January 7, 2011
Ok, I struggled with whether I wanted to do this or not: blog about my baby's eating. I mean, who really cares about that but me? And I care probably more than many moms, being who I am. But, I decided that because this blog is about "all things culinary" that what I feed her is a legitimate topic. Also, I decided to do it because I have a lot of new friends who are moms who might get something out of it and sharing information is one of the best ways that new moms figure things out.
So here goes. It won't surprise you to know that I'm making my own baby food. And before you stop reading because you think I'm crazy or have too much time on my hands, hold on. I am not talking about spending hours in the kitchen. I am talking about multi-tasking and making your baby's food while you make your own, buying the same ingredients you would buy for yourself and your partner and cooking pretty much the same way you cook for yourselves.
Now that I'm a mom and my baby has reached the age where she wants to and can eat solid food (she's 6 months old), I really am surprised that more people don't make their baby's food. I mean, before commercial baby food was available what did moms do? They gave their baby what they were eating! with a few modifications of course. You wouldn't give your child an excessively spicy chili, for example, but you would throw an extra carrot, a potato and some bell pepper slices in a pot to steam and you could give her that.
Also, have you ever tasted baby food? It lacks all flavor, even the natural flavors of the food in its pure state. And about those commercial baby cereals that everyone is told by their pediatrician to start with (often way too early in my opinion) --they taste like I imagine drywall mud tastes. The one time I tried feeding some of the organic powdered cereal that you mix with water or breastmilk or formula, June spit it out and made a terrible face. So I tasted it. No wonder. It was not a pleasant experience.
The main point is this: I love eating and cooking and think it is one of life's greatest pleasures. Why would I not want to introduce it that way to my baby who is embarking on this whole new world of eating for the first time? I want her to enjoy eating right off the bat. I don't want to spoon feed her a tasteless gruel and have her associate eating with something unpleasant.
So here is what I am doing. Keep in mind, I did not make this up. There are plenty of books and blogs on the subject of feeding real food to babies and I will provide of list of those that helped me at the end of this post.
Here it goes: I give baby real, unadulterated whole food. Mostly veggies and some fruits, no meat yet, but she'll try it soon, a small amount of plain, organic yogurt, and a little water to wash it down. (I'm talking a teaspoon here, given to her in a learner's cup or a bottle so that the new solid food her little body is handling can have an easier time going down. This is how we avoid painful constipation which I've heard can be a problem for babies starting solids). I don't purée anything or mash anything up. In fact, give her chunks of food that are a safe size (more on that later) that she then picks up and puts in her mouth. Sure, sometimes she misses and sometimes she holds her fist tightly closed and sucks it out. But that's part of the learning process and as she develops her hand to mouth coordination (one of the most important aspects of this way of feeding is that it does this), she will become a pro at feeding herself which is what we want after all. Who wants to stand there spoon-feeding baby when you could be doing other things, like feed yourself!
With this method I'm giving June the power to feed herself, which I am sure impacts how she feels about eating. I know my child already at 6 months has a mind of her own. She wants to touch things, put them in her mouth (that's how they explore objects) and mostly, she wants to imitate what we do. She doesn't, it seems clear to me, want to be spoon-fed things she doesn't have any control over and probably doesn't like the taste of anyway. Would you want to eat that way?
And she is still breastfeeding for most of her nutrients. This is important: the solid food right now is more for play and experimentation than anything else --it's so she can taste and feel and touch food and practice the skills involved in feeding herself. It is NOT a replacement for formula or breast milk just yet. It is a supplement. And I've found that eating is something my baby really enjoys so far. She smiles and laughs when I place her in her high chair and put on her bib, excitedly awaiting the new tastes and textures she's about to enjoy.
Two important notes: make sure everything is soft enough to be gummed and maybe chewed with tiny new teeth --or none at all. Even though they don't have teeth, they can still 'chew', mixing the food with saliva so that it is easier to digest for them, another reason why it is better for them to eat food in it's original form rather than as a purée. I think steaming is best as it preserves most of the nutrients in food and is very fast. Of course, some things are perfect first food that require no cooking at all: bananas, avocado, mango, soft ripe pears. And secondly, make sure the food is cut into large, finger-sized --about 2 inches or longer--sticks or wedges, for tiny hands that are still not that coordinated to pick up. But you'd be surprised at how much they can do with their hands at 6 months old. After all, they start grabbing everything and putting it in their mouths at a really young age. So why wouldn't they be able to do it with food, the most important thing we ever put in our mouths?
Ok, I've gone on long enough. Here is a list of books that helped me and that I consult often. And I'll do another post on specific ideas for meals as well as how to store and organize the work so it is super efficient and you can do a week's worth of meals at one time. I can feel a new project coming on here, maybe even a new business enterprise? Stay tuned...
Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck (she's a food writer, activist farmer's market founder, farmer whose book first inspired me)
Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett (this is an essential guide, maybe the most helpful of all and the first you should read if you go this route)
Super Baby Food, by Ruth Yaron (she doesn't talk about skipping purèes, but her DIY philosophy is all about making your own baby food, how to store and keep it safe, with lots of good tips and recipes)