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"Homemade Baby Food - Can It Help You Raise An Adventurous Eater?" by Nevin Martell


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Nevin Martell wrote an interesting article as the cover story of today's Washington Post Food Section.

Having raised an adventurous eater, I feel somewhat qualified to comment on this piece, but it's not the piece itself I want to comment on - it's the fundamental tenet behind the piece.

This sentence, in this forum, is going to be like Daniel in the Lion's Den screaming out, "Hey lions! I bet you can't hurt me!" as he pokes them with a stick. Nevertheless, here goes:

"What's so great about being an adventurous eater?"

The benefits of maintaining an open-mind on life in general are obvious and need no supporting argument - it exposes you to different people, and places, and things, that jingoistic societies eschew (how was that for three snotty words?), and makes you a better person.

My mother-in-law is perhaps *the* least adventurous eater I know. So was my mom, in a different way - one was raised in the South of France; the other, on a farm in Kempton, Maryland. Throughout their lives, they have eaten the foods that they were comfortable with growing up, and never strayed too far from home base.

My mom never took a single bite of Indian food that she liked; my mother-in-law refuses to eat spicy food (the French, in general, do not eat spicy food).

Are they interesting and fun to dine with? No! Well, yes, in the sense that they love a good meal (forgive me for talking about my mom in the present tense here), and enjoy conversation and conviviality.

But what is the virtue of having an adventurous palate? I see very little, other than it might make you a more interesting person. Knowing the difference between "healthy" and "unhealthy," on the other hand, is of primal importance, and certainly worth educating your child about. Fresh vs. processed, natural vs. chemical - these are *all* imperative, and "we" have utterly failed as a society by letting big, industrial, food factories connive their way into our homes and schools - and it's not just the U.S. either, as "it" is spreading around the world, just like cigarettes.

Perhaps this is a matter of nomenclature: I don't consider knowing the difference between fresh, high-quality tomatoes and chemically sprayed crap coming up from who-knows-where "adventurous" - I consider it being educated and informed.

My mother-in-law only eats organic food, nearly all vegetables and grains, nothing spicy, nothing weird, and shows every sign of someone who will live and thrive well into old age. Is that not more of a virtue than being willing to try every capsaicin-laced innard that comes your way?

I want to repeat: I like and respect Nevin a lot. I think the article is interesting, and very well-written. So this little rant is neither about Nevin nor the article! But I do question the postulate that being an adventurous eater is a virtue, at least from a health perspective. And for the record: I am *all for* pureeing fresh, organic vegetables for your baby, instead of slapping down some chicken nuggets and plopping your little darling down in front of the TV set. Hard work? Yes! Especially when you're exhausted. Adventurous? No.

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"What's so great about being an adventurous eater?"

The benefits of maintaining an open-mind on life in general are obvious and need no supporting argument - it exposes you to different people, and places, and things, that jingoistic societies eschew (how was that for three snotty words?), and makes you a better person.

You answered your own question.  Food is the most basic, and perhaps deepest, expression of culture and self.  Being able to understand and -- better still -- enjoy different foods allows you to understand and appreciate new people and places better than someone who sticks to things that are familiar.

I traveled to Germany for six months with a colleague who ate nothing but pizza and, when available, chicken fingers.  This attitude carried over into other things and he was, by most accounts, miserable.  Meanwhile, I ate, drank and explored as much as possible.  I'm confident that I got to know the country and its people on a much deeper level than my colleague.  I also made some real friends and had a lot more fun.

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If you read the Free Range chat today that referred to this article, it might be more clear that experienced parents find that in utero and newborn eating doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with toddler and pre-k eating.  Kids go through picky phases regardless of how well diversified their early foods are. Most American kids go through a phase where they only want beige foods, but that may have something to do with the easy availability of french fries and chicken nuggets.  Still, they will exert their autonomy by rejecting some foods.

Many people who are picky as children eat all kinds of foods as adolescents and adults.  The big sticking point is people who have issues with texture.  That kind of thing doesn't seem to change.  That's why, for instance, some people will never eat okra.  When cooked, it is slimy.

The idea that people are superior parents because their small children want ostrich or caviar is just kind of stupid.  Well, okay, very stupid.

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I read the article and I think it provides some good tips for parents who are kind of scared about making foods for their children at home, or other parenting-related stuff. I'm not sure I saw any superiority, but maybe that showed up more on the chat?

Having been through this phase, I found it easier that gelittleman was more of the adventurous type. Mainly because this meant:

1. He can have a balanced diet;

2. I only have to make one meal instead of two;

3. I did not have to worry about his getting enough nutrients for those important first years of growth; and

4. I also did not have to worry about making the same thing repeatedly, which is torture for some of us.

Those of my friends' children who were picky eaters had to:

1. Limit the restaurants they can go to because their child doesn't like most of the stuff on the menu of those places they used to frequent;

2. Had to cook multiple meals at home to cater to their picky eater;

3. Had to supplement their diet with products like Ensure in order to catch up on nutrients;

4. It was a bit heart-breaking to see them with frustration or worry at the fact their children limited their palates; and

5. It made playdates hard, if a meal was involved. Meaning, if the parent of the place where the playdate was held made something the child did not care for, well, the child does not or will choose to abstain from eating.

Offering another viewpoint.

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"What's so great about being an adventurous eater?"

As the parent of a soon-to-be three year old, I've thought about this question a lot.  Three reasons stand out for me (and I very much subscribe to the view that kids should be exposed to, and hopefully eventually open to, all sorts of foods). First, it's just a heck of a lot easier to eat with an open-minded child.  If your kid can find something they'll like at any restaurant, it opens up a whole world of possibilities compared to the child who will only eat at restaurant X or Y.  Second, my gut just tells me that people who are open minded about food are more likely to be open minded about other things.  I know there are exceptions (and I've personally known many exceptions), but in general I do believe that's true, to RWBooneJr.'s point above.

Finally, my most selfish reason, I want my son to be open minded about food for the same reason I want him to be a Red Sox fan.  It will give us something special to bond over and enjoy together over the years.

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When I worked as a pediatric dietitian we always recommended this book to parents concerned about picky eating, it is an oldie but a goodie with a research driven methodology.

Child of Mine, Ellyn Satter

In this book, a food PR pro claims she can market octopus to children and get them to eat anything. I haven't read it nor can I endorse the methodology.

My Two Year Old Eats Octopus, Nancy Tringale Piho

Perhaps my favorite discussion of the intricacies of making your own baby food appeared in Food and Wine magazine.

Raising a Baby with a Four Star Palate, Pete Wells

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