To say that I have a complicated relationship with food is to say that Hillary Clinton has a complicated relationship with Bill. No, there is no serial infidelity (unless you count me cheating on every diet ever), but there is resignation and recriminations hidden behind of veil of happiness and peppered with occasional bouts of peaceful coexistence. Why am I ascribing human traits to food? It’s complicated, as I just said. But I’m not going to go into it because (1) that would take more space than exists on the internet and (2) I’m not here to talk about me. This is about my daughter.
When I learned I was having a daughter and again when she was born, I remember thinking over and over, “Please, God, don’t let her have my food issues.” What and how she eats are what I worry about the most. I want her to be healthy, first and foremost, but I also want her to have a healthy outlook, so that when she’s 8 she won’t cry at the dinner table and when she’s 16 she won’t be too embarrassed or afraid to eat in front of her friends and when she’s 40 she will enjoy an occasional ice cream outing with her kids without fearing it’ll go straight to her hips. I don’t know if this magical head space exists, but if it does, I want her to live in it.
I can only guess that Step 1 to healthy eating is not having a mother who is neurotic about food, so she’s behind the eight ball on that score. (Sorry, kid.) But I can’t remove myself from the equation, at least not until she can do her own shopping and cooking. As she’s almost 11 months old, that’s going to be a while. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to be a conscientious cook, at least more so than I was for myself. This is obviously a long-term project—the long con, if you will—and I’ll be posting here on the blog about it on a regular basis. To start, I want to describe where we are and how we got here. And here it goes.
First, I wasn’t good at breast-feeding. I did it for a couple of months, but it came out in teeny-tiny amounts that were never enough for her appetite. This was an early sign to me that books about having/feeding/etc. babies did not match the reality of having/feeding/etc. my baby. After almost three months, I freed myself from the burden, emotional and physical, of being a milk machine—and yes, it was awesomely freeing, and no, I do not regret it. Some may think I should have tried harder, but the truth is that trying to breastfeed and failing made me miserable. I took the chance that me being miserable was not healthy for the kid either.
So it was that we came to depend wholly on formula. At first, we gave her Similac because that’s what she got at the hospital. Eventually, though, it seemed foolish to spend so much for something that Costco offered at half the price. An instructor at a parenting class we took had pointed out that formula is regulated, which means every brand has to meet a minimum level of nutrition. When paying extra for a brand name, she said, you are not paying for additional goodness, but for marketing. Marketing like, oh I don’t know, getting exclusive rights at hospitals so people keep buying your stuff after they’ve gone back home. Formula feeding was not without its own set of concerns, but on the whole it was easier. The biggest plus of all was that hubby could help.
By the time she reached six months and it became increasingly clear that formula alone was no longer going to do it, hubby and I decided to open up the real food adventure with bananas. It was my choice, actually. I am the daughter of a banana grower, so really there was never a question of what would come first. It tooks a few tries for it to actually go into her mouth. Three, to be precise. But when she realized that what we put in her mouth was supposed to stay in there and be swallowed, when it finally worked, it worked like a charm. I don’t know how successful breastfeeding feels like, but this? This felt wonderful. She LOVED bananas. She couldn’t eat them fast enough. There were two problems with this. First, bananas constipated her, which means we have to space them out. Second, the ease with which she took to them gave me a false sense of security about how easy feeding her would be. Babies—or my daughter, at least—are nothing if not masters of making you believe for a brief, glorious moment that you are in control.
After the successful banana experiment we went to pear, which she also ate with gusto. Then we tried sweet potato, which she also ate happily. In fact, it took a while before we found something she wasn’t crazy about—green beans, which she didn’t like pureed, but doesn’t mind cut up in small pieces. To cook and puree her food I used the Beaba babycook, which my mom gave us. I love this thing. It cooks everything perfectly, and purees in the same container so you don’t dirty a dozen cooking dishes in the process. It’s small enough that you can travel with it, and I have. My only complaint is that the cooking area doesn’t fit a huge amount of food, which would be nice for freezing, but really it’s only a minor quibble. Plus, that sort of forces me into giving her a variety. I’m someone who could eat the same thing everyday for a week (and has), but that’s me. And as I’ve said, I don’t want this kid to be me when it comes to eating.
After several months of purees, we’re now firmly in the land of finger foods. And of her wanting to feed herself no matter how helpful I’m trying to be. And of me trying to figure out the magical size to cut food so that something is big enough for her to pick up without help but not so big she chokes on it. And of me trying to calculate how much she actually ate and how much ended up on the floor. I never thought I would think about anything as much as I think about everything that goes into her mouth, what she eats or could eat or won’t eat. I hope this means that she won’t have to think about it this much or at all.