Aileen lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two young boys and a big black lab. She works part-time for a non-profit agency and is fully enjoying the highs and hiccups of mommyhood. She will soon have a new baby to love.
Upon the birth of our first son, breastfeeding was a natural choice but I was a little more perplexed when it came to feeding him solids. Jarred baby food seemed to be my only option and was my initial reflex response. But I soon found myself growing bored of the seven or eight main selections. One weekend night while making butternut squash soup for dinner, I decided to save some of the homemade puree for our son. The instant satisfaction was two-fold. Our seven month old son devoured his first home-made meal while I sat back in sheer delight. My friends, an obsession was born.
After attempting my own creations for purees, I quickly desired a broader approach. I scoured the local bookstores for ample ammunition with my new-found pursuit. I returned with an armful of baby food how-to’s and happily plunged into their pages. Annabel Karmel, the wildly popular children’s food writer, was quickly replacing some of my more cherished adult-themed authors as a staple nightly read. My kitchen soon transformed into a test laboratory; my food processor a new best friend as crazy concoctions came forth with. Saturday mornings were spent batch-cooking these homemade purees. Small five ounce Tupperware containers of carrots with kale, avocado with banana, spinach and parsnips and other wild rainbow mixtures were suddenly filling our freezer drawer.
As our son grew older and mastered the dreaded feeding time refusal skills, I needed to become even more imaginative with what I brought to his high chair. He soon moved from fingers foods to meals requiring the dexterity for fork and spoon and I found myself searching for ways to fill his plate with nutritional, if not organic, meals.
My institution of such wholesome eating seeded itself sometime before the arrival of our first son but certainly not in my childhood, despite my parents’ best efforts. My mother still cringes at the thought that my daily diet consisted mainly of Nacho Doritos and wheat bread with mustard sandwiches. Yes, mustard only and more specifically French’s Gold. Grey Poupon would have been a bit too worldly for my young discriminatory appetite. Oh, I easily ranked as every parent’s worst nutritional nightmare.
Hence, it should be no surprise that as a new mother, I was terrified to genetically pass on to any offspring my early bland, carb-loving palate. So there I sat face to face with my little kiddo at the kitchen table attempting every trick in the book to get him to finish his zucchini pancakes. Eyes like a hawk for a quick turn of the head would find my little one feeding his morsels to our ever-patient, ever-drooling lab.
Alas, my past was coming back to haunt me and my own mother was finding her sweet revenge. For twenty-some odd years earlier that dear woman made numerous attempts to incorporate a more varied food regimen into my diet despite my own profound but silent protests. She took to implementing that go-to universal rule of having to finish all of my vegetables before I was to be excused from the table. As mom would turn to attend to the dishes each night, I secretly spooned my remaining vegetables into my pants’ pockets. While I chose to forego three-quarters of my supper meal, a younger and hungrier neighborhood pal named Brian was happy to indulge in my unwanted leftovers. Each evening he awaited, spoon-in hand, eager to empty my pocket treasures. Now my youngster had found in his own neighborhood pal, albeit a four-legged one, to devour his unwanted scraps.
And so it was not without difficulty that I found myself on a slippery nutritional slope of what I can now admit may have been a bit extreme at times. Whenever our son was in the care of someone other than me or my husband, I made sure he had a sufficient supply of all his homemade frozen meals and organic snacks accompanied with strict feeding instructions. Milk and water were to be the only beverages of choice and sweets and empty calorie snacks were not an option. Yes, I was soon bordering on food control communism.
Our babysitters, more specifically the grandparents, reluctantly obliged to my detailed requests for a time. But their will was only so strong and I soon realized the inevitable “grandparent factor” was setting in. Candy wrappers were found stuck in pockets and cheese curl lips were kissed upon arrival. Weekly visits to Mom-Mom’s house, or rather Planet Pop-Tart, were the ultimate delight. Our son relished in this delectable breakfast treat. Apparently while spending the day at her house, he would implore for a Pop-Tart not only for breakfast but for lunch and, oh yes, as an afternoon snack as well. Sound the alarms as my efforts to create healthy eating habits for our three year old were being secretly sabotaged.
One evening when my brother was over for dinner, he watched as I unsuccessfully tried to feed our younger son a helping of steamed broccoli. Quite amused at his nephew’s defiant faces, he pronounced that a little bit of Cheez Whiz might help the process along. Would that not completely defeat the entire purpose of feeding this little one a wholesome meal? But then a thought flickered through my mind – that of our son thirteen years older standing in line at the Philadelphia landmark, Pat’s Steaks with a bunch of his teenage friends. For all you non-Philadelphia natives, this standard joint arguably serves up some of the finest cheese steaks in the country. When ordering, one must quickly stipulate “with” or “without.” The “with” or “without” referring to that bright yellow processed cheese sauce aforementioned. Could I truly let our son arrive at this Philadelphian rite of passage and be ill-equipped to answer such a request in front of all of his buddies?
And so in attempting to right my own nutritional wrongs as a child, I, in an instant, realized I may have taken this organic craze a bit too far. While meals using fresh and nutritional ingredients still remain a must in our household, I am now more inclined to include those childhood indulgences on occasions. I simply cannot afford to pass up the smiles that arrive from such simple pleasures as receiving popcorn at the movies or the Tootsie Roll lollipop from the bank teller – just as long as that wonderful smile doesn’t lose its teeth in the process.
I certainly hope I am not alone in walking this line of feeding our kids nutritionally while letting them still enjoy the pleasures of childhood. I would love to hear your own thoughts and solutions when it comes to what you allow your precious little ones to have and have not.
Please share your stories of feeding triumphs (and failures) with us. See below.