Just one more bite ...
It’s that time again — time to introduce my baby to the exciting world of solid foods!
At least, I wish I felt excited about it. In theory, it’s a momentous time in the life of a baby.
My little son, for the first time in his short life, will step away from the familiar world of milk to try his first bites of “real” food. It’s one of his first moves toward toddlerhood and a life of increasing independence!
To be honest, however, I’m not really looking forward to it. When I think about what it was like to start solids with Lydia, I remember an overwhelming sense of boredom.
“Wow, feeding a baby takes forever,” I thought more than once, as I languorously spooned pureed sweet potatoes into the mouth of my halfheartedly interested daughter.
Now that I’m finally getting around to reading Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, one of the leading books about childhood feeding and nutrition, I’m coming to realize I was doing it all wrong.
Satter advises parents to follow the lead of the child when it comes to feeding: “Pay attention to how your baby reacts to being spoon-fed,” she says. “If he doesn’t like it, if you get into struggles with him to get him to eat, if it is no fun for you, it isn’t working.”
I was familiar with Satter’s work when I started feeding Lydia solid food. I even interviewed her for a past column in which I explored this topic as a first-time parent.
But did I read her classic book and really dig in? Of course not. After all, it’s more than 500 pages long!
But I’m reading it now, and I can wholeheartedly say it’s worth it. It’s well written and she includes plenty of research and history, so I feel like I’m doing something smart just by reading it. But most important, it just makes sense.
Important lesson: Don’t force it
Satter outlines some of the reasons a mother might want to rush her baby into eating solid foods — because she wants to be the first mom in her playgroup to do it, because it’s the “right” time, because she believes it will help him sleep through the night — the list could go on and on.
Satter urges parents to set aside their agendas as well as ideas of what constitutes the right time to start.
“Start when your baby is ready,” she says. And how do you know he’s ready? You go by what he can do, not by how old he is.
Here are some of the signs your baby is ready to take an active part in feeding:
• He can sit up, alone or with support, and can hold his head up straight.
• He mouths his fingers and his toys.
• He opens his mouth when he sees something coming and turns his head away if he doesn’t want it.
• He can close his lips over a spoon.
• He can keep food in his mouth: It doesn’t just squeeze back out onto his chin.
Satter says most babies show these signs between 5 to 7 months old. She makes a strong case for starting with baby cereal; basically, she says it’s a excellent way to teach them to eat from a spoon while providing them with necessary iron.
I pooh-poohed the baby cereal the first time around: “My daughter shall eat vibrant vegetables, not boring cereal!” But am I a renowned authority on infant feeding? I am not. This time, I’ll give the cereal a go.
Another important lesson: Settle down
“The way to get a kid to eat is not to try,” writes Satter.
That’s another great thing about this book — all the memorable philosophical musings on eating.
Satter is probably best known for defining the “division of responsibility in feeding,” which states that parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding, while children are responsible for the how much and whether of feeding.
In other words, you provide the healthy food at predictable times, and then you get out of the way — no “airplane” feedings, no pleading with junior to take “just one more bite,” no “finish your vegetables or no dessert” threats.
Eating should be enjoyable for you and your children. As Satter says, “Your job is to feed your child, see how he grows and love whatever he turns out to be.”
So this time around, I’m determined to be more easygoing about feeding. And, actually, as of press time, I’m pleased to report that young Felix is gobbling up his rice cereal with obvious joy. I lightened up, followed his lead and can honestly say that feeding is pretty enjoyable so far with baby No. 2.