Eating is often a subject that causes tension in families. Mum’s often fear that their children are not eating enough or that they are not eating enough of the ‘right’ food. I have sat at tables where families are eating and the tension is tangible. What an unhappy relationship that is to have with one of life’s big pleasures!
As you may have guessed, I am a foodie. I love my food, and like most women I have a love-hate relationship with food and my body!
Having your child is an opportunity to build a healthy, enjoyable attitude to food and nutrition in general into this new person. This, of course, takes more effort than just adding baby food to the supermarket shop and simply getting your little one used to food that has ‘lumps’. It is an opportunity for you, as a parent to reflect on what food means to you, to learn what food does to the body and mind and to choose what goes into this new, perfect, body, to allow it to carry on growing strongly and vigorously. I do appreciate that life is full and spending time on learning about something else at this busy stage is asking a lot, but you are laying down the foundations for a healthy, long life in your child – it really is worth the effort.
I am not going to advise on timing for when to start weaning your baby – recommendations for this seem to change as often as the seasons. My general belief is that you are the expert on your baby and you will get a good idea of when just milk is not enough… Trust your judgement.
However what food you give your child, to get it used the texture and taste of ‘foreign’ stuff in its mouth is something that merits thought. My view is that, rather than ready-made baby food, which is often bland and predominantly sweet, there is a lot to be said for giving your baby the food that you and your family eat. That is the food you were eating when you were making the baby after all! Initially cook a little more of the vegetables, then slowly the other constituents of your meals, puree some for them (it takes seconds), put it in the fridge or freezer and little by little introduce these new tastes to your child. I would suggest getting your baby used to savoury before introducing sweet food – after all, in a balanced diet there is less sweet than savoury food.
Most importantly, make it pleasant, fun and something that is part of ‘good times’. If the baby wants to stop – stop. Your baby will not allow itself to starve! A relaxed, pleasant atmosphere around food in the early years is key to ensuring your child will grow into someone who has a healthy enjoyment of food, rather than the difficult associations that many children and adults have. For many of us, we find when the family is sitting down to eat, conversation flows and the members of the family bond one to the other; and this is something to foster in your child. Think of the fond memories of ‘special’ dinners you may have – maybe Christmas, family get-togethers, romantic dinners… These link the ‘happy’ time to food and such associations are really powerful in building security and happiness in people.
Of course, real life often means we don’t all sit down together. Many of us eat on the run (try not too!). There will be times when convenience food is necessary. That, too, is fine. Do not become a slave to providing excellent food all the time, simply aim for a balance, more good, thoughtful food than not and you with be growing a happy, healthy, person in your family.
Using food as a bargaining tool is an easy trap to fall into. And of course, the food we use as a bribe is seldom the nutritional basics, it is usually of the ‘treat’ variety. Do allow your child tasty ‘treats’ but they should be part of the whole package of ‘food is enjoyable’ rather than ‘eat the necessary stuff in order to get the good stuff’. These perceptions are put in your child by your words and actions, if you treat all food as good and lovely, your child will not fall into the ‘treat are sweet’ trap that leads to confusion and weight gain later. You child will have preference – do respect them, but try not to feed in the societal ‘norm’ of chocolates and sweets are ‘treats’, other foods are ‘necessity’