“We need to talk,” I said to my husband, Solomon, who looked up in alarm. One of the reasons he married me is that I have almost as little tolerance for heart-to-heart, state-of-the-relationship chats as he does (i.e., none).
“About our diet,” I continued, pointing to the baby. She was almost seven months old and starting to eat regular food. I had skipped the baby food stage entirely, opting for something called “baby-led weaning” (BLW). It isn’t weaning at all, in the American sense of stopping breast-feeding. It means introducing whole foods to the baby to foster her independence.
Instead of suffering through months of mashed vegetables all over the walls and playing annoying airplane games with a spoonful of green goop (does anyone really like those peas?) I was starting her off with scrambled eggs, avocado, melon and strawberries. Whatever her tiny fingers could grab, she could gnash with her three teeth and gum the rest. Over the next few months she was feasting on banana pancakes and egg souffles, cauliflower florets and chicken drummies.
One of the points of the BLW movement is that the baby can eat what the parents are eating, just with no added salt (which is hard for little ones to process).
That is what brought me back to the topic of our diet: Five years of marriage and four years of fertility treatments had taken their toll on Solomon and me in terms of poundage. We were the typical urban couple who more often than not ordered a pizza (my husband’s favorite food) or Chinese (mine) because it was faster, cleaner and, in New York, cheaper than cooking.
But how can we teach our daughter to eat healthfully if we are not doing it ourselves?
I had cause to worry. My husband’s family is obsessed with weight. “Didn’t you just nurse her?” his thin dad often said in the beginning. (“She’s a newborn,” I hissed at my husband, who told me to ignore it.) His mother, a trim cosmetologist, has bequeathed distorted body images upon her children and monitors her grandchildren’s weight fluctuations like a hawk.
I was a pretty thin kid myself, not too interested in food. But my younger sister bore the brunt of our parents’ disparaging remarks about her weight, and developed eating disorders. Now thin, she has some hang-ups of her own — not surprising, since a recent study, “Don’t Eat So Much,” showed that a woman’s satisfaction with her body (even thin women) correlates to how much she recalls her parents commenting on her weight as a young girl.
Not that I was actually concerned about my daughter’s weight. Like most parents, I was trying to instill in her the best eating habits possible. Studies show that spoon-fed babies are more likely to be obese than BLW babies, while BLW babies are more likely to be underweight (my daughter has always been in the 50th percentile for weight). BLW babies in the study were also more likely to prefer carbohydrates to sweet foods.
Truthfully, I thought we’d have more time to clean up our eating act. I figured she wouldn’t be chewing and swallowing real food until she was nearly a year old. But after gumming soft foods at seven months and crunching by nine months, she was eyeing every cracker I put in my mouth and every bottle of diet soda my husband guzzled. She reached for it all (“Ba!” she’d shout, which could mean anything from bottle to blueberries to banana to ball).
I’d given up gluten as part of a regimen to help with my infertility, but I hadn’t kicked my ice cream and chocolate fixations. My husband detests sweets but couldn’t say no to a chip if you paid him. Which I was going to have to do: resort to bribery, or do something desperate to fix our diets. Otherwise, I feared we’d by raiding the fridge after midnight, gobbling our favorite foods on the sly.
“No sugar!” I said to my mother-in-law, snatching a proffered doughnut from her hand before it reached the babe.
“Just a little bit is fine,” she huffed, insulted, as if she isn’t the first one to comment when anyone puts on a few pounds.
“Can you not give her Chinese food?” I asked my salt-averse mom. “It’s packed with sodium.”
“Aren’t you going outside to the ice cream truck?” my aunt said at my cousin’s birthday party. This from a woman who saves up calories for days in advance of a special occasion.
“Not this year,” I said, giving the baby some more grapes.
My daughter loved grapes. And bananas. And broccoli. She liked string cheese and sweet potatoes and basil and the kale frittata from the baby cookbook “What A Good Eater!” She didn’t even know what ice cream, cookies, cake or chocolate tasted like.
So why was I getting so much resistance from my family and friends for trying to keep the tyke healthy? They thought I was one of those annoying moms. But what was the point of breast-feeding the baby for a year and counting if I was just going to smash her face into a frosted cake on her first birthday?
I know it’s impossible to shield my daughter from every granule of salt and sugar and every morsel of processed food, especially since I haven’t been able to control what the people around her (i.e., us) are eating. I’d already caved on the white flour and rice, even letting my husband give her the occasional pieces of pizza. (Trying to stop pizza was futile.)
But maybe I was going about it all wrong. I reminded myself that parenthood isn’t about how much children eat or sleep, but about teaching them to have a good relationship with food, and proper sleep habits.
Maybe instead of controlling what she eats, I need to manage how she eats it.
And here’s where I’m seriously failing. As a first-time mom who works from home — juggling babysitting, house cleaning and looming deadlines — sometimes I feed my daughter in the stroller while we are running errands. Some days I let her walk around the table grabbing broccoli or chicken (still from the Chinese place but steamed with no sauce) on the go. On afternoons when my editor is on my case, I give the baby a cup of Cheerios just to distract her. All are healthful foods — but they are not being eaten in the most healthful way.
So as she cruises into her second year I’m going to try to teach her (and all of us) to eat better. To sit down for our meals, consume smaller portions, eat slowly, finish chewing and swallowing before we take the next bite, and stop snacking.
And yes, the occasional piece of pizza won’t kill anybody.
Amy Klein is a freelance writer based in New York. Find her at kleinslines.com.
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