// Andrew is a father of two living in the Netherlands who is sharing his experiences during his three-month parental leave. //

The Dutch adage of ‘rust, reinheid en regelmaat’ (rest, cleanliness and regularity) neatly sums up my country’s conventional wisdom on childrearing. Although the maxim seems somewhat rigid, I do find a set rhythm with recognizable little rituals offers structure and a simple joy to life as a parent. Below a sketch of part of our morning routine.

We have settled into a nice breakfast habit with the little girls. The oldest one gets to choose her savory sandwich, which she has to eat before she’s allowed one with a sweet topping. That never keeps her from demanding a jam sandwich when asked what she would like to have on her first piece of bread. But when this hurdle is cleared (would you like cheese or peanut butter?) and by the time she has finished her first slice, she’ll often be full or will have forgotten about her wish for another sandwich. Meanwhile, the girls keep each other busy, the older one providing a ceaseless source of entertainment for our baby girl, who just transitioned into a high chair. The older one is still exploring how far she can go with her little sister (and us), so we remain alert to prevent the little one from being force fed, used as a human pillow or being hid under a blanket. 

Our eldest successfully went through a ‘baby led weaning‘ process, which can be summarized in two ways. The first one: a process in which the baby discovers tastes and textures by giving her food, starting with veggies and fruits, the way they would normally appear, and letting them discover how to eat it for themselves, i.e. generally no feeding of mashes or purees. The second one: a huge, dirty mess.

Currently, we are starting our baby on this journey. My wife likes to remind me I often made myself scarce during the start-up phase of that enterprise last time around. Admittedly, watching our baby’s discovery of different food sorts was incredibly cute as she went about touching, feeling, mashing, smashing, smearing a steamed veggie piece before trying to direct it towards her mouth. But in the end the veggie pulp or another unidentifiable would inevitably be spread in an increasingly wide radius around her high chair, a sight too disturbing for my clean-freak self. 

This time around I find myself more of a willing participant in the feeding process, somewhat naively trying to mitigate the damage by strictly managing the input. Our eldest clearly has some of her father’s genes as she will often spontaneously start cleaning the detritus of her siblings feeding even before she has finished. At other times during the day she will also ask for wet wipes, after which I find her cleaning our windows and mirror.

It remains fascinating to watch our little one wrestling with a piece of bread or fruit, grappling with it, tearing it apart, picking up a piece, trying to manoeuvre her clenched little fist into her mouth and inevitably tossing or involuntarily swiping the lions’ share to the floor. In short, an excellent exercise in developing her fine motor skills. But the expression of absolute wonder that spreads over her face when she manages to ingest a little crumb is priceless.

Once our eldest has finished her cup of water, she will ask politely whether she may leave the table, though she seldom waits for an answer. By this time her little sister will have produced a full diaper, the processing of which gives the eldest enough time to rummage through her piles of toys to find items to bring to her kindergarten.

At times this triggers quite a negotiation, as I try to limit the volume and quantity of toys that are allowed to make the trip in the bakfiets (a wonder of Dutch technology). Next to toys, our eldest also has phases in which she likes to ask for fruit or a sandwich for the road. I generally acquiesce, letting her take a clementine (no, not the mango) because it means she has a snack ready for when I pick her up. On the way to kindergarten she is too distracted to think of her snack and by the time we are there she has to put all the stuff she brought into her drawer. 

Editor’s Note: There’s no right or wrong way to transition your baby from breastmilk / formula to solids. But, the debate over baby-led weaning (BLW) vs traditional spoon-feeding (TSF) can be pretty fierce, especially if you poke around on any parenting sites.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research done to prove what method is most “effective”. But don’t sweat! Most kids go through phases with foods: sometimes they eat anything, and other times only peanut butter will do. They’ll lock onto a favourite spoon for a while, then suddenly decide the only way to eat is by jamming food into their face with their fingers.

The bottom line is that pretty much all kids end up as OK eaters in the end. So do what works for you.

P.s. If you’re worried about choking, we recommend reading “The Worst That Happened“, a blog by new dad Kokes from Poland.

P.p.s. If you’re curious about the research that does exist on weaning to solid foods, we recommend checking out this study or this one.