The only problem I have with commercial baby food is that it's expensive, unhealthy and tastes horrible. Aside from that, it's all good.
With our first child, my wife and I didn't give much thought to the issue. I may have suggested that Maura breast-feed until Annie was 4 or 5 as a simple and easy (His language, my wife clarifies) cost-cutting initiative, but aside from that we didn't actively question the matter. Why would we? When you have a child and that child reaches 4 months of age, a specter, unbidden, floats across your consciousness, invades your dreams and makes an indelible psychic imprint-it's the disembodied head of the adorable baby on the baby food jar.
He-or perhaps she, its beauty both timeless and gender-neutral-beckons you toward the most frightening supermarket aisle. The one with thousands of tiny jars (apparently thimbles are too big), each festooned with a picture of a rather startled-looking infant. The baby has you entranced. You do not think or question. You buy.
And buy. You buy hundreds and hundreds of jars, expensive as pepper or silk to 15th-century explorers, filling the shopping cart beyond capacity. And that's just for lunch.
And so it went with Annie. When Kate came along, four years later, we were, if not older and wiser, at least older and older-looking (He grew older-looking, my wife clarifies). My wife had a great idea: Let's make our own baby food.
Actually, what she said was: "Let's make our own baby food!!" What I heard, though, was a little different: "I'm going to make all this baby food, and please don't try to help because I can definitely do it all on my own. I would go so far as to say it would be insulting if you tried to lift a single finger to assist me, okay?"
Yes, okay. I didn't help. Especially when she explained how simple and easy (Her language, the author clarifies) the process was going to be. Step 1: Wash and dice fruit and/or vegetables. Step 2: Bring to boil in medium saucepan, simmering for 15 minutes. Step 3: Let cool. Step 4: Purée in blender. Step 5: Pour into ice cube trays. Step 6: Freeze. Step 7: Remove from trays and store in plastic tubs in freezer. Step 8: Defrost as needed. Step 9: Conduct research concerning how to find time to prepare homemade baby food.
Our bespoke baby food wasn't easy to make, but it was healthy. In 2006 the Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) published the study " Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food." According to the CSPI standard commercial baby food is diluted with, among other things, starch, water, corn syrup, sugar and chemically modified tapioca. Moreover, some of these "fillers," such as corn and wheat, can produce food allergies in children and are therefore contraindicated during the first year. More disturbing is a report of the Food Standards Agency in the UK, which found that artificial coloring and additives, such as the preservative sodium benzoate, may cause hyperactivity.
With homemade baby food, additives and fillers aren't a problem. You don't have to use them. You don't have to worry about researchers and their grim findings. Buying organic is another option, but of course that's even more expensive than traditional baby food. Moreover, organic products, even those for children, are not always filler- or additive-free. Certain sugars may be organic, but that doesn't mean they're healthy.
So, after a few weeks of boiling, freezing and thawing our own baby-food popsicles, we hit upon a radical idea. Babies, according to ground-breaking new evidence, are actually human beings. Only smaller. And cuter. And (for the most part) better-smelling.
"Why do we even need 'baby food'?" Maura asked.
"What do you mean?" I said, perhaps not fully awake.
"I mean, can't we just feed Kate normal food?"
"Like the kind we eat?" I asked, confusion lines forming in my uncaffeinated brow.
"Yeah, just like our food. Only smaller."
"We'll cut it up with a knife and fork!" I was totally on-board with this idea.
"Exactly. Cut it up really small. She only has one tooth and it's not even a canine."
Our epiphany turned out to be quite liberating. We prepared scrambled eggs for Kate, and she ate them, or the fraction of them that didn't fall overboard onto the floor. Watching her dig in with that tiny Winnie-the-Pooh fork was priceless, and of course much easier than feeding her myself. We squashed bananas with our own forks, which turned out to be quite easy. We felt stupid and physically weak for ever buying those little jars of pre-mashed-up banana, as if we couldn't have harnessed the strength to throttle the soft fruit ourselves.
Homemade baby food was great, but it was also spooky. For starters, the Baby on the Jar began stalking me, and s/he was no longer smiling angelically. It was all scowls and implicit threats. Why aren't you buying my overpriced microscopic products?! In retrospect, this may have been a hallucination brought on by insufficient sleep, but still. It felt wrong to keep all that hard-earned money for ourselves. Buying pre-packaged goods is always better, right? Multinational corporations surely know what's best!
Our friends seemed to think so. We went out for Indian food with "Pat" and "Chrissie," who had two kids of their own. Kate sat on my lap and I fed her steamed rice, garlic naan and tandoori chicken. "You can't do that!" they said. "Why not?" "I don't know. You just can't."
But you can. Over the next few weeks, Kate enjoyed spaghetti Bolognese, croissants and other normal human foods. Today, she's an extremely adventurous eater (especially compared to Gerber-fed Annie) who's not afraid of spicy food. She has a peculiar fondness for Bollywood films and cycle rickshaws, but I'm sure that's nothing to worry about.
Now that we have a third child, I'm older and my wife is wiser. Except for a few months of instant baby cereal, when Grace couldn't chew so much as gum, we've only fed her Normal Human Adult Food (NoHAF). We also avoid processed, sugary and fatty foods. Eating habits, like everything else, is rooted in childhood. If kids learn to eat responsibly from an early age, they'll be much more likely to continue doing so as adolescents and adults. If they become accustomed to junk, however, they'll be addicted for life.
It hasn't always been easy with Grace. When she was a little younger, she didn't like meat or vegetables, and Man cannot live on Cheerios alone, not even if that man is a little girl. The answer was juicing. She'll drink anything we call a juice, even if it's chock-full of kale, beets, carrots, flax oil, bee pollen and other fun, exciting, child-friendly ingredients! For protein we add soy milk and almonds. We're not too sinister, though. We temper the veg with sweet fruits such as papaya, kiwi, strawberries, peaches and oranges.
Now that she's older, Grace has even started to enjoy vegetables that look like vegetables. Asparagus and broccoli are her favorites, sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Of course, old socks would taste good with garlic and oil. Not that my own mother understood this. She boiled vegetables until they were maximally bland, bitter and/or vitamin-deficient, and she looked at me like I was ungrateful for not taking seconds.
We sometimes wonder why our kids are picky eaters, but if we stuff them with jars full of mushy goop and, later, hot dogs and chicken tenders, we can't expect them to develop sophisticated palates. It would be like playing them Justin Bieber for several years, taking them to the opera, and then being puzzled by their boredom.
It's crucial to question our eating habits, especially when it comes to children. With a little common sense and creativity, you can make kids happy and healthy at the same time. It only took me 12 years to figure this out.