Feeding Baby No. 2: What I've Learned Since Baby 1

baby led weaning

File this under "If I can do it, you can too": I'm making baby food for little J! Jacob's solid food journey began five days ago, although I'd been thinking about it for months. Maybe because Ella, who started out so well, has turned out to be rather challenging at meal times (I don't want to say picky eater because when she's in a good mood and it's food she likes at the moment, the girl can eat). After all, isn't the second baby the guinea pig for all the things you wish you'd done differently with the first? Haha! I'm half kidding.

Food struggles are one of the worst things we're dealing with now with E. We've tried everything it seems, including these excellent suggestions from Janet Lansbury, but it feels like there's too much baggage and so many bad habits to unlearn for us to be sincerely no-pressure about what she eats. I'm only marginally hopeful that it will end well, thanks to encouraging articles and my stubborn optimism. My hope is that, with J, we have a chance to develop some new habits to replace the old and that will carry over to our preschooler. A chance to start fresh

5 Things We've Learned About Solid Feeding

1) Every well-run kitchen needs a chef.
One big mistake I made when Ella started eating solids was that I assigned the task of food prep to her papa. I assumed that since, between the two of us, he was the foodie who loved to cook, he would throw himself into this task 100%. Nope. Don't get me wrong; he's an amazing dad. But it takes a certain level of parental obsessiveness to research recipes for tiny meals that have a 50-50 chance of actually being swallowed. This was not his quest; it was mine.

It was unfair of me to try to make him responsible for something that I was clearly more passionate about. So, for J, I'm taking a page from the lesson I learned from The Little Engine That Could: The best person for the job is the one who is willing. Never mind that I don't enjoy cooking 95% of the time (the smells, the lack of a recipe—I'm a baker, the oil splatter). It turns out that 5% of the time, I do enjoy it. In the same way that I chose to breastfeed because I believe it's what's best for my kids and for me, I've set aside my "I can't cook" feelings in favor of the belief that "I can make something to nourish my child," whether it's breastmilk or banana-oatmeal cereal.

Life Enthusiast Tip #1: Have a plan. I'm using Trello (free app, freemium service) to save food lists and recipe ideas, keep track of what he did and didn't like, and get a weekly and monthly calendar view of what he's tried and for how many days/tastes.

2) Fail often and don't give up.
Yes, we're using self-help wisdom to propel our food journey. Here's another one: "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." F. Scott Fitzgerald. We learned rather late in E's babyhood that it can take around 15 tries for a baby to accept a new taste. Something in their programming (officially called neophobia) tells them that new tastes are potentially dangerous, so they approach new flavors with apprehension; this helps them "survive in the wild," so to speak.

I don't know, Mom. This spoon tastes funny. 

That face you get when they first bite into mashed kamote or steamed carrots is more likely to mean
"Hmmm, this is new. Is it poisonous? Nope, I'm still here. Let me try again. Ack! I'm going to die! Nope, I'm okay. Are you really making me eat this, Mommy? Yup, here it comes again. My tongue! My tongue! Phew, I'm okay. That actually wasn't so bad..."
And not
"I hate carrots!"
Why didn't anybody tell us this? I don't know. All we heard from our panel (our helpers, because we don't live near family) was, "Ay, ayaw niya" ("Oh, she doesn't like it"). So, now, dear Internet, I'm telling you.

Life Enthusiast Tip #2: Make in bulk, store in small batches. This way, you can prepare a small serving and save the rest for future tasting and you won't feel so bad when baby rejects your "but it looked so good on Pinterest" peg meal.

3) The world is not sterile. 
Seriously, moms, we have to lighten up about germs. I'm not saying every baby has the immunity of a superhero, but I think most babies can actually handle real-world germs better than we think. With Ella, everything was sterilized. And then left to air dry. And then handled with sanitized hands. Heaven forbid her body come into contact with even a single germ. Tiring, but doable with one infant and no work. With two (and one's a preschooler)? As I write this, it's only by grace and prayer that Ella doesn't sneeze right into J's bowl, on purpose, just to see what phlegm looks like (we Googled it and got no results, and she's curious, so...).

There are, of course, some rules to follow. Don't reheat and serve food from the last meal that's come into contact with saliva in the same feeding bowl. Wash your hands, utensils, and containers before using. Don't pet the dog and then prepare your baby's food. Common sense stuff.

But, I'm feeding J from a wooden bowl I bought at the Baguio market. It was Php45 (less than a dollar). It's made from food-safe acacia. We wash it it with all-natural soap. It's not made from the wood of trees grown in the deepest part of the forest next to the purest spring (or something like that). I've seen those and we can't afford them (although they're actually probably the same bowl rebranded and exported). Especially, not when he's soon going to be a bowl-flinging, limit-testing high-chair tyrant (I'm exaggerating. This sweet boy? Never.)

Mashed banana and milk

Do I wish I could keep him in a bubble away from all the nasties? Yes. But that's both unrealistic and unhealthy. Immunity is developed from coming into contact with life, not hiding from it. So, sorry, not sorry, I'm going to be reasonably "reckless" this time around. (But if you think I didn't research food bowl safety for a month before I served him food in this bowl, you must not know me very well.)

