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First Foods Around the World

May 22, 2013

Starting solids is an exciting time but one of stress for many parents. What foods to start with, what form should the food be in, allergies, choking risks…these are all worries that accompany this new stage in your baby’s life. Chase Simmering, mom of two and international food connoisseur, talks starting solids with an international perspective.

first food baby eating

Even before my husband was born, the first sounds in the womb were the clanking of cast iron pans and sizzling food in the restaurant his parents owned in Cartagena, Colombia. Alejandro was raised in the restaurant and long before his first taste of patacones colombianos in the ancient seaside city, a passion for food was hard-coded in his DNA. Some 2,000 miles north, my mother, with her talent for French cooking, was having me sample béarnaise sauces and confit before I could walk. I grew up as her sous-chef, hanging homemade pasta from broomsticks wedged in doorframes or testing recipes for a spice-blend company she was launching.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s no wonder when it came to introducing our six month-old daughter to solids…a massive debate ensued. As nervous first-time parents, the conversation began with the library of parenting books we’d amassed. Like most things when it comes to child-rearing, there was no shortage of conflicting opinions, philosophies, and rules. We just wanted to be excited about making and feeding our daughter delicious food—instead, our heads were reeling.

There were allergy and choking concerns and the three day period we were told we must wait between any new foods. There were stages 1, 2 and 3 to figure out. To puree or not to puree? Eggs, fish and peanuts were a no before one year until new research popped up saying perhaps they should be fed first. And there were the contents in her diaper, which we were urged to scrutinize like never before. And rice cereal was being pushed our way as the first food of choice with many promises–iron-fortified, non-allergenic, easy to digest, will help baby sleep through the night. It was around that moment that my husband and I began to scratch our heads. “What does the rest of the world do? I bet they aren’t feeding their babies processed rice cereal in India.” My husband said.

He was right.

Across the globe, babies are fed a whole range of flavorful first foods and it boils down to culture, not science. My husband was handed a mango pit to suck on as his first food in Colombia. In India, however, babies are often given dal khichdi, a mixture of rice and lentils. Indian babies are also introduced to a variety of spices early on. In Japan, it ranges from sips of miso soup to thick rice porridge topped with small dried fish, tofu or mashed veggies. First tastes are often tropical for babies in Puerto Rico in the form of mashed plantains or mangos. And then there is the mouth-watering Polynesian staple, Poi Poi, which is a pudding-like mix of coconut cream and breadfruit. For Inuit babies who reside in the extreme Arctic cold, fresh vegetables and fruits are often not available so first foods include seaweed and “nuk-tuk” (seal blubber).  In the middle east, hummus is a popular first food while in Nigeria, babies are traditionally fed a bean mixture called “Gbegiri”. Lastly, with all our concerns about peanut allergies in the U.S., it is one of the first foods given to Israeli babies in the form of a puffed snack called Bamba. Ironically or not, the incidence of peanut allergies is 10 times higher in the U.S. than in Israel.

After a couple of years of creating custom visualizations of a baby’s first year for many families, I got to see the full gamut of first foods and every baby’s preferences were like a rollercoaster ride (see photo). My own daughter spit out applesauce for three months before she suddenly decided it was the best thing she’d tasted to date.

Now that we are approaching the first food milestone with our second child, we’ve found that the U.S. recommendations have once again changed. The AAP now advises to skip rice cereal altogether and even recommends red meat as a contender for a first food. Bottom line though seems to be that at six months, provided there is no family history of allergy, feed your baby whatever healthy, flavorful and nutritious food you want…and don’t be surprised if your baby loves it one week and spits it out the next!

chasepaloma2012Chase Simmering is a mother of two, graphic designer, foodie and Owner of StrangeBirdy, a children’s company that creates personalized visualizations of a baby’s first year (including a year in food). Chase’s My First Year posters have been featured in DailyCandy, FastCo, CoolMomPicks, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine and more. Chase lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, Alejandro and daughters, Paloma and Isla. Her prints are available at www.strangebirdy.com