When we were in LA mid-March, F, who had previously been sleeping 4-5 hours stretches at night, began waking up to feed every 2 to 3 hours. She was four months -the age at which I had began giving cereal to LP. "Don't rush feeding solids!", all the books say. "It's probably just a very temporary growth spurt!" Yeah, OK. But then she kept on doing that for two over weeks. And just like LP, she was showing all the readiness signs: acute interest in food and watching us eat, holding her head straight, etc. While I was eating breakfast, she would fuss and fuss until I'd sit her on my lap and give her my spoon, let her have just the tiniest taste of something -like sucking on a chunk of apple while I held it, for instance, or giving her a little bit of my yogurt... Exactly like her brother, the girl had become miserable on milk alone (granted, I don't appear to make very rich milk).
I said it before for LP, but I tend to disagree with the fixed 6-month solids rule. It certainly works for some kids, but not mine. And I mean both of them: I wanted F to lead this, and did not necessarily want to do the same thing for both kids, but it was very clear that she was ready. Why would all kids be ready at the same age, when they all do everything else at widely different intervals? I'm aware of allergy and intolerance concerns. I do take this seriously. But when doing some research all I could find was a disagreement between the American Association of Pediatrics, which says 4 to 6 months, and their Breastfeeding group, which is adamant on 6 months. F's doctor even gave me her blessing, when I told her a little bit about her context. She asked: is she pushing the food out with her tongue and doesn't seem to know what to do with it? No, she's swallowing it very expertly. Is she able to tell you when she's done? Yes, actually, she pushes the spoon away. Does she seems to be doing better since she's eating? God YES! She even went back to her 4-5 hour stretches at night. She then turned to the nurse and said: Mommy knows her baby. Which I think is ze main message in all this.
She started cereal at 4 and a half months, pureed fruits and veggies at 5 months, then tofu and legumes. I waited until 6 months for meats -animal protein is hard for little kidneys to process before then.
My strategy is a little different this time around. And my main instinct is even clearer than it was: the fun part, the positive part of setting the foundation for a kid's eating habits throughout their life, has somehow been completely taken away nowadays. Being cautious is one thing. But turning this into a mine field of warnings and scaremongering, a terrible chore, and most especially a completely joyless and confusing experience cannot be right.
Therefore, here are a few notes on what we're currently going through.
-Don't give your baby sh*t you wouldn't eat. I have nothing against jarred baby food once in a while, but some of that stuff is nasty. That's not going to help avoid the fussy eating later on, you know?
-There's no need to launch a whole big cooking and freezing endeavor. You don't need purees for months and months! What you want is a little variety and to have something on hand when you need it. So really there's no need to buy five heads of broccoli. Half of one will do. This will give you enough to fill 4 to 6 baby cubes (what I'm using), which is plenty! When you run out, it's going to be time to add some more texture anyway.
-While I do sometimes make batches of purees especially for F, I also use what I'm cooking for the rest of the family. We're having green beans that night? I'm making just a little more and put what's left in the food processor after dinner. Voilà!
-Fresh is better than frozen, which is better than jarred. Simply put, the food in jars is probably not the best quality to begin with, and it's also inevitably overcooked (that's the only way it can be sterilized to have a long shelf life). I use it when I need to (when we went to NYC, for instance), but I also found this pouched product, which I like better. At least the varieties they have are cool and a little more inventive. In a pinch, it's a great back-up.
-Even beginners will accept food that's not liquid-ey. I don't have a blender, just a food processor, which does smooth purees, but not even remotely close to the soupy consistence of what you find in jars. I didn't even realize this -to me, that was "smooth," and both my babies had no problem with it. But introducing textures early and rapidly increasing the size of the chunks make sense to me, if you want to raise a good eater. I don't go out of my way to remove all texture; F is accepting little raspberry seeds without a problem, for instance.
-I don't always use the purees I have in my frozen stash. Whenever I can, I do fresh: you can pulse a small mango (two to three portions), a peach or a pear, etc., in about 30 seconds. You can mash a banana or an avocado in even less. You can bake a small (whole, unpeeled) sweet potato in the oven for 30 minutes. Scoop the flesh out, and it's pureed already (about three portions).
-Fresh also means you can do a whole lot more variety than the "traditional" kinds. You can do red bell pepper puree, or eggplant caviar, or tomatoes, cucumber, kiwifruit, figs, watermelon... I even did very sweet blood orange; it was one of F's favorite things.
-They usually say that you should give your baby only one new food at a time for a few days, so you could easily identify the culprit if she develops a reaction. I don't always follow this -sometimes, it just doesn't make sense. I always carefully note everything she has, though. I mean, even if she has two to three different new foods over these few days, it wouldn't be so hard to go back and find which one is causing a problem. Not that I'm undermining this, but apart from the big allergens (wheat, soy, eggs, nuts, etc.), the chances of your baby having a reaction to say, carrots, is actually infinitesimal.
-Mix it up! The mixes are the best. Carrots and dates. Mango and banana. Pear and broccoli. Apple and cranberries. There's no limit!
-I also think it's completely OK to mix something the baby is not crazy about with something she loves -say, yucky-face peas with yummy-face butternut squash. I also use this strategy when first introducing meats.
-I make a small batch of applesauce every week, trying different varieties, and I don't freeze it. We like to have it too, it means I always have something fresh on hand, and it's a great "mixer" (see above).
-Don't be afraid to season a bit. I don't put salt or sugar in F's food, but nothing prevents you from adding a little lemon juice, some herbs, or even a little onion and garlic. I have occasionally added just a little olive oil too, when there's no way to cook the food otherwise (chicken liver, fish). Try it! It won't hurt them. If they don't like it, you can always use it up by mixing it with something else later.