Baby food for thought

Last year, for Maine Women Magazine’s food issue, I wrote about feeding myself (or attempting to) and trying my hand at some not-so-complicated dishes that could help my pregnant wife take a breather.

Well, she could tell you whether that happened, but just one year later, we have a 21-pound, 9-month-old daughter. Phew! My wife, Ellie, has been responsible for the majority of what our baby eats, but as our daughter grows, it’s up to both of us to begin introducing her to different foods. And although she’s more likely to stuff a crusty leaf into her mouth than some of the food we buy, there is pressure— both self-imposed and from outside influences—to feed her the healthiest food possible.

veg strawberries-manofwordOne word in particular—organic—is everywhere these days. Where do the pears, peas and broccoli mashed together in that little pouch come from? When you’re giving your child her first bites of food, it only makes sense to make sure that food is as unprocessed and natural as possible. It’s like having a clean slate, and we don’t want to muck it up.

The traditional thinking is that organic foods are grown or processed without—it is hoped—synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, thus being healthier for your baby (who doesn’t care what you buy, she just wants to be fed or she’ll yell louder).

Shopping for said food is a whole other task, especially when Dad gets sent to the store. Lately, we’ve been feeding our daughter packaged medleys of pureed vegetables and fruit with brand names like Happy Baby Organics, Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Organics, which we mix with some oat cereal. But, per doctor’s orders, we’re supposed to introduce foods one at a time in order to rule out allergies. So far so good, even if I end up at the store blindly grabbing at pouches that say “organic” somewhere on the label. I still feel better than the guy next to me in the baby food aisle who is being screamed at by his significant other over the phone.

There are also other rules that dads (or maybe just me) tend to miss, like using opened pouches of food within 24 hours, even if they’ve been in the refrigerator. (For the record, our daughter seemed to like those leftover beets and squash just fine.)

But as our daughter approaches her first birthday, we’ve also been giving her some of the food we eat, anything that’s cooked and soft enough for her to chomp on with her three (and a half!) teeth. She’s had some slices of banana, peach and sweet potato. Ellie often becomes the food police, politely declining my attempts to experiment with what our daughter will or won’t eat. (Spoiler alert: She’ll eat anything.)

As our daughter becomes a toddler and beyond, however, I know the pressure (and need) to feed her healthy food will continue—and will be more diffcult to manage. There will be day care and pre- school, where other parents and teachers will be paying attention to what food we send along with our child. (So, not a bag of chips and Dunkaroos?) And she’ll be exposed to a whole world of foods we don’t keep in the house. But luckily, we still have some time.

My wife’s good friend, who has two children, told me that she felt it was most important to feed her kids organically when they were infants, but as they

get older, she says, they eat what their parents eat, organic or not. She also says most parents she knows still feed their kids Cheetos and Chips Ahoy! behind the wall of social media.

“Because that’s what kids like,” she says.

Just recently, Ellie and I were asked what we planned to do to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday, which is in October. We may have a few people over to congratulate us on successfully sustaining our child for one year. She could have cake for the first time, we thought, or ice cream. Then, the wheels began turning on alternatives.

“Maybe we could make a banana bread cake or something,” Ellie says.

Andrew Rice is a reporter for Current Publishing. He, his wife and daughter live in Portland.

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