Transitioning Babies to Solid Foods – Costa Rican Style




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weaning to table food

Eating is one of the most deeply rooted cultural traditions in any family, and our bicultural one is no exception.  So when my oldest was ready for solid foods, I talked to my pediatrician about how to go about transitioning her to eating table food at family dinner time.  The doctor mentioned using purees and looking into Baby Led Weaning,  neither of which really honored her Costa Rican heritage as far as food was concerned.  We set about learning about food and feeding from both of our families, and settled on a method that has worked extremely well for both of our daughters.

I will start by saying that most issues surrounding feeding have brought up some of my own issues and beliefs about eating, and before I even started giving solid foods, (or even having children, quite frankly) I reflected a lot on what habits I wanted to instill in my daughters as far as eating and mealtimes are concerned.  At our house, the “rules” about eating and meals are as follows, understanding that the guidelines for each family are vastly different.

  1. At mealtime, everyone eats together.  (We have the luxury to eat all of our meals as a family, as my husband comes home for lunch every day, latin-style.)  
  2. During mealtime, we don’t allow television or electronics at the table.  We rarely eat without music playing in the background though!
  3. No one starts eating until we have prayed.  Period.
  4. We all eat the same thing.  (I’m not a short order cook, and I cook three hot meals a day as it is.)
  5. Food is not an “on the go” experience.  Any food, snacks, etc. are to be consumed while sitting down.  The car does not count.  (Side note, I don’t think that pouches constitute food, and I don’t like the store-bought purees for babies, hence a bit of a conundrum when beginning table foods with our daughters.)

Again, our list might not work for every family, but the reason that I write about our in-house food guidelines is because I now know that a “Costa Rican style” of table feeding for babies more closely aligned with the mealtime culture that we wanted to create in our household.  Next step was to figure out how to begin feeding our babies within the family food culture we had created long before we became parents.

The first thing I did was ask my Costa Rican mom friends how they started their babies on solid foods. I talked to one mom friend in Costa Rica who was thinking of using purees with her baby, since her husband is American and she wanted to explore our style of weaning.  She asked me, “Which purees do you use?  I bought one of each in the grocery store and tried them all.  They were gross, and I’m not feeding something I wouldn’t eat to my baby.”  Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.   After living in Costa Rica for so many years, I had already determined that mothers were not running out to buy Baby Bullets the second their children were born, and they sure as heck weren’t buying ready-made purees like my American mom counterparts.  I also knew that most Costa Rican kids are not actually picky eaters.  How in the world could we achieve this Holy Grail of infant/toddler eating?

The answer is that Costa Rican families were already eating healthy food that could easily be mashed up and fed to a baby.  With a fork for mashing, a small spoon for feeding,  a little warm water for mixing and some patience, Costa Rican babies are eating table food for their first meals.   Lots of fruits and vegetables, broth, rice and beans and stewed meats.  All foods my husband and I were already eating.  Tica moms are simply giving their babies the food that the rest of the family is eating, and mashing it at mealtime (as opposed to pureeing it beforehand) and feeding the babies along with the rest of the family.  Easy!  The best part for us was that this style of weaning fit seamlessly into our already established mealtime norms and culture.  

My younger daughter enjoying Costa Rican-style black beans!

My younger daughter enjoying Costa Rican-style black beans!

So after looking at how Costa Rican families are feeding their children, I took stock of the the meals that we were already eating, and determined which could be baby friendly, and which we might have to stop make for a few months.  Picadillo de Chayote?  Definitely making that and mashing up the squash and rice.  Kung Pao chicken?  Might have to wait a few months (ok, years) to introduce the peppercorn spice.  

Our oldest started with avocado and sweet potato, my two favorite foods.  The baby also started with avocado, and we quickly learned that she LOVES mashed potatoes.  It wasn’t long before they were both feeding themselves bits of steamed vegetables, rice, and of course black beans.  And thus far, we’ve been able to avoid my cooking separate meals for our kids, and still teaching them to eat table food from the get go.  

Check out the next post with my Top 5 Recipes for Infants!

What methods do you use to transition your infant to table foods? We’d love your comments below!]

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  • Kathkeen
    March 28, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I love this so much! What an amazingly healthy habit (emotionally as well as nutritionally), that you all eat together for every meal! I also think kids eat a broader variety of foods and are far less likely to refuse food when eating in a group setting. Love everything about this!

    • [email protected]
      April 4, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks so much! It’s definitely a struggle sometimes, but my husband and I both have such fond memories of family dinner… plus it’s a great time to reinforce manners in Spanish! 😉 Thanks for commenting!