Feeding From a Montessori Perspective: Cultural Foods and Following the Child
I visited my local bookstore for help. At that time there were very few books written in the US that differed from the current American prescribed diet: begin with the blandest carbohydrate (rice), move to sweet fruits, then vegetables, and finally add chicken and beef. Fish, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, etc.), and legumes such as beans were missing from the list. Eggs, cheese, and dairy products were not to be added until after a year. Then, I came across a baby food cook book by a woman in England. Imagine my surprise to find British babies growing up on fish, lentils, and cheese! But the biggest difference was that instead of feeding one food at a time, this author suggested cooking seasoned combinations of foods. The recipes she presented sounded like meals for the whole family, with baby’s food puréed or mashed after cooking.
Instead of looking at feeding solid foods as a sort of science project, I began looking at introducing my son to the whole culinary experience. He began to enjoy eating once his palate was awakened. In fact, in addition to fish, his new favorites included lentil soup, a mélange of carrots, broccoli, and zucchini in cheese sauce, and a chicken, apple, and cheese casserole. I realized that he preferred savory foods to sweet, something that went against the common perception of the American baby diet.
Food and Culture
The primary purpose of food is to nourish the body. However, the foods we eat are culturally defined by geography, environmental factors, economics, history, and even religion. Some cultures see the transition to solid food as an important milestone and celebrate it with important rituals. Other cultures use certain foods to combat nutritional deficiencies. Kenya, for example, uses sweet potatoes to help boost vitamin A levels.
Maria Montessori discussed the importance of nutrition in her book The Montessori Method, devoting an entire chapter to the child’s diet. You can see by reading the chapter (Chapter 8) how her Italian culture and heritage influenced her ideas: one of baby’s first foods is a dish of polenta, peeled and finely chopped tomato, olive oil, and fresh parmesan cheese!
As Dr. Montessori’s suggestions show, baby food needn’t be bland! Japanese children eat pickled vegetables; Indian children experience the bold flavors of cumin, coriander, mint, and cinnamon; Vietnamese and Thai children like fish sauce; and Mexican children learn about chilies. Develop your baby’s palate by introducing foods from your culture at a young age.
There is more to food than eating. When we prepare nutritious and pleasant tasting meals for our children, we are building a strong foundation of cultural heritage. We are nurturing not just their bodies but also their minds and souls.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, January 3, 2014.