I would be lying if I told you that I love feeding my family. At one point in my life, it was a source of pride for me, but now it is a constant battle, waged twice daily.
When Dan announced earlier this year that he was a “vegetarian” I actually got upset because he was throwing another requirement into family meals that no one ever wants to eat anyway.
I have a kindergartener and a preschooler who both only “like” a few different foods, almost all of which are processed and unhealthy. The list of foods that they “like” is gradually getting smaller as their pickiness grows. They can gobble up their favourite food on Monday only to insist before even trying it on Friday that they hate the same thing. It is clearly a power move on their part, and one that is amplified because they react to what the other is doing. If their brother doesn’t like something then obviously they won’t too. It never ends.
I can play my power games too. “I’m giving up making anyone food,” I told Dan a couple of weeks ago. “There’s really no sense. The boys don’t eat it anyway. Why even bother?”
Despite that one-day-long protest (where Dan made dinner), no one has ever starved in our household, no matter what my kids say between meals.
“I’m SO hungry! Can I have a treat?”
“Gavin, it is 8:30. You literally just had two bowls of cereal 20 minutes ago. You cannot be hungry.”
And so it goes. They “starve” between meals, I try to come up with yet another family-friendly dish (vegetarian – check. Kid-friendly – check.) I cook, put the food on the table, and they don’t eat it. Somehow they’re full. Also? They hate this food.
Needless to say, I am beginning to approach feeding my family with fear and frustration.
Still, there’s a baby to feed.
Dan can fend for himself. The boys won’t starve, apparently (yes they can live on cereal and snacks alone). But the baby is moving into a world of solid food and boy, is he hungry to try it all.
The current recommendation is to exclusively breastfed babies for 6 months. This is actually rather new information as I started Cameron on rice cereal when he was 4 months old. But, this is my third baby, and my approach to introducing foods has changed since my first.
I get asked a lot if I make my own baby food. Maybe being a blogger makes people think I have my life together enough to purée and freeze all the clean-eating meals we have at home. (I wonder how KD tastes puréed?). The answer is yes, I generally do make all of the food that Logan eats, but no, that does not mean I purée it.
Babies don’t need to start with puréed foods. I give my babies grabbable solid food right from the beginning. Avocados, bananas, pears, and chicken, all cut into strips. They learn to grab and to feed themselves while discovering new textures and tastes. (If you want more information, google “Baby Led Weaning”.)
I recently met up with Edie, a dietitian for Atlantic Superstore to talk about first foods for babies. Edie told me how important it is for babies to have meals with the rest of the family so that they can be part of the social experience of eating and learn through observation. This is one of the reasons why I particularly like giving solid finger food starting at six months. It frees up time for parents and baby to eat their meals at the same time, and we are all still together to ensure that baby is safe while eating his food. (When I tell people that we give our babies real chunks of food instead of puréed, I’m often asked if they choke. Well, sometimes they do – but it is actually quite rare. And if an adult is observing then they can easily clear the baby’s mouth with the swipe of a finger.)
Edie also emphasized the importance of introducing texture at an early age. Even if parents want to serve puréed baby food, it is best for baby and their future eating habits if the food isn’t finely strained.
When a baby is ready to start eating solid food, their first foods need to be iron-rich. There are plenty of iron-fortified baby cereals but don’t be scared of offering the same meat you’re cooking for your family. We absolutely have given our six-, seven-, and eight-month old babies strips of steak to gnaw on. They have all loved it! Cooked egg yolk is another great iron-rich food. And serving these foods with vitamin-C-rich vegetables helps all that iron be absorbed.
The great thing about helping babies discover their independence through eating solid food is that they have the freedom to act based on their own hunger. Edie reminded me that as parents, it is important to follow our baby’s hunger cues too. By the time your baby is 6 months old, you probably know what sound he makes when he’s hungry. Logan goes “Mmmmmm. Mmmmm.” Your baby might not eat a lot of food at first but by the time he is 9 months old, he’ll want 2-3 meals and 1-2 snacks a day.
While we’re currently in the first-foods stage in our family, we’re also in a stage where there are evening activities, homework, and late nights at work. It can make it hard to find the time to cook healthy, family-friendly and baby-friendly meals. My lovely nutritionist Edie suggested having a list of bailout meals on the fridge or on the inside of a kitchen cupboard. Bailout meals are those quick and easy meals that you are likely to always have ingredients for. When an evening becomes much busier than expected, you don’t need to come up with a meal, you can simply refer to your list. Things like scrambled eggs, pasta, and grilled cheese sandwiches are on ours.
As for the baby? Sometimes bailout meals aren’t easy for Logan to eat (again, I refer you to my Kraft Dinner example above). While I love giving my baby pieces of real, un-puréed foods, it is nice to have packaged baby food ready to go in a pinch. My favourite by far are the PC Organics entrées. They come in heat-and-serve bowls and are ready in 20-30 seconds. Plus, they are full of texture, which is great for encouraging my baby to eat lots of different things. Many even include meat which, again, is useful because of the iron. Because it is all organic, I can feel confident that even while feeding my baby packaged food, I am giving him the best ingredients.
When we’re really in a rush, PC Organics Rice Rusks are my favourite things. I probably like them better than Logan does. Even babies who are just beginning to eat can eat rice rusks as they dissolve in the mouth. Since Logan tends to get quite fussy as I am making dinner, our routine now consists of me giving him rice rusks while he sits at my feet in the kitchen.
When we’re out and about and there is no solid food to offer Logan, I love to have a spoon and PC Organics strained baby food in the BPA-free pouches in my purse. It is actually quite easy to squeeze a little bit onto a spoon to feed without making much of a mess. It is grab-and-go and perfect for beginner eaters.
So tell me, do you know of any family meals that are good for both picky small kids as well as the under 1 crowd? Don’t forget about my vegetarian husband…
This post is part of a conversation sponsored by PC Organics Baby Food. They have provided me with some baby food goodies and compensation but my experience and stories are all original. The President’s Choice® Organics™ team is engaging Canadian parents on social media with the hashtag #PCBabyFirsts. Share your little one’s exciting firsts and learn more about their products until Oct 28, 2015.