Life Enthusiast Tip #4: Choose the best gear you can afford and the best routine your life will allow. You've done your job, mom; now let your child's body do its job.

4) Fresh, even organic, food is doable and affordable.
If you shop the supermarket shelves looking for "the best food for my baby", it can be very discouraging when you don't have the budget to match your beliefs. Last year, I researched and wrote an article for Good Housekeeping Philippines and it opened my eyes to the benefits of organic eating. But even before that, I'd pop into the health food store from time to time to longingly browse the shelves of organic, all-natural food for E. But all those cute, buzzword-filled packets and pouches often come with a high price tag. As a family, with our taste and financial situation, an organic food diet seemed like a nice-to-do rather than a must-do.

However, one thing I learned while writing the article was that a lot of produce in the Philippines is actually organic, they're just not labelled as such because of the added cost for small farmers of getting certified by an official certification body. According to one of my sources, vegetables and fruits, especially those native and indigenous to the country, are often organic because they are just so easy to grow that no additional supplements are needed. Because of the growing interest in organic food, it's also getting easier to find organic ingredients, at weekend markets, neighborhood markets (probably unlabeled), even mainstream supermarkets, or your local green grocer. And guess what, it's still cheaper than feeding store-bought baby food every day!

Organic brown rice and organic milk (although I'm not exactly grass-fed)

Life Enthusiast Tip #3: Go straight to the source when you can. Buy from a small farm you trust or supplier you trust (the weekend markets are great for this—and then there's Facebook and Instagram). I've also been adding my secret ingredient to every meal: breastmilk. The helpers get a laugh when I joke that I need privacy while I "go to the farm for some milk" to add into the bowl. It doesn't get more organic than that.

5) Don't be a picky feeder.
As a first-time mom, I was pretty stubborn. I put absolute faith in my research that told me one way of feeding was better than another. Baby led weaning all the way! No to purées! Only organic! Yeah... that didn't last. I remember going out of my way while we were traveling to find the "right food" for E to eat, only to be disappointed when she wouldn't eat it. Perhaps my food anxiety contributed to an unhealthy atmosphere at mealtimes that made eating a less pleasant experience.

What helped take the pressure off this time around? Aside from the fact that I was tired of looking for the elusive perfect menu, I also learned that solid feeding during the first year is only supposed to introduce baby to tastes and textures in partnership with breastfeeding. Solid food doesn't replace breastmilk. Instead of weaning, moms can think of it as "complementary feeding". So even if J wants nothing to do with kale-white grape-oatmeal, he'll be okay because he'll still be getting his nutrition from me. Luckily, this kitchen is always open and serves just what he likes.

Team pure or team purée? Do I really need to pick a side?

I won't be a hypocrite and say "we're only doing homemade,"because, to be honest, those little food pouches on the Diaper.com website look so appealing (and they were on sale, because Black Friday fever). We're not against store-bought food on occasion or for adding variety. In the Philippines, baby food pouches are crazy expensive, so when my parents came over from the States for the holidays, I asked my mom to bring a few different flavors for J to try when he's a little older. I'm choosing to see them as treats, not for everyday consumption, as a way to introduce him to flavors he won't find on our dinner table (like plums, blueberries, and butternut squash).

baby food champ
Mmmm, Baby Mum-mums. Share with Mommy?

Having survived toddlerhood and become a mom of two, I'm a lot more humble now about a lot of baby-raising issues. I still have my personal non-negotiables, but when it comes to what I feed my child, I've learned that the issue is not just black and white—it can actually be pretty colorful.

Your child has many, many years of eating ahead of her or him. If you're uptight about food now, guess who'll be testing extra hard to see if they can break you. First-time mom, meet toddlerhood. And then it's all downhill and the sweets and nuggets come out.

Consider this:
Children often like foods they have eaten in pleasant situations and reject dishes linked to something negative. This is further enhanced by the selection of foods for specific occasions. Tasty foods (high energy density, high fat and sugar content; e.g., desserts) are commonly served on pleasant occasions such as celebrations.... In contrast, foods considered less tasty, e.g. vegetables, are often consumed under pressure: “Eat your veggies or you won’t get any dessert.” - European Food Information Council
The best food, in my opinion, is the food you serve with love. Whether it's puréed or pure, breastmilk or baby food buffet, organic or all you can afford right now, serve it happily and say, "Bon appetit! Eat well, darling!"

Life Enthusiast Tip #5: Respond to your life, not the mythical Internet babies. I am so guilty of putting pressure on myself to do as the Internet gods have decreed. But Pinterest supermom #47 is not the one carrying one baby while preschooler is asking to help put the sweet potatoes in the oven. If you only have a hand free to place a bowl in the microwave rather than stirring slowly stovetop, refuse to feel guilty. (And then go order one of these—how easy does this look! I want to try it!)

If at first you don't succeed, just give them the spoon.

We're only about a week in, so it may be too soon to say, but so far, everything looks promising (see happy face above). I've learned a lot since baby 1, but I still have a lot to learn. I'd love to hear about secret recipes, cookbook recommendations, Instagram accounts to follow, and tips, especially if you have multiple kids! What's worked for you? Will the younger teach the older to befriend squash and green beans? Do I really have to eat veggies, too? (Don't answer that last one.)