I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of my pesto-munching baby tonight at dinner time! He was going ape over it, as my family likes to say. This photo was taken early on in the meal so he looks pretty clean. You should see what his onesie looks like now! We definitely should have used a bib.
One subject that I am really passionate about is the healthy feeding of babies and children. I aspire to become a dietitian someday and I’ve devoured many books on the subject of nutrition. Because I am a mom, children’s nutrition is obviously of special interest to me. During my 7 years of parenting, I have formulated some opinions on how best to feed children in a healthy and delicious way. Here are some tips that I have learned along my way:
1) Let baby feed him/herself. See above photo! My baby is now 13 months old and he has been feeding himself for quite some time. We tried spoon-feeding pureed food to all our babies for a month or two, but none of them were very interested in it. As soon as they were about 7-8 months old, we just let them eat real food, and feed it to themselves. I think this really helps to ensure that babies eat exactly how much food their little bodies want. It takes awhile for them to get coordinated enough to feed themselves, but it’s helpful to remember that pretty much anything babies touch ends up in their mouths, so it is likely that some of the food will get there eventually! Some good starter finger foods are soft ripe banana, avocado, soft cooked sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Silverware aren’t essential at first, but why not let them try to use them? My 13 month old enjoyed smearing his fork onto his plate tonight and putting it into his mouth. He used his hands to pick up most of his food, but he had fun holding onto the fork, and practice is always a good thing!
2) Let baby/toddler/child eat what the family is eating. This one is so very important. I have always disliked the concept of “kid food.” Kids don’t need us to prepare special, bland food just for them. They can learn to enjoy complex, delicious, healthful meals right from the start. My baby just enjoyed a dinner of potato gnocchi with pesto sauce and maple glazed carrots. He gobbled it right up! I think sometimes parents shy away from introducing foods that they think kids will not like, especially garlicky or heavily spiced foods. Last night he was eating sauteed kale…and loving it! We started letting our babies eat whatever we were eating (minus the choking hazards) at about 9 months of age. Some parents will want to wait a little longer, especially if they are concerned about allergies, but we just went for it at 9 months. If you start them early, kids will never grow up expecting to have a separate, kid-friendly meal that is different from what the adults are eating.
3) What’s served is what’s for dinner. Our kids know that they can choose to eat from the food that is offered at the table. They are not allowed to go to the kitchen and get something else. I try to make sure that at least one or two foods on the table are things my kids have enjoyed in the past, so if they don’t care for the main dish, then at least their favorite vegetable is being served on the side, or vice versa. If every dish on the table is healthy, then you really don’t have to worry about what they major on.
And last but not least…
4) Eat meals together as a family. Apparently this is going out of fashion. But according to recent studies, kids who eat with their families tend to have healthier diets, stay out of trouble, and do better in school. I grew up eating family dinners every single night of the week (thanks Mom and Dad!) and my kids are growing up the same way.
Of course, I am not (yet!) a dietitian or nutritionist, so I encourage you to do your own research and find what works best for your family. Here are some of my favorite books on the subject. Not all of these are specifically geared toward vegan children, but all of them are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, and include some great recipes.
Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina
The Family Nutrition Book by Dr. William Sears
Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair