The first meal
This is cross-posted on the Observer's Word of Mouth blog.
For the last few nights I have been peeling, chopping, stewing and pulping vegetables because our daughter, Silverbrowlette, has started eating. She's still on the breast-milk wagon, but she needs a top-up of something more substantial. So far, solids have been only part of one meal. From tomorrow however, she moves on to having solids for breakfast and lunch.
We can look at first meals one of two ways: either the po-faced but serious approach of what the hell do we actually feed the sprogs - is the received wisdom of organic baby rice the way forward, or are there other options - or, we could indulge our fantasies and wonder what we would choose for this formative experience if we could travel back in time and keep down more than slop.
First let's be serious. In every possible way I want to give my daughter the best start in life. I want to make sure that everything she eats is good for her.
I also want to do everything in my power to ensure that she isn't a fussy eater and that she appreciates her food. It's not an easy task, especially as there's no agreed theory as to what makes for a fussy child.
So far, she has quite happily scoffed baby rice, stewed and mashed carrots, pears, apples and sweet potatoes. The larger the portion, the happier she is - that's my girl.
To many people, that list of fruit and veg might read like a mishmash of relatively sweet staples, which is true, but for the parents out there who have recently weaned their babies it is as a semaphore signal that tells you a lot about the way we're bringing our daughter up. It tells you whether Silverbrowlette is a Gina Ford baby or an Annabel Karmel baby and those in the know will identify her as the latter.
The approaches of these these two arbiters of feeding are fundamentally different but as parents you become wedded to one or the other. What if you want to plough your own furrow? After all, I rarely eat what an overbearing woman tells me to eat.
From what I can see, unless one follows the strictures of Karmel or Ford, you're on your own - and it's bloody scary. For example, received wisdom dictates that baby rice should be on the menu very early on. Let's dismiss the issue of being a slave to received wisdom and instead focus on the horror of arsenic in baby rice. Yes, arsenic. According to the NHS we shouldn't worry. But it's arsenic ... in baby rice. Does it come much more scary?
In the UK, the NHS baldly states that it's breast milk until at least six months, but the reality in our household and that of many of our friends, is that the baby needs proper food before that. Silverbrowlette started diving for the knife and fork at about four and a half months old. Does that make the NHS advice worthless? Probably not, but trying to get a clear answer to that question is tough, because after all, it's the NHS. They must know what they're talking about ... I think.
There is surprisingly little independent guidance (ie not written by those trying to flog a series of books) on what babies should be fed. There's a mini-industry around last meals, there's a lot of gnashing of teeth about what to give early meals, but first solid meals seem to be overlooked.
Is any meal more significant than our first? For the food obsessed, does it get any more existential than pondering what to pass between our lips for the very first time? I have a gut feeling that the first meal will determine how that child approaches food for the rest of their lives. I'm interested to hear what you fed your baby as their first meal and why.
And what about you? If you could choose your first meal what would it be? For me it's either a beautifully roasted side of beef or bollito misto. Both reflect the type of food I love to cook and eat. They're big and bold dishes but with subtle flavours and are best eaten with a glass of red wine and surrounded by family. Both also benefit from my wife's astoundingly good roast potatoes.