Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Baby Nutrition

I have always eaten well. I do not deprive myself of sweets, and I do not count calories, yet I eat as healthy as possible most of the time. I've never liked sodas, and for the most part, I'm not crazy about packaged foods. I would often rather eat a cheese sandwich than something that comes out of a box. Boxed macaroni and cheese makes my skin crawl, and boxed rice "meals" give me the heeby-jeebies.

Food is extremely important to me, as I'm sure is obvious by my choice of subjects here. Cooking has become my hobby, and I read cookbooks for fun. Anytime I have felt the need to drop a couple of pounds (and yes, it has happened a time or two), I steadfastly refuse to diet. Instead, I exercise more. Given the choice, I would gladly exercise all day long if that meant I could continue to eat whatever I want.

My mother raised me in a very health-conscious manner. We shopped at health food stores; her most-used cookbook was Recipes for a Small Planet (which is, by the way, where I got the idea for the name of this blog). We were vegetarians, we ate food straight from her organic garden (sometimes without washing it first - our salads were, at times, gritty), and we almost never ate fast food. We did not have sodas in the house, nor potato chips. Though it may seem like I had an odd childhood, it wasn't anything weird or overly hippie, at least by my standards. We had popcorn for snacks, and one of my favorite treats was to go to the health food store and get a quart of kefir. We made popsicles from frozen fruit cocktail in those old-timey Tupperware popsicle-making contraptions. To reward me for good grades, mom would buy me a tub of sorbet, which I would polish off in one sitting. I love the way I was raised, and I hope to impart these same food values to my own child(ren).

When I was pregnant, I became obsessed with the proper development of the baby inside me. I read an inordinate amount of material on prenatal nutrition and I tried to make sure to get a healthy balance of all nutrients. I also ate countless Krispy Kreme doughnuts (God love them), but most of the time I kept a running list of meals inside my head so that I could be sure I was getting enough iron, protein, water, vitamins and the widest possible variety of fruits and vegetables. I labored under the assumption that the baby's taste buds were also being developed, and everything I ate would broaden the variety of foods he would be willing to eat when he got older. Though I focused on eating healthy most of the time, I ate A LOT. By the time it was all said and done, I had gained 50 or 60 pounds, roughly double what "they" say you are supposed to gain during pregnancy.

I did follow the rules and limited my caffeine to one cup of coffee per day, and I completely gave up sushi, feta cheese (the hardest thing to do without), and herbal teas. I limited fish to no more than twice per month. I wasn't going to take any chances with the little guy.

Once Fat Baby was born, and I started reading crazy amounts of information on breastfeeding, I became even more obsessed. Now that I could actually see that what I ate would pass through my milk to the baby, I would go to the grocery store and agonize over the ingredients list on every item. Whenever possible, I bought organic produce and dairy products. The mainstream baby books said to limit things like onions, greens, spicy foods, cauliflower, citrus, and so on. I deemed all that advice to be utterly asinine, and ate all those foods with abandon. Sure, they might be right that these items would cause gas, but in my estimation, it was better for the baby to have gas and proper nutrition than it would be for him to be gas-free and nutrient-poor. After all, gas never killed anyone.

For six months, Fat Baby got nothing other than breastmilk. There were times when he would pop off the breast and either grin at me (after I had eaten spicy meals) or pucker his face up like he had tasted something sour (after I drank carrot juice). Mom told me she couldn't eat Italian salad dressing while she was nursing me because I would pitch a fit about it when it passed through her milk. For a while, I kept a food log so that I could figure out which foods affected him in specific ways. It wasn't long before I figured out that he liked everything.

When he was six months old, I started him on organic rice cereal, and then we moved on to oatmeal. From there, we went to baby food, and he tried and liked every single fruit and vegetable combination I could come up with. After that was organic whole-milk yogurt, and then the transition to table foods. He never had formula, and he breastfed for 16 months. I started him on cow's milk at one year, and I switch him between that and soymilk. He still has not had any meat, and I hope he never does, though that decision will ultimately be his. The Carnivore, bless his soul, has not argued with me about this. Yet.

In all of the mainstream parenting stuff that I have read, there is always a section on food and, inevitably, some parent is lamenting that their toddler will only eat chicken nuggets. I can't think of any response to that, other than to say that its bunk. My son has never had chicken nuggets. He eats everything I do. He loves brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. He eats tabouli and couscous, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, organic unsweetened cereal, and hummus on pita bread. He has liked every fruit he has tried, and will suck a lemon or a lime bone-dry. He stands next to me, on his tippy-toes, at the chopping block when I am making dinner, and he has taken a bite out a red onion like it was an apple, chewed up a clove of garlic and come back for more, and will munch on mushrooms while he waits for dinner to be served.

Lest anyone think I am forcing my child to live a deprived life, rest assured that Fat Baby gets plenty of treats. He gets a lollipop every time we go the bank, which is two or three times a week. When I need to buy myself time to finish up some work, I have been known to bribe him with some licorice. And he'll knock Tabby down in a heartbeat to get at some chocolate chip cookies.

I feel strongly though that the best way to eat healthy is to stick with good, nutrient-dense foods most of the time, but to still allow yourself to eat junk as long as it is in moderation. So many people go all the way in one direction or the other, either forcing themselves to wither up on a completely fat-free diet, or to eat only fast food until their arteries can't take it anymore. You simply can't live a full, healthy life without proper nutrition. I want my son to have a healthy attitude about food. I have a lot of prayers for my child, but if he eats healthy and believes in God, I'll feel I've gotten my money's worth here.

I would love to find out where to pick up my Good Parent Award, but I am fully aware that Fat Baby's eating habits may have very little to do with me, and it may just be that I am blessed. My second child may, God forbid, refuse to eat anything other than chicken nuggets.

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