Sorry for the lack of posts lately. And sorry if you wanted a recipe post, because this one is going to be more of a rant. Go read Rachel's wine blog
if you're not up for pregnant-lady rantings.
So I've been perusing the available literature on the web regarding infant care and feeding and so on, and have come to the conclusion that Western culture is not only more focused on the parent than the child, but also heavily influenced by large food producers, particularly cereal producers. Almost every single site I have visited has stressed ways to make parents' lives easier, not babies' lives better, and has advocated cereals as the first food for babies.
Before I go any further I should also point out that I did visit one website that had the very reassuring and very true statement (I'm paraphrasing a bit here) "There are thousands of different ways to feed an infant, and the human race is surviving nicely despite all of them." This is completely true; humans are well-adapted omnivores that can eat practically anything, much like rats. That having been said, those of us in priviledged circumstances tend to want to give our children the best possible start in life. But who exactly thought that had to be cereals?
First, baby cereals are almost always made from refined grains - that's right, the bad stuff that causes all sorts of health problems in adults. Why refined grains? Because babies can't readily digest whole grains. Because grains in large amounts are not so natural a food for humans. Because you can't really get a whole lot of grains out of the wild, you need to grow them yourself, and we've only been doing that for a few thousand years (unless you're of middle eastern descent in which case you can claim 10,000 years - either way, not so long from an evolutionary perspective.)
Giving a kid a few grains of well-cooked barley or oats or rice before age 1 now and then is fine, but starting them on cereal? Silly. Oh, but cereals are fortified with iron! Um, sure they are. So how come 15-30% (depending which stats you read) of Canadian 1-year-olds are still iron-deficient? Bioavailability of iron is much better with iron from heme sources. Adult vegetarians can improve the bioavailability of their iron by combining foods, but a cereal-only diet won't do that, and the citrus/acidic foods that help so much with non-heme iron bioavailability aren't recommended for kids under a year of age. (If I were vegetarian though I'd be inclined to ignore that recommendation, and I suspect that the iron-deficient kids are the ones not getting enough veggies that are high in Vitamic C (ascorbic acid))
My parents quite sensibly didn't feed us any grain products until we were over a year old. None of us has ever, in infancy or now, had any problems with iron levels (ie, anemia). We ate - gasp - meat. Not tons of it, but enough. Egg yolks. Probably even liver, although my mom wouldn't admit to feeding it to me when I ask, because I'd blame my current lasting hatred of large herbivore liver on that. Fish eyes even. (strangely enough, I couldn't find any entry in the USDA nutient database for those though.)
I have flirted with the "Paleo" diet in the past, and I think that it's probably extremely good for you but not so much fun unless you have a wilderness preserve that you can hunt in at your doorstep. I'm not anti-grain, I like grains. But I like them in whole form and now studies back me up on this - the food with the highest glycemic index (ie bad for blood sugar spikes) is white bread (worse than cola even) and people who don't eat whole grains tend to be fatter around the middle, which is bad news from more than an aesthetic viewpoint. So I totally don't get why I should feed my baby refined cereal products when I wouldn't eat them myself. Especially since there are plenty of non-cereal sources of iron around.
So I will not feed my baby cereals, except perhaps the odd nibble of mom's oatmeal or a few bits of barley from a stew. And all my friends and Stirling's family will think I am crazy and far too radical. But it just doesn't make sense to me.
And just for the record - I don't think parents are necessarily harming kids by feeding them cereals. I just don't think it's the BEST way to go. And I don't think that cereals should be pushed as baby's first food, either. What's wrong with vegetables??? They are less allergenic than cereals and tastier too. Oh, but they don't have huge marketing conglomerates behind them, right...