Long before our daughter was born, we dreamed of feeding her.
After we finally brought her home, we introduced her to rosemary just clipped from the bush, vanilla bean, and balsamic vinegar. No, we weren’t giving food to a 2-week-old baby. We were putting it under her nose, encouraging her to sniff. Our kitchen often smells of caramelized onions, roasted meats, and cake just out of the oven. Early on, she learned how to lean in, her eyes wide, focused on us. It was a lovely way to share our passions with her, no matter how young she was.
Still, we couldn’t wait to give her food. On Christmas night, she sat at the table, five months old and a few days. My husband Danny mashed the sweet potato with a fork. Everyone watched as I put the spoon under her nose. What would she do? She looked up at us, leaned forward, and grabbed the tiny bite of sweet potato with her lips. She liked it.
She has been eating ever since, and sometimes in huge gulps. We started with organic vegetables and fruits, baked without spices, and puréed smooth. Lucy ate them all. Soon, we added ginger and nutmeg to her yams. No one loves avocado as much as our daughter. She surprised us all by chomping on green onions when she was teething, until they were bitten to shreds. And then we started feeding her what we ate, but in smaller portions, chopped up with a knife. My favorite moment was when she leaned in for a bite of head cheese, at a pork festival we attend, and then leaned in for more.
There are a few foods we have not given her, on the advice of her doctor, because of possible allergic reactions: eggs, nuts, fish, citrus fruits and strawberries. We’ve also avoided gluten, because of my celiac disease. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she can eat every food, but we don’t know. For years, every child-rearing book suggested that one wait to introduce certain foods; for example, wait until our daughter turns 1 before giving her cow’s milk and citrus fruits, until 2 before egg whites and until she is 3 before giving her peanuts, fish, and shellfish. Last year, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its position; it no longer specifies age delays because of the lack of scientific study proving that postponing the introduction of foods has any benefit.
It’s confusing, being a parent.
There is so much great food. No one suffers for not having barley cereal as a baby. For now, we’d rather give her the foods she can eat, without any concerns of an anaphylactic reaction or miserable mornings of stomach pains. Mostly, though, we sit at her side, eating with her, laughing and clapping, enjoying our meals together. What we want to give her is not fear but love for food.
Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s new cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is Glutenfreegirl.com