Parenthood is an exciting, confusing, rewarding, infuriating, isolating, and community-building experience. Through writing about my experiences and reactions to parenting-related articles, I aim to foster a sense of inquiry and inclusion rather than to promote any sort of ideal or philosophy. After all, most of us are just flying by the seat of our pants, doing what works and what feels right.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I just give him food.

An article in the New York Times recently documented the baby food industry's reaction to its decreasing number of sales due to more parents making -- shhh -- FOOD for their babies.

That's right.  Can you believe it?  Rather than purchasing costly (and often ghastly) jars or pouches of baby food, some people are just giving their children food?

Some of the reasons acknowledged by the food companies are that parents are wanting to offer their children as close to the whole food as possible, avoiding things like preservatives.  Some parents want their kids to be eating only organic food.  Some parents are making their own purees to cut down on costs.  Still other parents are finding that higher cost but higher convenience pouches work for them.  All of those are valid points.

But I think they've missed one of the big points.  A lot of parents just want to give their kids regular food

Food acceptance is higher among babies who eat what they see their parents eating.  According to Ellyn Satter, nutritionist and child psychologist, arguing over what your child eats with your child only promotes a power struggle.  In order to avoid the power struggle, she advises that parents choose what and when their children eat, and children choose if and how much they'll eat.  It makes sense to me.  I don't need everything in parenting to be about developing a child's sense of power and creativity.  Some things, like table manners and the kinds of foods we eat, are not going to be things with which I simply follow Calvin's whims.

I imagine that kids feel a cognitive dissonance if they are getting offered special pureed food that's different from what their parents eat.  And if they get used to it, they'll be less likely to switch over to eating lumpy solid food if they're used to purees.  And if they don't get used to the baby food, it all ends up on the floor in the classic power battle.

And this ties into one of the biggest questions I get asked as a parent, since Calvin is such a good eater.  What have I done with Calvin?  We decided to give Ellyn Satter's advice a try after numerous food battles.

We decided what and when we eat, and Calvin decides if and how much he eats.  In my experience with a sample size of one, it is much more effective to offer Calvin food at designated mealtimes, and if he eats it, great, and if he doesn't, he'll eventually eat it he's hungry enough.  It can be a hard thing for parents to trust, but it's worked for us.

That's not to say we don't make put some thought into it.  We try not to have only spicy food on the table, for example.  If there is a food that's new to him, we serve it along with lots of other food options that he's had before.  That way, he won't go hungry if he doesn't want to try to new food.  Ordinarily, he tries the new food.  Sometimes he doesn't.  But it usually doesn't take a few times of reintroduction.

And then there are some quirks we've learned, like the french fry rule: if there are French fries on the table, he's not going to eat anything else.  And the noodles rule: don't serve noodles more than two meals in a row.  Because then all he's ever going to want to eat for the next few days is noodles.  We learned that one after Daddy made a big noodles dish just before Mommy got her first stomach bug of the winter, and all we had in the house for three days was noodles.  Calvin was delighted.  And then he was really pissed off when Mommy felt better and made beans and rice for dinner.  But we stuck to Ellyn Satter's advice, and the next day, he was back to his old good-eater self again.

In other words, we didn't buy baby food or even make our own baby food simply because we skipped that part.  We just gave him food.

This is not meant to come across as a judgment if you buy baby food.  What works for every kid and family is radically different, even if the parents have the same values.  If pouches and baby food are what works for you, congratulations.  My kiddo never accepted purees, so I would have been up a creek if I thought that was the only safe food for him.  But if your kid only ate purees, that's what you do.  And then you get to follow the advice in the AAP book.

The point is that food companies forget that it's not ALWAYS about economics or obvious trends.  There's always what's "in the margins" -- those other considerations that have less to do with money and more to do with what works for different families.