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What’s On the Table?

I have Steiner Education–and all the special individuals I met there–to thank for how well my children eat today.  It wasn’t easy in the beginning because it was extra work to have my babies eat separate meals, but it has certainly paid off.  I didn’t serve my children commercial baby food.  We prepared everything at home and very simply.  No spices for the first few years. No junk, of course, and hardly any sugar.  If they had it, it was muscovado.

I was criticized for it and, many years later, someone actually asked me if it was true I brought my own food to children’s birthday parties.  I rarely went to them, I can tell you that, and I can pinpoint exactly which party this person must have been talking about.  My older son was a toddler then and, yes, I did bring his food. I did this because babies eat differently from older children, as they should.  They also have their own rhythm for meals and you can’t tell a hungry baby to wait until the celebrant has blown out the candles on his cake. Of course I brought his food. I’ve seen other mothers with babies do this as well. I think every mother should so I was quite surprised when, years later, it became apparent that I had been judged (poor social skills?)for being a responsible mother to my child. But this is par for the course for anyone on this path. Everyone will blah, blah, blah but, in the end, my being weird and different have paid off.

My children eat anything today and I believe it’s because I gave them whole food from the very beginning.  They started with fruit, then moved on to the usual veggies–squash,carrots,beets– and then later  pureed greens, on to grains, so that eventually they were eating vegetables and brown rice with no seasonings. You won’t believe how much they ate.  But they ate.  I didn’t give them processed food that’s so full of sugar and flavoring you can be sure it affects their developing taste buds. And though some people thought I was depriving my children (really, of what…junk?), today it is clear I did right by them. My children eat vegetables, lots of them, and pretty much anything I put on the table without complaint. My younger son even asked me recently if he could try snail, which he saw at a Filipino food buffet. He went for it and decided he didn’t like it. But that’s how open he is to trying anything. I just added fermented vegetables to our diet (not the sweet atchara, but veggies fermented with whey and sea salt)and he eats it with gusto. 

If you start your baby or small child with processed food–or anything prepared in a factory and sold ready-to-eat in a store–you are preparing him to be a picky eater.  From the start, you expose him to flavors that he’s too young for and everything after that will taste bland.  But if you take the time today to just give the simplest, organic, whole food, you are allowing him to taste nature at its best.  He will know GOOD food from pretend-food. The first time my child ate white bread, he told me he didn’t think it was bread, because he was used to the substance and flavor of whole grain. Today, they love the dense, German whole grain bread we discovered at a deli on Amorsolo. That’s bread!

Eating is not just about food but how you lay down the path for how it is eaten at home. From the beginning, I would put my children on their high chair at table and simply eat until they were done. Toys and books on the table are a no-no. I never chased my children around with a spoon. We sit when we eat, we rise when we are done. They always had their own spoon to bang around in the beginning, but eventually to use to try and feed themselves. Years later, I was surprised when a mother asked me how I got my boys to eat so well and on their own when her 5-year-old still had to be fed by the yaya and then followed around the house for most of the meal. To me, it is about doing it right from the beginning, and simply knowing in your heart it’s the way to go.

Most of the time we fail in our efforts do the right thing because we doubt ourselves. We wonder how our baby can eat plain squash. Why would he eat it when it’s so tasteless, and with brown rice?  Well, maybe tasteless for you and your adult tastebuds, but not for the child who has only ever had your milk!He won’t be crying because his food lacks salt or pepper. Leave it out. He doesn’t need it yet.  And don’t think water is tasteless, either. They don’t need juice. Water, and lots of it, is all they need! If you are sure, in your heart, that you are doing the best thing for your child, your child will feel it and follow. That is something I know to be true as I’ve tried and tested it with my children and continue to–on a broad range of issues and questions–to this day.

If you feed your children whole, organic, unseasoned and real food from day one–and feed it to them with confidence and love–you are not just giving them the best foundation for health,  but establishing good, fuss-free eating habits for life.

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