before he allows himself to push things to the back of his mouth, or swallow. He has already learned to "chew" in just a couple weeks, and spits out anything that he thinks shouldn't be there. So, there is potentially some gagging, but there is a big difference between gagging and actually choking.

The other thing is that I have to give him much larger pieces of food than you'd think, and with the peel still on! This seems to help him get it to his mouth without it falling apart first, and he literally sucks every bit of goodness off of the peel and spits it out. The peel really seems quite vital to his success. And he seems to really enjoy sucking everything off of it!

With this method of eating, there also is no emphasis on, "he liked it, or didn't like it", but he is just given food, and if he wants to eat it he does. If he doesn't want to, he doesn't. I will say that he has literally attacked pieces of sweet potato, roast fennel, broccoli, and apple, while he also mostly left carrots, bananas, and cauliflower alone. But it changes. Sometimes he has left broccoli alone, and sometimes he has been very animated with his avocado, and other times just raised his arms up in the air wanting nothing to do with it. Perhaps it gave him gas last time, so he doesn't want it this time? Who knows. The point is, to consistently provide a healthful variety of food, and babies will eat what they need, when and how much they need it, or not.  Also, it is absolutely imperative that the baby is at least six months old, so their digestive systems have had some time to develop.  The baby might not even really eat much for a couple months past that.  Yes, patience is required.

But I think our bodies tell us what we need at a particular time, and we eat it for good reason. That is of course, if we are really listening, and not just causing ourselves to eat out of emotional needs alone. Sorry, twinkies don't count as a need.

Now, I have to tell you that of all of the times of day we look forward to most, is the times we are eating each day. I give Carter food every time I am eating, and he is awake, which is currently three times a day. This started happening a couple weeks after I started giving him solids; he was no longer content to sit and watch me eat without joining in! He seems to want to eat more as the day goes on, but each day he also gets better and better at getting the food to his mouth, and is also swallowing more of it. It is an absolute joy to sit at the table, and to eat as a family. Truly, it is quite incredible! And I can't imagine feeding Carter any other way, he absolutely loves the time he gets to explore his food while also joining in the action at the table. He even joined us at the table for Christmas dinner! How cool is that?!

I think he likes it. What do you think?

So what am I feeding Carter? Here's what has been most successful, meaning that I had to cut things so that he could pick them up and get them to his mouth without completely squishing them first:

-slices of avocado with the peel on; he almost seems to love the peel more than the avocado! I guess it's more like his hard plastic toys...
-florets of roast cauliflower with extra virgin olive oil, curry powder, cumin, and a touch of sea salt; not too interested in this, but picks it up and licks it.
-roasted yams with extra virgin olive oil, some with cinnamon, and some without; attacks it and eats it, loads of it.
-roasted fennel with pecorino romano (hardly any), extra virgin olive oil, and black pepper; he really seemed to enjoy sucking the goodness out of this, as seen in the video, attacks it.
-apples halved and roasted with cinnamon; really wants to eat it, but tends to get so excited that it mostly ends up on his face.
-cooked carrots halved, and halved again; wants to eat it, but I have yet to find the perfect combination of perfectly soft enough, but not so soft that it just gets mushed before he can get it to his mouth.
-large florets of broccoli; likes to gnaw on on it, and suck the stems. Tries to stuff it and sweet potato in his mouth at the same time. Decisions, decisions.
-bananas cut in half with the peel partially cut off, so it resembles and ice cream cone; tends to taste it, swallow some, and then become disinterested.
-ripe pear sliced in large pieces, with the peel on; he wanted to eat it as fast as possible
-raw English cucumber; it looked like it felt nice and cold on his little gums as he gnawed away on the soft parts
-a piece of flank steak; he wanted to eat it, and kept trying, and trying and trying. He sucked on it lots, but the meat was just too tough for him to actually swallow any, next time he needs much softer meat. It was what we were having for dinner, so he had a piece, and was quite happy about it!

Here he is enjoying roast fennel.

There's a few things I've found really helpful, including Carter's high chair. I discovered this chair called the Tripp-Trapp, which doesn't come with a tray, and the idea is that the baby joins in with the family at the dinner table, at an adjustable height made to fit his body. I thought it would be extra fantastic to include the babe in dinners at the table right from the get go, and all of the important rituals that occur, as a family, rather than him sitting off on his own.

Plus, since the chair adjusts as the child grows, I figured, that then we wouldn't need a booster seat. Then beyond that time frame, when children often want to run off as soon as they've put a mouthful of food in their mouth, they often want to go and play. Can't blame them, but perhaps the chair they are sitting in is just too large, as their feet swing above the floor, making it hard on their little backs and necks. A child is not likely to be able to articulate the problem. Perhaps a child might stay at the table longer, if he is comfortable in his chair, with his spine supported. In my mind, the child would be able to enjoy his meal, rather than just rush through it, or feel forced to rush through it (even if he does just want to go play with his toys!) To me, that's a lot of bang for buck. Just don't bother getting the cushions. Completely unnecessary, and they are now stored away until Carter is twenty-five, or whenever little boys can eat without spilling a drop (hah!).

