At his fourth month check-up, my son’s pediatrician told us to watch for signs of interest in solid food. He said that his main source of nutrition would continue to be breast milk for a few more months, and that the introduction of solids would be more of a rite of passage, welcoming him to an important family event – mealtime. It was an idea that I loved. I was bringing him into the fold, sharing with him something that I really cared about, and being able, with any luck, to instill in him a healthy attitude towards the foods he eats. But really, I just couldn’t wait to see the expression on his face.
I didn’t have to wait long for his interest to be piqued. At five months, he began falling silent while we ate, studying our faces, his little mouth moving as though he were working on a piece of steak. I read a little about what foods would be good starters, but as I’ve learned with all baby advice, I thought I would trust my instincts and common sense as well. I knew I wanted to prepare the food myself wherever possible, and I wanted to keep it simple.
I started with the ubiquitous rice cereal, even though I was not excited about it nor its blandness, and lack of any nutritional value. I was not surprised to find that Ronin’s reaction to it was fitting. Eh, his expression said, I am underwhelmed, mama. I waited a few days to make sure he didn’t break out in hives or anything and tried again.
Sweet potatoes. One of my personal favorites. I was so excited to offer him its creamy orange goodness. I think my error was in not thinning it out enough, and the texture was so foreign to him that he cried. Moving on, I thought, undeterred by his waning interest in this new game.
Carrots. I pureed them to death, adding a little breast milk to make them as thin and as rich as crepes. I plopped him, wearing nothing but his diaper, in his bumbo with the tray attached. I decided to make it more of a tactile experience, a get all of your senses in on it sort of thing, though the idea of the resulting mess made me shudder. I put a dollup of the stuff in the middle of the tray. I dragged my index finger through it slowly, as he watched intently. I popped my finger in my mouth and and said, “mmmm.” He was transfixed.
His head bobbled downward to look at the tempting mess on his tray. His head bobbled back up to look at me for reassurance. I nodded, eyes and smile wide. I smacked my lips and said “mmmm” again.
Awkwardly, his little hand, chubby fingers splayed, landed in the blob. He lifted it to examine the glop for a second, then stuffed as many fingers as he could manage into his mouth.
His initial reaction was not exactly what I’d hoped for.
But it didn’t take long for the sweetness to grow on him, nor for him to realize that it was fun to play with, and it was obviously pleasing his mama to no end.
The floodgates, for both of us, had been opened.
I pulled out my old rice cooker/steamer I’d gotten as a wedding gift and had hardly put to use in the four years since. I set up the food processer and blender and got to work. Carrots. Butternut squash. Sweet potatoes. Zucchini. String beans. Organic, and from Oregon or as close to Oregon as seasonally possible.
Everything sliced and steamed, blended with water in the blender, then spooned into freezer trays and small mason jars. I work fast of course, at short intervals between entertaining and caring for my busy baby. I make a mess of the kitchen, but it’s totally worth it.
I see what’s happening. No matter how I protest, my baby just keeps growing up and towards independence. I know that his nourishment cannot always come just from my body, but I’ve got a few more years where I can influence what he puts into his.
He readily accepts each new food I introduce, and has yet to try something he doesn’t like (rice cereal aside). I sit on the floor next to him and eat my breakfast while feeding him his, and he loves that part most of all. And so do I. And as much as time is going by way too fast for me, and as much as I have no interest in rushing his babyhood, I do look forward to sitting at the table with my boy, using food not only for it’s intended purpose, but also as a way to stay connected with him. I hope that when he is all grown up he’ll remember the meals he loved as a child, but also memories of stories, laughter, and love shared around that table.
But that will have to wait. For now, I’m just happy to watch his expression everytime he tastes something for the very first time.