About a month ago I began to put those little baby “puffs” on Mimi’s high chair tray to see if she would feed herself, because at that point she was picking up food in her fist and depositing it somewhere in the region of her mouth, though almost never in her mouth. I wanted her to have some practice that wouldn’t stain or soggify anything. Puffs are perfect.
About two weeks ago she got really good at eating puffs. Since then there’s been a nearly full-on refusal to be spoon fed. I can get some cereal in her in the mornings when she’s very hungry, and in the afternoons she’s again very hungry in the long stretch between lunch and dinner, and if I give her something really tempting–like flavored baby yogurt–she’ll take a little of that. But the bulk of her meals, including all of lunch and dinner? She MUST feed herself.
This is a challenge for me, because I find myself putting the same things on her tray over and over. Pasta with butter. Canned green beans (which are her favorite food, which she eats before anything else). Steamed carrots. Steamed apple chunks. Doesn’t it sound monotonous?
We will give her whatever parts of our dinner she’s likely to gum up by herself, and she enjoys them. But she needs more things tailored to her needs. I tried making “baby casseroles” of vegetables and pasta held together with a slurry of baby food meat and milk. The result was, predictably, disgusting and she rejected it. I haven’t tried making macaroni and cheese for her yet, but I think it would go down “okay”, about as well as pasta with butter does.
Sandwiches, though, she loves. If I spread a piece of toast with something tasty and cut it into little fingers, she’ll eat almost the whole thing. So the new challenge is, what tasty, nutritious and calorically dense stuff can I put on toast? Grilled cheese sandwiches are obvious. Remembering Dr. Spock’s advice from previous editions to give babies egg yolk, I mashed some hard-boiled yolks with butter and have used that as a spread, even adding a pinch of shredded cheese. Today I had a big victory when I invented “baby chicken salad”, a combination of homemade pureed chicken with enough sour cream to make it stick. This is the first time Mimi has been happy about eating meat in her whole life.
All of this makes me think about Victorian nursery food. The Victorians had a lot of ideas about what food children should eat. Nursery food was plain and simple; there was a lot of oatmeal and a lot of toast, a lot of meat and a lot of thoroughly cooked and sieved fruit and vegetables. And, voila, here we are. Mimi’s daily diet.
While I think I should continue being adventurous about what vegetables and fruit I put on her tray, it probably won’t pay to drive myself crazy about what to do with her pasta and her sandwiches. Just because it seems monotonous to me doesn’t mean it seems monotonous to her, as most children aren’t culinarily adventurous. I just need to let her be. That’s a large part of parenting, isn’t it? Just letting the kid be.