Several scientist type people insist that between our first and second years, humans set up their palates for the rest of their lives. Give your toddler too much sugary stuff and it’s all she’ll eat later on. Lean toward too many processed foods and you’ll have trouble getting him to eat macrobiotic, more nutritious food when he’s entering grade school. Nothing beats the tension of worrying that during those exhausting days after the infant stage you’re merely preparing for culinary disaster. Thus I attempt to balance the following when figuring out not only each and every meal for the baby, but my overall nutritional and taste goals for Emile:
- Include whole grain and fiber, protein, vegetables, and fruit
- Put out a melange of shapes and colors, some finger foods that he can wrestle on his own, and some spoon-fed
- Keep everything in rotation so he doesn’t get bored by the same stuff
- Make each piece of food easy to swallow so he doesn’t die
- Ensure only organic, homemade, or all-natural food passes his tender lips
Above all else, however, is this:
Show no stress about trying to remember all of the above rules.
This is a lot to manage with regard to one tiny person’s eating, and of course I don’t eat this well myself. I seem to miss at least half of my lunches during the week. Not that I’m complaining! The stakes for my palate are significantly lower, of course, and hey, I’m halfway through my life at this point. I just try to drink all of my soda and coffee outside the house or after he’s gone to bed (bad idea with coffee). I want Emile to be strong and healthy, and I’m happy to point out that hey, he’s had all of two colds in his whole existence. Go go Gadget immune system! The reason I bring up this topic is this: despite my attempts to balance Emile’s diet like so many china plates on sticks, he has his preferences.
The first time he tried avocado, it was all he could do to get it back out of his mouth. One month later, he loved avocado, and excitedly made the “more” ASL sign. Well, his version of it, anyway–which means he clapped. Almost like he’s communicating, “Encore, encore!” That’s what we mean by applause, right?
Now he sees avocado, and will point and clap. I trust it makes the avocado feel pretty loved. What avocado wouldn’t want to be masticated by a squealing baby, after all?
The latest food of wonderment is the ubiquitous banana. These I buy cinched tight with their green ribbon declaring ORGANIC, because remember, it’s in the rules. Again, Emile was so-so on bananas the first fourteen times he ate them, but then, the Banana Fairy drifted into his nursery one night and bestowed him with some inordinate love of the fruit. He even manages to say “Nana!” when he sees them, and since they’re you know, bright yellow, they are easy to spot. I can’t walk through the dining room with him anymore without him pointing and repeating “nana, nana, nana!” He may have eaten one mere minutes before that, but he’d like me to know that he is ready for another five servings ANY TIME.
It used to be that I’d buy a clump of three or four bananas and watch the last one slowly disintegrate, first into spotted brown territory when the starch gives into the sugars of the flesh, and then devolving into a gloomy dark brown, calling out to my guilt complex that maybe if I dropped everything right now, it could still be useful as banana bread. I was a poor banana caretaker. But no longer. The child is too frantic to consume sweet, sweet potassium. When I’m cutting up baby bite-sized chunks for him, he is prone to crying if the conveyor belt of nana-goodness slows down, even for 1.2 seconds.
It is hard not to look tense when frantically cutting up banana but trying not to maim one’s fingers in the process. And yet I swing this all throughout the week.
Today Susanne asked me to go to the grocery store to pick up some refreshments for an afternoon meeting, and since it was my turn to be with Emile, he accompanied me in the supermarket. We cruised through the deli, getting cold cuts for sandwiches, restocked our baby and adult milk supplies, and picked up some allergy medicine. Without thinking about the consequences of my actions, I wheeled around to the produce section, Emile pointing at this and that in the store, whatever caught his eye. And then he saw what must have looked to him to be the single largest stack of bananas ever produced in the entire world.
“NANA! NANA! NANANANANANANANANANANA!!!!!!!!”
I worried I broke the baby. He didn’t have enough fingers to use to point to the pile of happy.
“Okay, honey, we’ll get you some bananas.” They were on my list; I was already planning on buying a bunch.
The other shoppers, all women, stared at us. That stupid fat dad must not feed his baby, I imagined them thinking. Or maybe they thought I beat my kid with bananas each night. I plucked an green ribbon-wrapped clump and sped away, Emile unraveling because he was. Moving. Further. Away. From . True. Love.
“Nana?” Now he was asking when banana would happen. I’ll point out here that he’d had half a banana for breakfast. But whatever, time had elapsed, so it was all the same as if weeks had transpired.
We made it home, Emile whimpering about bananas most of the way. I cut into one and turned out 30 banana cubes for him within two minutes of our arrival. I’m sure I never looked tense about it.
“Mmm, nana,” said Emile.