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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Mouths of Babes

I’d heard that having children changed your life, but I didn’t realize that included my perspective on food. For example: serving sizes. I vaguely recall hearing my friends grumble about the tiny amounts of food that they could coax their children to eat. So, I wasn’t completely surprised to discover that 3/8th of a mini-muffin are more than sufficient to fuel my toddler for an entire morning. What did come as a shock, though, was the reason why: a mini-muffin is much larger than it innocently appears to be.

Don’t believe me? Try this: place half of a mini-muffin on a plate. Cut the half into quarters, then - and this is the key step - use your fingers to carefully squish each piece into crumbs. (It’s a delicate operation. You want to break up the muffin without compressing it. If you can’t master the technique, borrow someone’s toddler and have them do it for you). Magically, the muffin half will grow into an enormous pile of fluffy muffin bits. It’s a huge portion! No wonder our little ones full up so quickly.

Still not convinced? Take the plate into your living room and shake the crumbs all over your couch. Now measure the surface area of the muffin-coated regions and back-calculate to get the total volume of muffin. Or, just trust me when I tell you that those muffin bits will have mysteriously multiplied into a full-sized muffin.

It turns out that the food professionals who write baby food cookbooks are wise to this bit of infant wizardry and have built correction factors into their recipes. I remember thinking that Ruth Yaron (author of “Super Baby Food”) must be nuts for suggesting that my baby would consume ½ to 1 cup of yogurt in a meal (even if he didn’t eat anything else). The actual amount of yogurt that goes down the hatch, however, is on the order of 2 tablespoons, leaving plenty for him to spread around. (And did you all know that it’s possible to cover every surface in your kitchen with less than half a cup of yogurt? More food magic, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood toddler).

For my part, I’m thinking that eating like a toddler just might be the key to a successful diet plan. It takes a lot longer to eat a muffin when you have to hunt down each crumb. If you have a dog you’ll eat even less because you’ll be competing for muffin bits as you search all over the couch. Ah, but the symbiotic feeding habits of dogs and babies is a topic for another post.

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