Thursday, March 24, 2011

Our little steamed vegetable dumpling

Jack's daycare is wonderful. Every time I pick up Jack, I am regaled with stories about his day, about his personality, about his development, about everything. For the most part, they've accommodated our "unconventional" wishes, and this is more than I could say for what many other daycare providers are willing to do (though how cloth diapers and glass bottles suddenly became unconventional, I'm not sure).

Still, there are some sticky points. Take, for instance, the styrofoam bowls. The JCC chooses to heat up pureed foods in styrofoam bowls. This is not OK with me: styrofoam in the microwave is a health hazard, no doubt about it. I was told I could bring in my own paper bowls if I wished. The paper bowls at the grocery store are huge (what a waste!), and terribly expensive. Then I noticed the paper cups.

Well, why not?, I thought. The cups are the same material as the bowls. They're smaller. And they're cheaper. I brought in the paper cups, and a skeptical conversation followed.

"Cups? I don't know about cups... I don't think we can use cups"

"Why not?"

"We're supposed to use bowls"

"Oh. Well, I thought this might actually be better... since they're smaller and what you're reheating is so small, too"

"Yeah I don't know about that. That's not going to work. You're going to have to talk to R--- [the director]"

So talk to R--- I did, and we reached an agreement: cups are now an acceptable vessel in which they can heat up Jack's food.

Huh. If only there was more food to heat up...


Food's been a sticky point: some of it their fault, and some of it mine.

I've already described a few of my thoughts about baby food. My personal opinion is that we have a tendency to feed babies too much food too soon. I've just never understood the concept of watering rice cereal down with breast milk to encourage a baby to take it. Although I am not opposed to feeding purees, I don't see why babies can't experience the texture of adult food through play: all the better to teach Jack about interesting flavors and textures and to emphasize actual caloric intake via breast milk, right? Greg and I decided to follow a "Baby Led Weaning" approach, whereby we offer Jack a selection of what we're eating and let him take as much or as little as he can manage.

We give Jack the opportunity to eat as frequently as we can. We give him purees once a day or every other day, he gets yogurt and hummus and other soft things, and we often squish small items (like beans) up to feed him on a spoon or our fingers. But we also give him his solids in a form that would usually be reserved for an older toddler: large chunks. Broccoli trees. Whole rice cakes. Baked sweet potato fries. Fig sections. Roasted chicken drumsticks. Dried apple rings. Whole, steamed dumplings, big enough to hold in his hand and packed full of delicious, fresh vegetables (video below):

What we don't do is give him small chunks of food. Jack gags easily on small chunks of food.

See, imagine it from Jack's perspective: you're a baby, you're holding a broccoli tree, and you're mashing up the florets with your gums. Once the food gets into your mouth, it is already chewed and ready to swallow. So you swallow it.

But then somebody gives you a bite sized chunk of non-chewed food directly to your tongue, you try to swallow that too, and you gag.

One result of our avoidance of small chunks is that Jack's pinscher grasp is not very good. When you put small bits of food in front of him, he just smashes it with his fist until it flies off the table, or he tries to pick it up with his whole hand and gets frustrated. Jack much prefers to pick up things he can hold in his hand, like a slice of apple or a large tomato core. And when he does get small bits that we put in front of him or offer directly to his mouth, he's quick to swallow them without chewing. Jack doesn't like eating small bits of food, and we don't like feeding them to him.

Back to the JCC. Because our approach to feeding Jack is not mainstream, we've avoided sending him into daycare with solid food. For the last few weeks, he's gone in with three bottles of milk and a jar of pureed food every day. They've been not-so-subtly hinting that he might like more solids in his day. I explained that he gets them at home and we've been hesitant to introduce that mess at daycare. They urged me to bring in whatever we are feeding him at home.

So I did. I packed a tupperware for him this morning: broccoli trees, crescent tomato slices, discs of boiled potato, and a jar of homemade bulgur wheat for spoon feeding.

Can you guess what's coming? This did not go over well. This did not go over well at all. They didn't just say "no", they got very upset with me and we spent the morning arguing. I'm still not sure why... perhaps they think I'm doing Jack a disservice? I don't know why they were *upset*. All I know is that they were terribly judgmental and would not even consider that Jack might have learned an alternative method of eating solid food.

This harsh reaction from a group of folks that I like very much made me feel quite bad and I spent the good part of the morning fretting about whether I've screwed things up by not getting Jack accustomed to bite sized pieces of food. I want Jack to be able to work on his food skills during the day, but the teacher in charge at the time flatly refused to give him any of the "whole food" items I brought.

Then I got really annoyed, because, seriously, people: how is Jack possibly going to choke on a broccoli tree? See, the whole point is that he can't fit a broccoli tree in his mouth. The only way Jack can get the food is by CHEWING it, hence the non-choking part of giving Jack a piece he must chew instead of a piece that he can accidentally swallow or inhale.

Jack chokes on puffs, not on broccoli trees!

Anyway, while I was still feeling bad and upset about the whole situation, I went and found R---. She's quite reasonable, understands the issue fully, and we had a good conversation. I find this hard to believe, but perhaps milder whole-food requests never made it to her desk: apparently we are the first family to ever ask that a baby/toddler be given a broccoli tree or a piece of potato that can be held in its fist. They only want forefinger-thumb foods, nothing to be held in the fist.

Clearly we all need to feel comfortable with feeding Jack. And if they're not comfortable feeding large pieces of food, they shouldn't do it. They've been taking care of children for far longer than I have, and while I would not say that either approach is better or worse, they have their methods and it is not my place to force them to do something that they feel is a safety hazard. What's upsetting me now is that nobody would even consider that there could be multiple ways of teaching a baby to eat solid food and everybody was implying that I am negligent or putting Jack in harm's way. Argh.

The head teacher has been out for a while, and she will return next week. We'll wait until she's back, and we'll sit down and come up with a game plan for how to feed Jack. In the meantime, he'll continue with purees at daycare and whole food at home.

I haven't felt BadMamma Guilt to this extreme in a while. Now I'm feeling it. Big Time. Food is an important part of our lives and I hoped to make it a good experience for Jack, too. Instead, I'm picturing him sitting at the daycare table with his pathetically boring baby puffs and jar of pureed fruit, gazing longingly at the other babies while they happily mash at small chunks of cucumber and carrot.

Then I picture the superbly happy half hour he had eating the whole dumpling by himself, and the hour he spent with that chicken drumstick, the sweet fig he mashed up in a matter of seconds, and the fun that we have at dinnertime as we hand him whole pieces of whatever we're eating... then I smile.

Then I think about daycare and the guilt returns.


1. Push the JCC to let Jack eat what eats at home, or at least, some selection of foods that they perceive as safe (like broccoli trees, which are particularly safe)
2. Bring on the pureed cereals, big time, to fill him up
3. Work with Jack at home on the small chunk issue*

*But isn't that regressing?

I guess we're going with number three, but I don't like it. Anyone else have any ideas?


  1. Don't let them make you feel bad Rachel! Baby-led solids is an excellent approach and so much fun. He will get better with the pincher grasp and small pieces of food when he's ready to eat them. Everything happens so fast at this age that he will probably master that too in the next few weeks and save you from stressing with the daycare policies.

  2. i agree with sara, you are doing a great job, i have been wanting to try big foods for brayden too but have been kind of hesitant.. i think you have inspired me! :)