One of the most noticeable differences between American children and French is their attitude toward food. In France, food is social and that fact is non-negotiable. It is enjoyed with others, it is savored, and it is good, at any age. We can’t always say the same here (drive thru, anyone?) and food here doesn’t have the widespread respect and intimate relationship it has with the people of France.
My first order of culinary business is introducing the little oyster to a wide variety of food. I talk to her about it while she eats it and make sure eating is a pleasant experience, not just a way to fill her belly. Since I don’t want her to think fruits and veggies come from clear tubs, I have been putting her food into ramekins each day so we both feel like classy ladies while she eats. Later, we’ll pick produce together and she can help in the kitchen, so she knows what things look like in their natural state.
Putting food into bowls just makes extra work, you might say. Not so, I reply. Since I’m not spending time scrubbing crusty spinach off the floor, rinsing her bowls and tucking them into the dishwasher is no trouble. Plus, she’ll eat off of dishes when she’s bigger and she won’t play with her food when she’s bigger, so I feel like time spent on one is a worthwhile investment while the other is just a mess.
Plus, look how pretty!
I’m also committed to feeding her four scheduled meals a day, like they do in France. That takes the guesswork out of a day (for me) and gives her a routine. Kids thrive on routines. One mindset in France that Americans usually disagree with is that it’s ok to feel hungry between meals. Not go hungry, of course. France isn’t starving her children and neither am I. The oyster eats at 7 am, 11 am, 4 pm, 7 pm and not in between. I try hard not feed her early and I try hard not to make her wait. It’s only fair.
The pictures at the top and bottom of this post are where we are with tidy eating. I used to give her a spoon to hold while she was eating, to introduce her to the feel of the utensil like so many people (here) say to do. The only thing the spoon introduced was green beans to her hair, so I nixed that. I don’t get her out of her seat until she and her tray are both wiped. No leaving the table to make mom clean up after you!
But back to the actual food. I don’t want a picky eater. I want to be less of one myself. Going French with our food choices means trying a variety of food, taking time to prepare and enjoy food, eating mostly real food, and not obsessing about it.
A lot of American pediatricians and parents recommend starting a baby on rice cereal as his or her first “food.” Gross, I said to myself. I wouldn’t eat that, why should my daughter? It’s 21st century gruel. We decided to forgo the rice cereal. The little oyster’s first food was a traditional Dutch baby’s food–a mashed up banana with orange juice poured over it. We aren’t Dutch but we were at a Dutch friend’s house and she offered it. Why not? The little oyster (6 mos. old at the time) was a fan and that experience sealed my conviction–not only is rice cereal unnecessary as a first food for my baby, but what we think of as “adult food” will, prepared correctly, suit her just fine.
Since we started solids regularly last month, the oyster has tasted 23 different foods. I always have a little sample of what she’s eating so we can talk about it. We were both surprised at how tart a banana-and-plum mixture was. Having tried it, I understood her face when she had a bite. We were also surprised at the earthy taste of mashed peas, but not unpleasantly so. Wanting to teach the oyster to eat well and enjoy food is helpful in training myself not to say “eww” when a taste or texture is unexpected. I’m getting as much out of this as she is.
I think we’re off to a good start. Habits form early and I’d rather get her used to good ones like trying and enjoying new things, sticking around for clean up after a meal, requiring very little clean up after a meal, finding ways beyond “good” or “bad” to describe what we’re eating. To my delight, taking away her spoon and discouraging food play hasn’t crushed her spirit or stunted her creativity as so many American parents are afraid will happen. If she doesn’t get into college because I didn’t let her paint with squash puree, we’ll talk then.
We’re not after perfection here. We’re practicing good habits and building good practices. We’re training. Most meals are great and some are work. The other day I thought we were cruising right along when the husband asked, right before the oyster’s bedtime, what was up her nose. Carrot was up her nose, that’s what. Ooops. So yes, some days are cleaner than others but isn’t that life?