Since starting this blog and joining Instagram I have seen some of the most amazing photos of how parents present their food to their babies and toddlers. Sandwiches shaped like stars, fruit arranged into words of wisdom, vegetable platters which look like bunny rabbits….its seems like the sky is the limit when making food for our children look appetising. The #instafood revolution seems to have also hit baby food hard: not a morning goes by when I do not see photographs of the most beautiful baby food platters adorned with flax seed ‘fairy dust’ and seven types of fruit arranged in a rainbow.
I love seeing these pictures. They are bright, fun and demonstrate effort that I can only dream of conjuring up at 7 o’clock in the morning. Yet I do not do it for my baby, and do not plan to unless it is my childs birthday and I need to make the obligatory caterpillar cake or cheese and pineapple hedgehog. Am I simply being lazy, and robbing my baby of an everyday sensory extravaganza? Or is this simply something that is done more for the Instagram generation to amuse followers, rather than the child actually eating it?
To help inform my decision, I ran a quick poll through Instagram Stories to ask who makes artwork out of their baby’s meals. Turns out my audience was completely split down the middle – 50% said they do and 50% don’t. Interestingly but not unsurprisingly, the latter 50% are mainly those who do not document their baby weaning journeys online – rather they use Instagram for other reasons.
So why do people think that art is good for baby food?
Answers are pretty obvious. Making patterns and shapes out of food makes it more appealing to small people and mealtimes are probably more fun as a result. I know some children really look forward to seeing what exciting picture they will be presented with at tea time, much like they look forward to what hilarious antics their Elf on the Shelf will be up to during Advent (or so I have been reliably informed).
It is also an opportunity for parents to make humble food which might ordinarily be refused suddenly become tempting. One quick scout through Instagram and I have seen grape snakes, brocolli stars and even fishcake love hearts which have been guaranteed to make children love these sometimes overlooked foods.
Many of the baby weaning heavyweights advocate the fun-enhancing properties of food-art. Annabel Karmel is a fan …her funny face burgers are super cute (although a weird combination…beef burgers and tomato spaghetti on one plate..?!)
An elephant in the room that nobody will actually admit to… there are also those who decorate meals primarily in order to make them more attractive in photographs. This technique seems to be used with particular ‘trendy’ ingredients… chia seed zig zags, fruit puree stripes and blueberries arranged into words are common. And why not? We are constantly bombarded with photographs of people being their best selves, living their best lives, and this is undoubtedly going to spill into the world of weaning where we are led to believe that babies all NEED to eat in technicolour.
So why do I choose not to do it?
To be clear, I am completely supportive of those who DO do it. However, it is just not going to be something I can ever replicate. My photography skills are not that good, and even if I tried to make a pretty face out of a meal experience shows that my faces would look more at home on a horror film. I am also a bit haphazard in the kitchen with little patience, so the idea of chia seed zig zags genuinely makes me fearful for my own sanity.
But the main reason why I do not do it is because it does not reflect the way our family eats now, or how I envisage we will eat in the future. I want my baby to learn what food actually looks like in real life rather than disguise it as something else. Brocolli is not a tree, it is brocolli. I also worry that I will not always have time make food art, and that my child will eventually reject meals if I do not make his sandwiches look like stars rather than plain old triangles. As someone who has always found great joy in food and cooking I believe food can look exciting without it needing to be a picture. Give me a gorgeous mac and cheese with a crisp and bubbling cheesy bacon-y topping any day over a burger with a face on it.
I have no doubt that some of these pictures you see on Instagram are made just for that…Instagram rather than what the baby actually needs or appreciates. And there is absolutely a place for this as these photographs are exciting and fun. But I really do not believe that this is what babies need. They just need to know what a meal looks like.
Parents will probably be screaming at me right now saying “you don’t understand”! And if my baby becomes a fussy toddler I completely accept that my attitude and feeding tactics will have to change. But right now at weaning stage I feel confident to talk about my own strategy and this does not involve any sandwich love hearts. If there are other parents out there who feel that they also need to make art out of food, stop. Who are you doing it for? Babies who have lived off bowls of plain mushed fruit are just as likely to end up enjoying food just as much as that baby who has eaten the same fruit painstakingly arranged into a fluorescent platter. It is still early days; go easy on yourself.
So there, I’ve said it. My own Instagram feed may as a result seem pretty dull compared to some of the rainbow plates out there. But those beautiful rainbow plates are inspirational, and although not a reality for us we do take ideas from them. It just means that mine, along with many other babies will have to eat his blueberries in a scruffy pile rather than spelling his name. And there won’t be 9 different varieties of colourful seeds for breakfast. Sorry baby.
I’m still up for Elf on the Shelf though…