Hi Janani, thanks for being back to share another story on the blog. Last time was about baby swimming. This time let’s talk about food.
I am happy to be back on Srishti to share yet another story as a mother. Although food and food making are given a lot of importance in our (Indian) culture, I grew up eating food for the sake of it. It was an imposed activity which I never really enjoyed, until I met my husband, Abhinav. He is a food enthusiast and appreciates any food offered to him and this entirely changed my relationship with food. I realised that the food that we eat not only decides our physical health but also the very way we feel and experience life. Therefore, as a mother, it was vital for me to enable my daughter, Agni, to have a positive relationship with food right from the beginning.
When did you start introducing other foods to your daughter and how did you go about this?
When A was about 3-4 months old, just like every other baby, she used to put things in her mouth to explore the environment through her senses. I consider this ‘mouthing’ to also be a natural instinct for babies to explore foods. I initially introduced food by giving her whole carrots, lemons, apples, coriander etc., to play with. From 5 months onwards, she was let to feed herself when she was hungry. She was made to sit on a highchair and was offered finger foods that included a mix of soft-textured fruits, veggies, and some cooked grains. As she grew older, I introduced foods with harder textures, and mixed ingredients. By 8-10 months, her chewing skills, dexterity, hand-eye coordination and even sorting skills (she used to sort a mixed platter of fruits by colour, shape, type) had improved tremendously. This whole process allowed her to be ‘in-charge’ of when, what, and how much she wanted to eat.
Can you describe Agni’s eating area?
We are a small family of three – Agni, my husband and myself living in Germany. When we are at home, we prefer to eat together as a family sitting at the dining table. Agni used to sit on a highchair until 1.5 years, but then shifted to a normal chair with a booster seat that helps her to independently climb up and climb down from it. While we eat, we appreciate the different tastes, and discuss our day’s activities. It is important for us that there is no other parallel activity happening while we are eating. This focus helps Agni to appreciate, enjoy, and be grateful for the food she eats.
How open is she to trying different foods?
Right from the beginning, Agni loved to explore different tastes. I could say, mealtimes are the ‘high points’ in her day. She looks forward to eating every meal with so much joy and excitement. She is always curious and ready to try out new tastes.
How do you and your husband support your daughter’s approach to food?
We support Agni’s approach to food by enabling independence. We introduced her to a spoon by 15 months, and a fork and knife by 18 months. We keep some healthy snacks and fruits that are easily accessible to her throughout the day that allows her to eat something in case she gets hungry. Just like how she is in-charge of eating the food, we also encourage her to be part of the clean-up in whatever way she can. Overall, the whole process over the last 2 years has required tremendous patience from our side especially because – as a baby, it used to be extremely messy when she ate, involving an elaborate clean-up after every meal. But all this effort has been totally worth it.
Does your daughter participate in preparation of food?
We generally prepare two meals at home every day. I try to do most of my household chores along with Agni. So, she is continually involved in the preparation of food as well. She participates in washing, de-stemming, sorting, and clearing of the ingredients used to prepare the meal. She smells and tastes the different flavours while I cook. She understands that preparing a meal takes a long time and effort. She is also part of our visits to the farmers market or supermarket where she chooses the fruits and vegetables.
Is it important to give children the experience of seeing food grow? How do you think this impacts their attitude towards food?
In a world where we are so disconnected with our choices, it’s important that a child knows where the food comes from. In the last few months, we are actively involved in growing plants at home in our small garden. Agni tends to the soil, waters the plants, and experiences the process of growing them. We, in whatever way possible, explain and communicate to Agni the importance of actively contributing to a changing world – a kinder world. So as a family, we are trying to reduce the consumption of animal-based products (dairy, eggs etc.).
Can you share with other parents a few guidelines on approaching food holistically?
Every human baby has an in-built mechanism to feed themselves. As a caregiver, it is important to nurture and give space for this to develop well. Besides, exposure to food need not just be confined to the dining table but can be extended to the kitchen, gardens, or farms.