What’s for Dinner? One mother’s adventure in maintaining a balanced diet for her baby

Our daughter, Echo, is now at the “eating solids” stage. We’ve been taking it easy and introducing one thing at a time to screen for allergies. After all, what’s the rush?

Perspectives vary. The Chinese side of my family (namely my mother-in-law) began to make noise about feeding Echo egg yolks when she was only 4 months old. Most Western food introduction charts put eggs in the over 12 months category.

At around the same time, my Canadian mother urged that adding rice cereal to my daughter’s nighttime bottle of pumped breast milk would help her sleep longer. I then learned that adding cereal that early could upset her digestive system, making her sleep less!

So, I hesitated.

For each assertion, both grandmas used the age-old defense: “That’s what we did with you kids and it worked fine!” Do they really remember, though? Isn’t it possible that they may be remembering our “baby days” bulked together, confusing the subtle details?

Each time they asserted their opinions, I tried to smile peacefully and deflect. This tactic carried me along for two more months.

Finally, at 6 months old, I decided to honor my daughter’s complete ethnicity and start with both foods. First, the cereal, which she spat it out repeatedly. I switched to egg yolks and like a ravenous baby bird, she gobbled it up and wanted more. That was a victory for the Chinese side, or so said my mother-in-law’s sparkling eyes.

The next six weeks were spent on vacation in Canada, where I slowly introduced foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, avocado, bananas and the cereal again (that she subsequently enjoyed). I froze the cooked foods in ice cube trays for convenient portions ready to thaw. My mother was impressed that I wasn’t buying baby food in a jar. I just smiled.

I felt like a Super Mom.

Then I came back to China.

My mother-in-law protested the frozen portioning, claiming freshness was being compromised.

Then I came home one day to find Echo being fed steamed egg, complete with egg whites, the proven allergen. It was already too late. I held my breath and my daughter had no adverse reaction, thankfully.

The defense? “All Chinese kids eat this way!”

When I discovered that my MIL had been adding soy sauce to the steamed egg “for flavor,” I turned on the sirens. Not only is soy an incredibly common allergen, but I quickly looked up the word for “sodium.” My husband backed me up. This practice has now been outlawed in our house.

The sirens sounded again when I walked in on my MIL feeding her lotus root powder, which when mixed with water becomes a thick, transparent, almost gelatinous porridge. Echo was lapping it up. “What’s in that stuff?” I asked while reaching for the box. It contained WHITE SUGAR! Needless to say, “white death” is now off the menu too.

To ward off future arguments, Echo’s cuisine is now pre-negotiated daily.

Both grandmas think I am being too strict. I just smile.

While they may not quite remember all the details of our infancies, the discourse on food safety has certainly changed dramatically over two generations. Processed food and allergies are more prevalent and food security is a newly relevant social issue.

So when my own mother nearly put a spoonful of dairy ice cream in Echo’s mouth before I dove across the table crying “No-o-o-o-o-o!” I knew I was dealing with a generational divide as much as the usual cultural one.

Grandmas all mean well, but let’s let Mommy make the menu, okay?

And that, of course, is being said with a smile.