Since Cohort 12 began this June, one of my favorite parts of each day has been sitting down at our table for snacks and meals. I enjoy preparing food for the children each morning before they arrive, steaming hard vegetables and fruits, cutting large foods into graspable pieces that still hold the shape of the whole food, cooking simple grains, and wondering what each child's reaction will be to the taste of crisp-tender steamed snap peas, perfectly ripe avocado, or tart-sweet summer plums.
The time we spend at the table serves many purposes. It provides essential nourishment to children who are beginning to rely more and more on solids for satiety. It causes us all to slow down and gather as a community. It gives the infants an opportunity to hone their growing skills: drinking from cups, chewing food completely before swallowing, grasping large and small pieces of food. It provides a rich sensory experience, as I offer foods of varying colors, textures, and flavors, and invite the children to explore what is offered with all of their senses.
whole foods to infants, meaning that food is served in as natural a state as possible. Until a child has had experiences with the basic state of a food, we offer that food without seasoning, and separate from other foods. Offering foods in their natural state (that is, perhaps lightly cooked and/or cut into graspable pieces, but not mashed, pureed, peeled, or combined) allows children to begin building a vocabulary around the food they experience. Food is poked, sniffed, scratched, and examined. The next time these foods are offered they can be recognized by sight and touch before they are tasted, giving the infants rich sense memories to build upon and the ability to anticipate what they will taste when they see a certain food. Serving whole foods also offers infants the opportunity to feed themselves, choosing what to taste and when to take each bite.
Similarly, drinking from an open cup gives a full sensory experience: the ability to see, smell, and feel a liquid before drinking it. Open cups are exciting to infants not only because they get to experience their water or milk with all their senses, but also because the cup resembles what the adults (and big kids) in their lives use. Even among young infants, this is an exciting and rewarding feeling!
The sense of community gained by coming together at the table is hard to overstate. Each child expresses excitement when they hear me announce that it's time to eat and see me prepare our table and chairs. As food is distributed, I hear sounds of enthusiasm and curiosity. Communication between infants happens as they watch each other eat, make sounds back and forth, and make choices (what food to taste next, how to set a cup or piece of food back on the table, when to be all done) partially based on what's going on with the group. Communication with me happens as the infants point or reach for a food they want more of, use sign language to tell me "more" or "all done," and find many ways to tell me that they are finished with a particular food.