Being in charge of a child’s culinary education is among my favorite responsibilities, ever. I’m excited (and yes, relieved) that Anker is a curious, enthusiastic eater, with an enviable appreciation for vegetables, exotic flavors and even spicy foods. While I’m sure nature has as much influence on the outcome as the nurturing, I do take some credit for my son’s optimistic appetite: I’ve managed to make him a big part of the cooking and baking, without at the same time shoving it (or anything else) down his throat.
We started down this innovative path when Anker was just a baby experimenting with his very first foods. Instead of spoon-feeding him grain-based cereal or carrot purée, I handed him a steamed and cooled broccoli spear. The philosophy behind such an approach is known as baby-led weaning and it is often practiced by the same sling-wearing and co-sleeping set that swears by both Ask Dr. Sears and The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.
In the past three years, I’ve come to some crucial conclusions concerning the child’s emerging experience of food. These include using water to quench thirst, not employing food as a bargaining chip or reward and respecting the child’s refusal of a food. (It helps, though, to remind your refuser that even if you don’t want something at this instant, you’re not actually required to commit to not liking it and you’re allowed to change your mind and want it at another time.) I also abstain from that ubiquitous practice of praising or rewarding a child’s consumption of food; instead, I place the emphasis on the child’s enjoyment. And when a child is tired and hungry, there is a subtle but seismic difference between offering candy as appeasement and deploying that same piece of chocolate as a tool that helps to balance out crashing blood sugar levels—and talking about such phenomena while you’re at it.
Eating with Anker is more than the sum of the care that goes into feeding my son and the pleasure I take from being in the kitchen. More useful than most play and more fun than other chores, making food together may well be our favorite kind of quality time.
Particularly when that food is cake.