When our son was born, I knew that I wanted to raise a child who would eat whatever was put in front of him. For nearly six months, he was just breast fed. When we first introduced “solids” we started with pureed veggies and water, which I froze in ice cube containers and defrosted as we needed them. I think carrots and green beans were his first non-milk foods. We started gradually, introducing single foods and watching to make sure that he didn’t have any strange reactions. Everything looked good, and within a month we had made the switch to using a little food grinder and just giving him whatever we were eating.
After a few more months we were able to just cut or mash our food into tiny pieces rather than using the grinder. These days we just cut his food into pieces and let him feed it to himself. I still spoon feed him things like oatmeal and green smoothies every day, but he’s able to feed most food to himself now with his fingers. This evening we had a salad with avocado, tomato, spinach, arugula, onion, and fennel in balsamic vinegar. He ate every bite that we put on his highchair tray.
People have started to notice what a good eater our son is. They comment on how he eats so many vegetables without putting up a fuss. There’s really no secret here, but since we do get so many comments about it, and since I hear so many parents talking about how they wish their kids would eat more vegetables, I figured I’d share what we’ve learned.
First, we took the frugal route when it came to baby food. We’ve never purchased formula or any sort of prepackaged baby food. Our son still nurses about three times a day, and everything else he eats is just whatever we’re eating. This has a few advantages: it’s a lot cheaper than buying individual jars or boxes of baby food, there’s no packaging waste to deal with, and we’ve automatically exposed our son to a wide variety of foods. He loves things like curry, which we probably wouldn’t have found if we had gone the jarred foods route. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they want to make baby food rather than buying jarred food, but that they don’t have time. I think these people are over-thinking the whole situation. You don’t have to go all out baby-gourmet here! There’s no need for special baby food cook books or anything like that. A simple baby food grinder will turn just about anything into instant baby food. (Of couse all of this is assuming that the parents eat reasonably well themselves. If they’re surviving on Big Macs and Ho Hos, the jarred baby food is a much better bet!)
As far as getting our son to eat vegetables (and whatever else we put in front of him), we just decided early on that there would be no substitute meals. Either he would eat what we served for a meal, or he wouldn’t eat. And the uneaten meal would go in the fridge and reappear a few hours later. Children are pretty smart critters. If they refuse to eat what you serve, and you offer an alternate meal, they will develop a pretty good strategy for eating whatever they like.
I think that a lot of parents start out assuming that their child won’t like vegetables, and assuming that they have to prepare or buy special meals for their child. I say that we should all start with the assumption that our children will LOVE vegetables (and whatever else we feed them), and then make it happen. It’s easier than you think, and actually a lot easier than the alternative (which in some families involves separate meals for the kids for years… no thanks!)
Our son is 13 months old, and so far he’s a great eater. I can’t predict the future as far as his preferences go, but I do know that there will never be alternative meals in our house. And I’ve noticed that children raised in that sort of environment don’t tend to become picky eaters. We’ll help our son start gardening as soon as he’s able, and encourage him to be involved in grocery shopping and cooking from an early age. Hopefully the eating habits we’re instilling now will stick with him as time goes by.