Thursday, January 24, 2008

Le Petit à table

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are." -- Brillat-Savarin, eighteenth-century French gastronome

Up until now it has been so easy. Six months of breast milk, who could ask for simpler? When le Petit would look longingly at my plate, we'd shake our heads and say, "No, not yet. Two teeth is not enough for that!" and we'd laugh and say to ourselves, proud, how he was surely just about ready for table food. But best to wait the recommended six months anyway, just to be sure.

Part of me dreaded the transition to solids. How much would end up on the floor? And that panoply of new stains to learn to get out of laundry, now that I've just about mastered poop stains? I've seen parents wage duels with coated spoons trying to get just one more bite of applesauce down the hatch. No thank you.

But le Petit would be different, I knew it. Just look at his parents, who eat everything but McDonalds and sugar cereals, what perfect role models! I thought frequently of the only other French-American child we know, a charming girl of six, who at one year old was practically stealing foie gras from her parents' plates. Her first food was real gruyère and at two, she was ready to sample sushi. She's still the antithesis of a picky eater, and all, I assumed, because her parents set a good example.

So despite my misgivings, I found myself more looking forward to solids than not. I studied the food introduction table in le Petit's government-issued health record, the carnet de santé, and started imagining the vegetables I'd carefully select, cook and mash up, the meats I'd mince in the blender, and the recipes I'd invent. What fun! No commercial baby foods for le Petit, I thought, he'll be a food snob from the beginning.

On le Petit's six month birthday, my mother-in-law cooked up some organic squash and with some fanfare, I scraped it out onto my plate and offered le Petit a spoonful. He opened his mouth wide, ready as always to chew on something new. At the first taste his mouth curved into comic frown, a caricature of disgust. He said something that sounded remarkably like "caca" as he spit it out.

Things have not gotten better. So far we've tried pear, avocado, homemade applesauce, crushed carrot, and sweet potato with nothing close to success. At best he'll reluctantly swallow whatever unpleasant substance I've proposed to get a chance to chew on the spoon. The only foods he seems to appreciate are the small quantities of dairy and fruit juices I've slipped him against my better judgment. A spoonful of yogurt, the juice from a mandarin orange segment or a tiny taste of the passion fruit mousse from his six-month birthday cake, that he doesn't turn his nose up at. Anything resembling the fruits or vegetables the pediatrician recommends is a much harder sell.

So much for following his lead. Since he's not giving me any clues, I've been combing books and web sites and quizzing my friends for advice. It turns out that there are as many theories on introducing solids as there are human cultures and parenting philosophies. Most Americans start with rice cereal gruel mixed with formula. Most French start with puréed carrots from a jar. Avant-garde parents on both sides of the Atlantic are starting to just give their kids steamed vegetable sticks or soft pear slices and letting them play with their food until some of it ends up in the mouth. What do I try? All of the above? So far, the only thing I've learned from le Petit is that what he's most interested on my plate is the plate: left to his own devices, he'll grab it with both hands and chomp on it like a giant porcelain teething ring. Ouch.

I don't know how much to encourage him right now. I don't want to rush him, but we learned at his six month visit to the pediatrician that his weight gain is slowing down and he's dropping below the 25th percentile. The doctor wasn't even slightly concerned, but I'm beginning to wonder, am I keeping him from getting important nourishment if I don't nudge him toward a variety of new foods? Then again, do I really want to spend the first year of his life hoping he'll fatten up only to wish for the decades that follow that he'll slim down?

Today I went to the natural food store and bought organic carrots, sweet potatoes, and bananas, as well as a jar of (horrors!) commercial baby food, a prune applesauce. We'll see what he thinks.

All this says far more about me, my love of food and my maternal worries, than it says about le Petit. So I'd modify Brillat-Savarin's observation just a bit: tell me what you (try unsuccessfully to) feed your children, and I'll really tell what you are.


Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

How are things? I hope that all is well.

Tonight, I took a peek at Parisienne Mais Presque and really liked the articles there.

I especially liked the one titled "Le Petit à Table". Very amusing!

Just wanted to drop a note to stay in touch.

Take care!


Anonymous said...

I would have liked to have made Saffi fresh baby-food but opted for the organic jarred variety. Prunes and oatmeal were a big hit. As well as squash and sweet potatoes. She continued to nurse a lot and has always been above the 75th percentile on all counts so that has never been an issue. I have friends who prolong mostly breastfeeding as long as possible. Many approaches work! Don't stress too much about it. Saff eats most things now....she's always been a big fan of steak & rice but loves sushi, many Thai dishes, Greek foods and most fresh fruits and veggies. One of her favorites is artichoke! She's never been a big fan of traditional toddler-friendly foods like yogurt or cheese and I've been careful not to give her much juice, and when I do I water it down.

Vera Nadine said...

This may seem like a strangely off-topic question but, my fiance and I are moving to Paris next Spring and are looking for an area of the city that will work well for us. Can you tell me the names and locations of one or two natural food stores that you know of? By the way, Lovin' your blog! :-)