Finally, A Real Meal
Here's what I've read about how to tell when your 4 to 7 month old is ready for food: he's holding up his neck well, he can sit in a chair, and he seems interested in solids. Well Leo has passed those milestones, and that last one has in itself been instructive.
First, Leo tried to swipe some goldfish crackers I was eating at a friend's house. Then he was wildly interested in getting his jaws around one of the many sour gummy bears I devoured on the plane last week. This doesn't just let me know he's ready for solids, it also tells me that these bite-size, cute little foods are so well designed to appeal to little ones that even a baby who's never taken a bite of solid food in his life will make a desperate dive to get them in his mouth (true, he puts most things in his mouth, but he really went for the goldfish and bears with particular determination).
The second lesson here is that I have rather immature taste. Gummy bears, really? Me, a mother, a grown-up and a food-lover? Clearly, if I want to set Leo a good example to help combat the enormous forces of junk food marketing, I will have to either start eating like the serious adult I pretend to be, or revert to my childhood habit of sneaking candy in a tree in my backyard.
Feeding first foods to your beautiful milk-fed baby feels like a chance to do everything right (kind of like the beginning of pregnancy). The little tray on his stylish new high chair (thanks Zayde Rick!) looks like a clean slate. What will I put on it? Something organic! But that's not all. I want to feed my pink-cheeked boy well-chosen, fresh-tasting, lovingly prepared ingredients that will teach him to appreciate real, healthful foods as much as I, um, usually do.
Rice-ing to the Occasion
So, how to begin this momentous task of motherhood? "Rice cereal," said the pediatrician. Homemade brown rice cereal, say the books I've seen (Naturally Healthy First Foods for Baby and Super Baby Food). "But then you need to give iron supplements," said my pediatrician. So: I choose organic whole grain fortified brown rice cereal and I taste it to be sure it's worthy. Not bad. I try not to put too much weight on the fact that I have chosen an over-priced, instant, no-cook convenience food for Leo's first meal.
I sit the baby in his seat after making steel cut oats for me and Aaron because--though I know this will soon seem laughably sweet and naive when there are pureed peas on the ceiling and in my eyebrows--I feel like this is a chance to teach Leo the importance of social and family mealtime. We all prepare to enjoy our breakfast cereals together.
I spoon some in. It reappears on Leo's chin. He looks like someone trying not to hurt your feelings, as if that was a really dumb joke you just told them, but they're confused, because how could anyone possibly think that was funny? I spoon in some more. Leo looks like he just checked his voicemail and got the second half of that computerized lady who wants you to take advantage of this last chance to get lower interest rates now. Bite three neatly demonstrates why there's a plastic pocket on the bottom of the ladybug bib. Gee, we're all done with breakfast. Please don't kiss the chef, there's something on your face.
Alone that afternoon, I repeat the menu (introducing new foods every five to seven days is going to make for a very rice-y week). This time, some cereal seems to disappear. Unless it's gone wherever baby socks go, I think Leo is actually eating it! The same thing happens on day two, complete with oatmeal for me and Aaron. My Dad is over for the afternoon feeding, which is again rather more successful than not. I serve pasta with lentil sauce for the more seasoned eaters. My pop is one very proud Grandpa. "You're eating!!! You're eating food!!!" he tells Leo over and over again.
I calculate that if I took out the kitchen scale and weighed all the rice cereal that my son has consumed in the last 5 days, it would probably add up to, let's see, approximately zero ounces. The stuff floats in the air when I shake it out of the box. But hey, as Grandpa Ron points out, Leo's eating. Just in time for the biggest food holiday of the year!