When I was an adolescent I went through a stage where I was obsessed with peach baby food. I would ask my mother to buy me those little glass jars of the tart, watery puree for me to snack on like I snack on little plastic tubs of yogurt today. Some of my other favorites at this time of my life were pancakes topped with grape jelly and butter, chicken flavored Ramen noodles (again with butter), and those jaw-breaking Original Corn Nuts. My culinary preferences seem pretty gross to me now but when I look back on it, I guess what I was doing was experimenting with my personal taste as well as asserting my independence. I was allowed to do so although with what sounded to my ears like some faint grumbling from the parental units. My younger sister who is an R.D. calls this behavior of being obsessed with a single or a handful of foods or combinations of foods "going on a food jag" and swears all kids do it and that it is entirely normal and harmless. So, I shouldn't worry that my 3-year old daughter Pixie Pie is on the road to certain palatable obsessions. I imagine our next visit to the pediatrician: "My daughter will only eat bacon and peanut butter morning, noon and night Doctor!" I will lament. "Don't worry--she's just going on a food jag, it will pass." He'll say. It's hard to imagine it ever passing but instead just morphing from one weird combo to the next but I myself am a healthy and adventerous eater in my adulthood so that at least should give me hope. Right?
Pixie Pie has been going on food jags for what feels like forever but if I think about it, it started when she was a little over a year old. I really noticed it when we were on a trip to Mexico and all she would eat were two familiar foods: black beans or yogurt. By the end of our week there, the pool waiter Tito would see us sitting down for lunch and call to the kitchen for a big hot bowl of frijoles negros! Not much has changed since then. Currently, she has her staples and resists trying anything new. Dinner is the worst because it involves vegetables and meat at our house. The most intimidating and offensive foods to Pixie are those that are either green or chewy and are immediately refused. Her rebuff of our meal is so dramatic that she pinches her lips together, covers her eyes with her arms and leans back to the side as if I am going to attempt to force-shovel trash into her mouth. I've begged and pleaded with her to try some grown up table food but all it does is backfire and send her back to the safety of her Nutella sandwiches. Pixie never has and I wonder if she ever will "eat what we eat". I have become her personal short order cook in the evenings and the menu is always the same: chicken nuggets with ketchup and peas, fish sticks with ketchup and corn, or the Italian-American mother's biggest food jag pet peeve: pasta with butter. Sound familiar?
I can't help but wonder if Pixie's hopefully temporary food anxiety is my doing. Some will say that all children of this age are like this and I agree to some extent. Certainly, the phenomenon is exacerbated by our culture. Instead of integrating my daughter into the family meal like a human being, we treated her like she was made out of combustable materials which needed to be handled with the utmost caution. Mostly because I was scared stiff by her pediatriian's instructions on solid feeding. I was so frightened of a potential food allergy before she magically turned one year old that I started with baby purees and stayed in that phase for way too long, until, I believe, the window of opportunity for her to assimilate closed. Around 9 months she was ready and willing to try the family meal from our table and I wimped out. My mother-in-law likes the story of Pixie's enthusiasm for broccolirabe sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Yes, I let her try it at the time but never built on that enthusiasm because I was stuck in the fear of the list. The pediatrician's list of foods to avoid in the first year of baby's life was debilitating and ruled out everything we cook at home for ourselves. Each food had it's hazards I'm sure. Some of the more obvious were egg whites, nuts, and milk. Some of the others like fish, tomatoes, and citrus fruits I wasn't so sure about. Were we afraid of an allergic reaction (nuts), choking (fish bones) or both? Was the real worry acid reflux (tomatoes) or some other evil--diarrhea perhaps? The list was so confusing. By her first birthday she had not tried any of our meals. She often had a version of what we were eating but completely plain without even salt (her kidneys!!) or butter (no dairy!!!). Most days I felt that the safer and healthy thing to do was to go along with the purees and cereal rather than risk a problem. In Gerber we trust.
I now know that my anxiety ridden attitude towards Pixie's diet was probably both unnecessary and detrimental and that I took her pediatrician's guidelines way too seriously. It is no wonder to me now that she behaves like an un-assimilated alien from the planet Sugarland. I'm sure I haven't ruined her gastronomic life yet but many picky eaters do indeed carry on even into adulthood. So I have decided to relax and take a different route to solid feeding with my son Busy Boy. He is about to turn one year old and he has been eating table food, exactly as we eat it, since he was 9 months old. When it was Pixie Pie's time, it was difficult to explain to the older generations why solid feeding had become so strict and frankly, unenjoyable for both parent and baby. With my son, I decided that I would use his doctor's list of forbidden foods in the first year as more of a guideline to common sense rather than the law. He could eat whatever we ate, old school style! Of course, he loves everything at first taste. This shouldn't be surprising for a baby that will put literally anything he finds on the floor in his mouth, though. His first real food was homemade beef stew and he eats everything from pasta to pot roast to grilled chicken to lentil soup. All homemade the way the rest of us (except Pixie) will eat it. This is how children in most of the world learn to eat and there is nothing physiologically different about American babies. The only difference is in the false belief held by myself and other parents that the packaged, inexpensive, and "safe" babyfood of the grocery store shelf is a good choice. It is a perfectly good starter food and it is great as a convenience but who would want to eat it exclusively? If you have ever tried the stuff it is not that delicious. The fruits and veggies are okay but the meats are tantamount to little Vienna sausages that smell like cat food. Besides, would you want to eat out of a jar for six months or longer? It just doesn't seem fair.
I'll never know if my reluctance to build upon Pixie's initial enthusiasm for real food is cause for her current finicky-ness and I'll find out soon if Busy will bypass the stage ostensibly because of my earlier introduction of real food. Nevertheless, I have no way of knowing if or when the picky stage will pass once it starts. I do predict that my children will someday unite in a strike against certain foods, at least once, probably tomato sauce--forcing me to make an exception and serve them their pasta with butter and perhaps, a little parmesan cheese. So no matter what I do, all I should do is my best to be relaxed and to offer them the best--because you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink after all. I now recognize that parental grumbling of my youth because I am doing the exact same thing. And I know that all the kids hear is the faint sound of my unhappiness about it. What matters to them is that they do it "my way" like the old Frank Sinatra song. And that can't be such a bad thing. At least for now.