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Simple Foods, Complicated Rules
When I don't know how to do something—this month it's introduce solids—I turn to the experts. Reading several books, I've found that while the opinions are very authoritative, much of the reasoning behind them is not particularly coherent. The standard baby food cookbook approach is to stress the benefits of fresh over jarred food, then go on about allergy risks and hygiene, then provide recipes to feed to your baby starting somewhere between 4 and 6 months. The arguments for fresh food and safe practices seem reasonable to me, if a little over-emphasized, but the introduction of different foods at different times gets a little fuzzy. Really, I have to wait one more month for apples? Really, I should do rice, then millet, then oats? I should introduce protein, but not too much or too soon—so, like what? When?
The benefits of fresh food are clear to me. Taste a jar of baby sweet potato next to a bowl of mashed roast sweet potato (Leo's favorite); if you like the idea of introducing your child to fresh-tasting, healthy foods that they'll want to eat, you'll end up throwing out the rest of the jar (or folding it into the Thanksgiving yams and topping it with marshmallows, as I must confess that I did!).
The allergy thing alarmed me, especially since I had a lot of food allergies as a kid. The other week when we flew to Chicago with Leo, the airline served peanuts. I could practically see peanut dust flying through the air and landing on Leo's pacifier. Everything I've read says that you should wait from 3 to 7 days after introducing each new ingredient to your child, and that you shouldn't introduce new foods in the later part of the day since a reaction could occur at night.
I was beginning to feel like just putting the whole solids thing off indefinitely. Hey, I like breastfeeding! Then a friend informed me that the occurrence of food allergies in infants is really quite low. So I went online and read that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "there is no convincing evidence that delaying the introduction of foods such as eggs, fish or peanut butter to children prevents allergies." I'm still going with the advice to wait on the major allergens, but I'm feeling much less worried.
After a timid week or two, Leo now loves eating (well, everything except banana, which causes him to clamp his mouth shut until I remove all trace of the stuff). He wasn't into pureed apple or pear either, but I bought a little mesh self-feeding thing at the pharmacy that he can hold and chew on, essentially turning a whole piece of fruit into baby food himself. Now he will happily gnaw away at a pear while we're having lunch.
It's funny that I felt so unsure of how to feed my baby, considering that feeding people is my favorite thing to do. These days I love watching Leo make guacamole in his eyebrows, and seeing his look of surprise followed by approval when I slip him some good full-fat organic plain yogurt. I spend my free time thinking up tasty meals using his simple list of foods, like oatmeal with pear, or squash and apple. In fact, I find myself inspired by the gorgeous colors and pure, delicious flavors of the frozen cubes of purees I've made. Who needs seasonings and fancy cooking techniques anyway? Last night, I stole some of Leo's squash cubes to create a pre-dinner nibble. We'll have what the gentleman in the bib is having please.
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.