Thursday, April 9, 2009

My experience with babies and food

I have a friend whose husband is a picky eater. When she tells me what her husband refuses to eat, I am astounded. I often will say something like, "what is he, 2?"

But the fact is, I don't have a picky eater for a 2-year-old. 

I don't know why, but when I started having children, I became a little bit obsessed with making sure that they would not be picky eaters. In my late 20s and early 30s, I used to spend time every night making beautiful meals for myself and for whoever I was dating (or married to in the case of my husband) at the time. And I had a friend who said, "well when you have kids you'll be making kid food."

That just seemed so wrong to me. The thought of giving up Lemon-Caper Chicken for Chicken Nuggets seemed anathema to me. I certainly didn't want a kid who always asked for chicken nuggets or burgers and french fries.

When I was pregnant with my son, my sister sent me a whole lot of information on breastfeeding. I certainly had intended to do so, but until I did my reading, I did not equate breastfeeding with the avoidance of creating a picky eater. It makes sense--the more variety I eat, the more flavors he'll taste in my milk. Although I didn't end up breastfeeding for as long as I did strictly for the avoidance of picky eating, I think it definitely helped. 

We started solid foods at 7 months. In this case, it was my cousin Patty who sent me a book: Super Baby Food. This became my food bible. Since my husband has very serious allergies, there were some foods that we were not going to introduce until after a year, or even after two years! But for everything else the book was a great guideline. The book's main food--Super Porridge--is not appetizing sounding to adults. It's pretty much a porridge that is made from a mix of grains, occasionally legumes (we had to avoid all legumes except for soy beans), and a baby food fruit or vegetable that you prepare yourself. It sounds like a lot of work, but it actually was very similar to freezer cooking. I would spend one day a month preparing baby food and freezing it, and then I'd keep a grain mix ready to make into Super Porridge daily.

When once we went on vacation and I had to buy some jarred baby food, I was pretty amazed at how few choices there were. The only green vegetable appeared to be peas (a legume that we were not introducing that early). The only orange vegetables appeared to be carrots or butternut squash. It's possible there were other varieties, but I couldn't find them. Everything else appeared to be meat or fruit.

My son didn't eat meat until after the age of 1. But green vegetables? He ate kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, and asparagus. For orange and yellow veggies, he ate acorn and butternut squash, summer squash, pumpkin, carrots, and more. His first fruit was the ubiquitous banana (hand mashed by me), but that was soon joined by avocado, papaya, mango, peach, apricot, plums, pears, apples, etc. -- every kind of fruit that we ate, he ate, with the exception of oranges (which came later--they cause very bad diaper rash) and berries (which also came later--they can be a bad allergen, and I was actually allergic to them when I was little).

 Now, he is 2 years and 9 months. And let's face it, he's a toddler. If we let him have a hamburger or pizza or chicken nuggets for every meal, he'll say yes! If we give him beef stew with noodles, he will eat the noodles first and fight against eating.

But get this--he loves to help with the cooking. The other night, I wanted to make a salad. He helped by ripping the lettuce. I then washed it and he ran the salad spinner. I then handed him bowls of veggies to add to the salad. I soon realized that we had more celery in his stomach than in the salad itself. Same went for the peppers and raw broccoli. My kid loves veggies. I'm not going to complain. He did the same last night when we were making Boboli pizza. This is his specialty, and he loves making a pizza with tons of vegetables. My husband made up a veggie bowl for him to munch out of so that some of the veggies would actually make it onto the pizza!

When we go shopping I ask him what veggies we should buy. Last time it was green beans and broccoli. He's been known to ask for corn (he wants it on the cob and who can blame him?)

I'm not saying I have the perfect eater--by far my kid drives me crazy some nights, with the sitting and staring at the food that I know he likes. But when I think of my friend's husband--the man who won't eat anything but beef--I can't help but think I did something right with my kid. 

So from what I see, I did three things that made my kid a non-picky eater: (1) breastfeeding for over a year while keeping a big variety in my own diet, (2) home made baby food with a lot of variety, and (3) now that he is older, involve him in the cooking whenever possible.  I only hope the same works with my second!


  1. great suggestions - we are going to do this when/if we have a baby (hopefully soon)

  2. Roberta, I highly recommend Super Baby Food. There is a little bit of less-than-stellar advice (I wouldn't give nuts to a baby under 2 but that's just me), but the basic ideas are great, and in terms of fruits and veggies, the timings were spot on. You can find it here

  3. I have to tell you, this post made me laugh sympathetically. I remember saying things like that when I had my first. MY kids were going to be different. I exclusively breastfed, which makes *all* the difference, right? When it came time to introduce foods, my daughter had everything we ate, properly seasoned as soon as we introduced those foods (though we moved slowly due to allergies in the family). She ate everything, up to and including wasabi until she was three, and then she wanted white foods only. I swear I ripped my hair out in frustration, but around four or five she started eating semi normally again, though she never developed a liking for spicy food. She's 11, that can still change.

    When I had my second, I knew what to expect. Right? Well, here we are, 8.5 years later, and I have a vegetarian child who won't eat most vegetables. He has an INSANELY strong gag reflex and a sensitive sense of smell.

    The third is 4.5 and as long as the 8 year old doesn't SAY something is gross, generally will try new foods and often likes it. All it takes is one EW from his big brother and there's no point in even trying. Fortunately, the big one is getting better at discretion.

    And the baby is 21 months old, still at the age where all of my kids ate everything in front of them. She HAS learned the word "yuck" from them but will happily shout YUCK! and then shovel it into her mouth.

    The point is, while I HIGHLY recommend your approach, it's too soon to say if it works. If it doesn't work, and it may not, it was probably not your fault. I firmly believe that if I had not done things the way I did, my second would be a WHOLE lot picker than he is now. Don't take it personally if things go south as the baby gets more independent and don't worry that it is permanent.

    -Sandra (