Monday, February 07, 2011
I've been meaning to write about food for kids for some time now. This week, I was interviewed for Expressen, one of Sweden's daily newspapers, about my thoughts on feeding kids, and that gave me the opportunity to think about how I really feel. (And an opportunity to show off a gazillion photos of him - bonus!)
This post will be pretty long, and rambling. Sorry about that. (But I hope you'll find it at least a little bit interesting.)
I want to be really clear from the get-go: This is a touchy subject. I only speak for myself. I don't care - I really truly don't - what other people choose. Their choices are their own, and that is fine. As are mine.
I only have one kid, and he's just 20 months old. Let's check back in a few years and see if my theory holds, ok?
I'm a pretty confident woman. I have strong opinions, about a lot of stuff. I am used to stand up for my beliefs and I'm comfortable with that. Yet, when I had Titus, I felt so vulnerable and nervous. There I was, completely responsible for someone else, and someone so precious, and what if I did it wrong?
Everyone had an opinion, too. Everyone. People in my family. People I work with. People on the internet. Friends. Experienced parents, as well as those child-less. Magazines. Baby food companies. Health care professionals. And who to listen to? In the end, myself.
I had so many ideas, before I gave birth. I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding, I wasn't comfortable with formula and felt it to be inferior. It went well from the start. Sure, it hurt like crazy from time to time, and it was pretty awkward breastfeeding in public (and in front of my boss) but on the whole, it was fine. I decided that it was one of the most natural things in the world, and nothing to be ashamed of, and also, nobody's business.
(And about breastfeeding, I recognize that not everyone wants to or is able to. I was able, and I wanted, and it was my choice to do it. I feel, strongly, that it was the best way for me, my baby and our family. It is not the best way for everyone. Ok?)
I had planned on breastfeeding for six months, which is the recommended time in Sweden. And since it's recommended, it seems just about everyone stops at exactly six months. I didn't. See, Titus wasn't interested in food at that time. At all. I tried giving him puréed fruit and vegetables at 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 months - no good. (For the record, I tried processed baby food too, but he wouldn't even try that - he smelled it, turned his head away and that was that.) I had endless lists of food for him - I actually wrote down combinations that sounded interesting for baby purées. (Yes, I really did. Many. Sweet potato-basil, anyone? Peas and mint? Sweetcorn and cilantro? I did this even before Titus was born.) He refused it all - he just wasn't very interested in food. (And on a side note, he's never been one to chew on his toys either - I think it's probably related somehow.)
So, anyway, we ended up breastfeeding until he was 18 months. (We stopped when I went on my trip to New York for five days - it was the perfect opportunity as he was eating well by then, and mostly nursing for comfort.) He started eating, bit by bit, from ten months or so. Stuff he could hold. Crackers. Corn puffs. Cheerios. I let him try everything, not caring if it contained sugar or a little salt, since he ate so extremely tiny amounts. He was usually eager to try - as long as it wasn't baby food, or God forbid, baby cereal.
We were always excited to find something new he liked, and eventually gladly embraced Baby-Led Weaning. Titus got to choose what to eat, and he also got to choose how much to eat. Choking hazard? Well, I read that a child who is allowed to choose his own bites is much less prone to choking, and that worked for us. I never gave him tiny little bread cubes - he got an entire slice of bread, and handled that perfectly. Before long, he ate a lot of things. Quesadillas. Chicken. Fish. Rice pudding. Pancakes. Meat. Roasted potatoes. Apples. Yogurt. Soft-boiled eggs. He allowed us to feed him some things with a spoon, but preferred to hold the food himself.
And now? He certainly doesn't eat everything - far from it. As for fruit, he'll only have apples or bananas. He eats berries sometimes, usually if they're served, say, on top of a panna cotta. (Yes, he gets his own pot.) The one thing he really never tries is pasta (although he sometimes eat it at his pre-school if he's hungry enough) and he doesn't like pizza at the moment. Also, chick peas constantly gets refused, and he's not fond of any dips or sauces. He doesn't like getting messy, and is much more likely to eat bread on it's own than a sandwich. But he always gets to decide for himself.
He won't let us feed him at all anymore - he would allow it for a while, with yogurt and rice pudding, but he quickly learned how to use a spoon and a fork, and since then, he feeds himself. His very favorite foods right now: risotto, any kind. And pancakes with maple syrup. Crisp roasted potatoes is another huge favorite.
Don't get me wrong. We're far from perfect. He gets plenty of sugary foods - most notably the Danonino yogurt he insists on for breakfast. He gets to try just about everything we eat. (He loves to sip my latte in the morning. I let him. It's just a sip - can't possibly be dangerous.) If we eat chips, well, he does too. Dessert? Just try and stop him. (Like all other parents, we've found that if we don't want him to eat something, well, we better don't eat it in front of him.) I'm sure there are loads of kids growing up on processed foods that on the whole gets more nutritious food - that's really not what I'm concerned about.
My goal is to raise a boy who enjoys food, who likes flavor and who's not a picky eater. I realize that he will be picky, from time to time, and I hope I can manage not to make a fuss about it. I believe that the best way to handle is it to just ignore it. Not give expectations about what he will like or not - not say "oh, you probably won't like this, but perhaps you can try some." Instead encourage, or be neutral. We serve food, expecting him to enjoy it. As we do. I know he prefers his food un-sauced, and serve it accordingly, but I rarely cook something especially for him. (Ok, I confess that we have plenty of fish fingers in the freezer. And frozen potato Rösti, those are pretty exellent to heat up when he's hungry and we're not, or he won't try what we're having. It happens.)
Baby food. Convenient. Or is it really? I always find it more convenient to give him whatever I'm eating. I get angry with baby food producers who prey on the insecurities of new parents, telling them that they can't decide for themselves what to feed their kids. Of course they prefer people to buy their jars of highly processed foods with added this-and-that. I do believe that raising a child on processed foods will make them less prone to liking "real" food and real flavors. I choose not to do that. I think baby food tastes like cardboard, and is, on average, disgusting. It's certainly not dangerous, and I'm sure it's nutritious, but the flavor? Horrible. To me, and apparently, to my baby.
And a note on gruel. Sweden encourages baby cereal very much, and most kids gets a bottle of gruel (ok, is that really the name? Wikipedia insists, but I'm not sure. It's välling in Swedish.) first thing in the morning and again before bed. It's awfully convenient. It comes with a very long ingredient list, and is highly processed. It's often rather high in sugar. Most kids seem to love it. Titus has never tried, and that's just because I don't see the point. We breastfed for so long that once he was on solids, I had no idea why he should eat liquids. (I myself loved it as a kid, by the way, or so my mom assures me!)
I realize I write about me, and my own opinions. In reality, we are two people raising Titus, and his dad has just as much to say about our choices as I do - of course. However, I feel more strongly about food and cooking than he does and he's fine with that. Sure, he takes Titus to McDonalds more often than I do - and that's ok. Everyone has to find their own way.
Ok. That's the end - for now - of this essay. Kudos to those of you who read all the way to the end! I'll reward you with awesome recipes next week, ok?