There's a number of fantastic resources - including a book by Gill Rapley (sort of the "originator" of "Baby-Led-Weaning", aka BLW), which I recommend, but I didn't read anything much different than these websites, including her own:

-Where I first learned about BLW, beyond just hearing about it.
-Gill Rapley, info on BLW, how to start, why it works, and why it's safe.
-A quick-list of tips.
-A summary of info I've read in several places.
-A list of some of the "most allergenic foods", and a list of the "least allergenic foods".
-A Dutch site with the most thorough information, also with a suggested guide for when to implement certain foods.
-This is important; the perfect bibs.

And while I'm not going to be constantly updating this blog to feature the foods Carter is eating, and how Baby Led Weaning is going, I will be updating my flickr photos with foods I've prepared for him, and little tidbits here and there.


Jillian said...

I, for one (and of course), am very interested in this post! Thanks, Gail! I wonder if it's too late for Bryton? I can't help but wonder if Harry would be less of a picky eater had we done something like this. I made all Harry's baby food, and he had more variety than any baby I'd ever met. But you're right...when we started making things more textured or just less pureed, he was less interested, and now his diet is very limited. He hardly ever eats what we eat. I'm proud that he's not a Kraft Dinner and Hot Dogs every-day-for-lunch-and-dinner child, but his limited meals do make it very difficult to dine together, at home or out. I'd love to avoid that with Bryton.

gail said...

Jill! From what the book says... certainly I'm no expert (but having a lot of fun!). Just start the next time you eat as a family. He won't starve, because he can always nurse more, but it might take a bit. It gets better with every meal, for us I think. Carter is really into chewing now, and has really gagged (although quite a bit that time), just once.

I have to admit that tonight I gave Carter a piece of beef short ribs.... covered in a chili sauce (that even...had some dark chocolate in it, and it was SPICY!). He left his plain flank steak, cucumber, and broccoli, and DEVOURED the short rib piece. I had to pick out the rest of my short rib pieces from my chili and give them to him! I have never seen him manage to get such tiny pieces (after he mashed them) into his mouth without a problem!! Baby likes spices, apparently a LOT! Even I'm shocked.

Lisa T said...

Hi Gail!

What a great, great post! If there is anything I've learned in my short, 4 1/2 yr career as a parent, it is DO NOT make food a battle ground. Food is about nourishment and pleasure and being with people. We always eat together, have conversations, talk about our day. Even when we had them in a high chair, we brought it up to the table, so they could be apart of the group!

I also don't think you can underestimate the comfort of the child at the table (as you mentioned). My 4 1/2 year old still sits in a small booster seat (my 2 year old in a slightly bigger one) so that she sits up properly and at the right height for her to eat comfortably.

So far (fingers crossed, knocking on wood), they are both great eaters. My 4 1/2 year old is more adventurous, but I'm hoping my 2 year old will be when he's older!

Lisa =)

gail said...

Lisa - couldn't agree more! I figured that since Carter wasn't going to take a bottle (but since has!), I couldn't see how he would ever be willing to take a spoon... so how exactly was I going to "force" him to do that?! And what for? This is beyond effortless.

Passionista said...

Full disclosure, I work for Stokke the maker of the Tripp Trapp chair.

One of the primary benefits of the Tripp Trapp is the adjustable footrest, traditional boosters and highchairs don't have this, thus, children's feet are left dangling, imagine as an adult how much you'd fidget sitting on a bar stool with no footrest.

Thank you for describing the benefits of Carter joining the family table in his Tripp Trapp eating roasted fennel no less!

Eve said...

I love your post, Gail! We are doing a combo of BLW and slightly mashing food for Daphne. We started her on mashed solids because she was having a really hard time gaining weight with just my breast milk and we didn't want to supplement with formula. She needed real food, real fast, so a slow approach wasn't an option, unfortunately. Now she does a bit of both. If I'm eating something she's interested I'll give her some to try and sometimes while I'm getting her meals ready I'll give her a big hunk of something to work on while she waits.

She's a hard core eater though, with very little patience. She'll devour 1 1/2 avocados, a whole banana, 2 servings of oatmeal (homemade from large flake oats, not the boxed stuff), 1/2 a sweet potato and nurse 5-6 times a day, and still act like you've been starving her the next time she sees food! And she's still only in the 5th percentile for weight, go figure.

I also await the day when Daphne comes home and shares her processed food horror story with Dave and I. So rest assured, if Carter happens to end up eating a meal at our place we'll give him the option of some real parm or mizithra!

Dana said...

A dear friend of mine is also going through baby lead weaning with good results. Not having one of my own yet, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to have an opinion, but it seems to me like a really logical way to wean and introduce solids.

Jeff said...

I think that Iris and Carter would get along well! They are eating similar things although we haven't given her such large pieces. We usually mash stuff with a fork. Will have to try something larger.

gail said...

Jeff - it is interesting because it is already starting to change. He seems to want little pieces one day (but doesn't end up eating very much, but tries really hard), and big pieces to chew and suck on, the next. I can't figure it out anymore, so I've stopped trying!

S.H. said...

This is so cool! I had never heard of BLW before but it makes a lot of sense (and feeding my babies mush is no fun at all). My second baby is 6 months old now and though he started on pureed foods at 4mos, he has been learning to chew (and not gag) on cheerios so I may just follow your lead and move him straight into finger foods with the peel on. I'm also expecting baby #3, so I can do BLW from the get-go with him/her when the time comes. THANK YOU for this awesome post, I'm so happy to escape from mushy food hell!

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