Some brief notes on food.
We went to the pediatrician about a month ago to get H. some shots and because we like how warm they keep the exam room. In the course of the visit, our doctor recommended that we go ahead and start our son on solid foods. We were surprised — he’s so little! — but I asked the doctor what kind of food we should start with. “Rice cereal,” he said, as though rice cereal were the kind of thing people keep around the house.
We wondered if this was really the right time, or if Dr. S. was just giving us the standard timetable without taking into account H.’s extreme preemieness. (I mean, yes, he is already in the 50th percentile in height and weight, thanks to our spectacular parenting, but even so….) Still, we agreed that some time soon Henry would probably become interested in food, and that would probably be the right time to start feeding him solids. (There are, of course, also some technical recommendations for when to start: “when he can sit on his own, turn his head from side to side on his own, turn his head from side to side showing he has had enough to eat, and accept food from a spoon without the tongue pushing the food out of his mouth.”)
We soon found out, though, that it’s harder than you might think to tell when a baby is ready to eat. What does it mean to be interested in food? Here are the things he does so far:
- Stares at other people’s food.
- Watches you eat.
- Puts anything he can get in his hands into his mouth.
But on the occasions that I have attempted to put bits of mashed-up food in his mouth, the reaction has generally been confusion. Not that he’s upset, exactly — he just doesn’t understand why I did that, or what he’s supposed to do with the mush. (Though this last time it was a bit of mushed-up potato from the inside of a french fry, and while he wasn’t interested in the potato, he did suck the salt off my finger. Yes, that might have been my child’s first food — french fry salt. Leave your “worst father in history” comments below.)
Related: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is an interesting show. British TV Chef Oliver goes into American schools and tries to convince West Virginia lunch ladies to cook healthy meals, which is fascinating, because he finds it challenging to make meals that are nutritious yet also meet the program’s budget and the government’s “nutrition” guidelines. These guidelines are often obtusely enforced. In one episode Oliver is chastised for not providing “two breads” at a meal, even though he provides a pasta dish, which is nutritionally at least equivalent to white bread. He goes over to a competing meal line staffed by professional lunch ladies.
“Where are your breads?” he asks.
“The pizza,” one of the lunch ladies answers. “It counts as two breads.”
Oliver’s chief nemesis, though, ends up being, not one of the lunch ladies, but the administrator in charge of determining whether Oliver’s meals are “reimbursable” according to government standards:
Oliver’s struggle to provide children with real food can’t have been more futile than our attempts to get real food in a suburban Maryland office park. So far we have discovered a really wonderful Afghan curry place and a locally reputable joint for Maryland crab cakes, a dish whose popularity eludes me. (A lot of crab is lumped together. Then some heat happens. Then they charge you $14.) And other than that, it’s a vast wasteland of chain restaurants.
You can read our previous takes on chain restaurants here and here, but I’ll admit it — I’m not above them, when they’re done right. Subway makes a reliable $5 sandwich, to include vegetables; Ruby Tuesday makes an adequate, if not thrilling, hamburger; there’s even a Chik-Fil-A here, which makes my little Southern heart sing.
But here is what we have learned since we’ve been here: never go to a non-chain restaurant that models itself on chain restaurants. We went to the “Olive Grove” restaurant around the corner, and we thought we knew what we were getting: an Olive Grove ripoff featuring Sysco processed chicken lumps over fettucine. Man, if only. Instead we got dishes that came with all the health and self-image hazards of processed foodstuffs, yet still somehow lacked the reliable saltiness and transfat satisfaction of your typical extruded nutrition. The marinara with sausage was noticeably worse than if you had made it yourself from a jar of Ragu and some Jimmy Dean hot sausage links. The chicken piccata tasted like margarine and death.
But the place was packed to the brim — the decor resembles a convention hall, and families crammed in around banquet tables like they were at a favored cousin’s wedding. There are clearly a lot of people in Maryland who hate food and want to see revenge worked upon it.
Finally, here is an interesting article about how orange juice is made. Squeezing is involved… but so are “flavor packs.” Kind of appalling; kind of… what you’d expect, really. Just be aware that the phrase “100% juice” is a careful semantic positioning.