On “baby food” and baby’s food.

Apple with two teeth? No problem!

Apple with two teeth? No problem!

I began writing this post more than six months ago, when my younger daughter, Ripley, was just beginning to eat food other than breast milk. Now she is on to cold pizza, lots of beans, sauced noodles, apple slices, satsumas, pad thai, and peanut butter sandwiches. Her first top teeth broke through last week, but she has never been hampered by her lack of chomping tools. She took a break from the pureed foods for a bit, but is asking for them more lately, perhaps because sucking them down feels better on her raw gums. She is still a mostly-joyful eater when she joins us at the table and I am still completely taken with feeding her in whatever way she asks to be fed.

Did my approach to her early weaning influence the eater she is and is becoming? Will she someday be as discerning (read: picky) as her big sister? No, and probably yes-but-maybe-not. These kids, they are who they are. It only took me four years to realize that no parent can make their child eat or sleep or poop in any particular way without that child’s consent. So around here we have a variety of foods to suit, within reason, everyone’s tastes. Every day is different, and, once in a while, we all eat the same meal. That in particular feels rather amazing and wonderful.

What follows was written when Ripley, now one, was just six months old:

Baby Finch, mashing on a fig. Just try to get her to eat one now; I dare you.

Baby Finch, mashing on a fig. Just try to get her to eat one now; I dare you.

When Finch was a baby I didn’t “believe” in baby food. That is, I decided that our baby could eat what she could eat of what was already around and made, with some baby-friendly modifications like changing the texture or the seasoning, and that we did not need to bother too much with pureed food. My memory is hazy. There were mashed bananas for sure, and possibly some sweet potatoes. I remember black beans all over her face and lots of fruit in the summertime that, by then, she could just mash in her own little maw. I fancied I was raising a culinarily hip little person  who would not eat “baby” food, but rather, just food. And there would never be some awkward transition from mashed carrots to chicken nuggets to Pad Kee Mao. That didn’t happen. She’s picky as picky these days. I’m sure skipping “baby” foods for some people works fine, and there is no way to know if that had any effect on Finch’s dietary habits (probably not).

Now Ripley is six months old and eating some solid foods and I’ve decided to have fun with it, darn it. We started with bananas, because that Chiquita commercial in the 80s that claimed bananas were “quite possibly the world’s most perfect food” really stuck with me. Now she eats avocado, hard squash, yams, peas with mint, broccoli, mango, and, most recently, egg yolk as well. She loves eating the mushes. When we first began she would scream in her high chair in between bites, a protest to my needing more than zero seconds to reload her tiny plastic spoon. When I am feeding her, she leans in, grabs the spoon, and then happily maws away until there is nothing but mouth juices left, the throws it back, over her head, onto the floor. When we are really in our groove, she looks as if she’s been in a monsoon of mango, a whirlwind of winter squash. It is an awful mess, but I am trying to be cool with it. Let her experience it, I tell myself over and over when I feel the urge to grab the spoon from her tiny, pudgy hand, let her learn that maybe she does not want to stick all of the tiny hairs on her tiny head together with sticky banana goo. 

Ripley is enthusiastic about eating in a way that Finch never was as a baby. Finch was all about nursing, all of the time, no matter what else was available. Today, Ripley refused to nurse in favor of some yam. Plain old yam! I am more gratified in running vegetables through the food mill for this baby than I have been in trying to pull suppers together for the rest of us lately. The rest of the family cannot compete with the simplicity of her “meals,” with the unmasked enjoyment she expresses when she eats. I know that it isn’t just about tasting and swallowing. She is glad to be at the table with us, participating. Not just nursing while I have a taco, or being given some dumb baby toy for distraction; with the introduction of these simple foods, she has joined her family at one of the most important places in our home, sharing in our ritual, three times a day.

Oh, the happy mess.

Oh, the happy mess.