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Carrot Rounds with Parmesan

We’ve hardly been able to get Isabella to eat lately. She’s gotten pickier, more easily distracted, and independent to a fault. Sitting at a table for any length of time and – gasp – being fed by Mommy or Daddy seems downright frustrating to her. For us, it’s an exercise in futility.  She’s been waking up early and napping terribly, due in part, I’m sure, to being hungry.

I’ve always said I’d rather have her eat two bites of some whole, nutrient-rich food instead of a stomach-full of something processed, or sugary, or whatever. But, when she’s whining and hungry it’s SO tempting to give her whatever I have, right away. I’ve found that the best way to get her to eat lately is to give her something she can eat without help, ideally as she wanders around the house. Finger foods are the best way to get something in her, which means she finds herself eating graham crackers and Pirate’s Booty more often than I’d like to admit.

Today I came up with something that’s quick – almost as quick as opening a package of chips – and just as delicious. At least, Isabella seemed to think so. Best of all, it’s healthy and not super messy.

Carrot Rounds with Parmesafinger foods for kids

  • 1 or 2 medium carrots
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • salt  to taste

You’ll need a pot with a tight-fitting lid and a steamer basket.

Peel the carrots.

Cut them into 1/4 inch thick rounds and throw them in the steamer basket.

Put about an inch of water in the bottom of your pot, maybe more depending on what kind of steamer you have. You don’t want so much water in your pot that it’s bubbling into the basket and actually boiling the carrots. Steaming actually preserves more of the nutrients compared to boiling.

Steam for 5-10 minutes to get the carrots to their desired tenderness. I go shorter now that Izzy has molars to chew with.

Transfer the carrots to a small bowl. Dust with parmesan cheese and a little salt and toss to cover.

I like to just set the bowl out and she picks and grazes as she plays – and so do I!

 

What finger foods – healthy or unhealthy – do your kids love?

Introducing Meat and Poultry

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There are a lot of opinions out there on how- and when- meat should be introduced into your baby’s diet.  I’m going to share my philosophy, but my intention is not to provide medical advice.

Introducing meat and poultry into your child’s diet has everything to do with iron.  There are plenty of articles out there about how even breastfed babies aren’t able to absorb as much iron from breastmilk when they begin eating solid foods because of the way the iron in breastmilk bonds to the proteins in solid food, so red meat is an important first food to make up the difference.  However, in all my research, I wasn’t able to find any studies or solid research to prove this.

It is true, though, that baby’s iron stores will begin diminishing around 6 months of age.  Some pediatricians will prescribe iron supplements and iron-fortified foods (like cereal, which should not be given prior to 8 or 9 months of age), but this unfortunately has a counter-productive effect.  Iron supplements and iron-fortified foods actually interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron, so baby actually gets even less with supplements.

If you’re still breastfeeding, good news- the iron in breastmilk is extremely bioavailable, with up to 50% being absorbed by your baby’s body.  If you’re using formula, your baby absorbs quite a bit less (as low as 10%) so the solid foods you offer are extremely important.  Red meat isn’t the only food you can offer your baby that’s high in iron, so if you’re a vegetarian, there are plenty of viable sources of iron available. Be sure to include plenty of these foods, particularly if you are not breastfeeding:

  • red meat (beef, lamb)
  • poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • fish
  • tofu
  • legumes
  • peas
  • avocados
  • dark leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, chard)
  • broccoli
  • ancient grains (amaranth, quinoa, millet)
  • sweet potatoes and yams

I suggest introducing chicken first, then red meat, then fish.  But regardless of the when, the how remains the same:

Tenderize It

You need to break down some of the tough-to-digest fibers in meat so that baby’s body can digest it easily.  One way to do this is to place the cut of meat between two sheets of wax paper and really pound it, down to a ¼-½  inch thickness.  Or, try marinating the meat first.  Many cultures marinate their meat in milk or yogurt (the lactic acid in the milk helps tenderize the meat) before cooking.  Marinating or simmering in apple juice is another great option if baby has issues with dairy.

Don’t Dry It Out

If you’re cooking meat for a baby, the method you use is probably the most important factor.  You’ve got to keep the meat from drying out- that means no sautéing, grilling, or frying. Stew is an ideal way to cook meat, and it’s one of the easiest methods for you.  You could also put a cut of meat and some veggies in tin foil, wrap it tightly, and bake it- the steam will stay inside the foil packet and keep the meat moist.  Simmering in broth is another easy (if not boring) way to cook meat.  If you’re good at making really tender roast chicken or pot roast (I’m not), make one for the whole family and just set some aside for baby.

Puree It

Multiple studies have shown that the iron in meat is more readily absorbed by your baby’s body when it’s pureed to a very fine meal.  And, if your baby is relatively new to solid foods, they’ll prefer a thinner, smoother consistency anyway.  My daughter, at 16 months old and equipped with as many teeth, still won’t eat red meat by itself and is suspicious even when I blend it roughly with veggies.  If you’ve cooked your meat really well, it should blend up fairly easily in a food processor.  The key is to blend a little bit at a time with enough liquid to get it really smooth.

Keep It Real

Don’t even think about giving your baby hot dogs or bologna or salami or any meat that’s been processed. Seriously.

Introduce It With Known Foods

If this is baby’s first time eating poultry, meat, or fish, introduce it mixed with other foods you already know he likes and digests easily.  Need a few ideas?

  1. Beef stew with barley, peas, and carrots
  2. Chicken with brown rice and yams
  3. Lamb with rosemary mashed potatoes
  4. Wild-caught salmon with quinoa and asparagus
  5. Turkey with white beans and cranberry sauce
  6. Ground beef with spaghetti, tomato sauce, and parmesan
  7. Wild-caught tilapia with spinach and roasted pears

When introducing new foods always remember to follow The 3-Day Rule.

We don’t eat meat very often, so I haven’t posted any meat-based recipes yet.  But I hope to get a few posted soon!  In the meantime… Any questions on how and when to introduce meat and poultry into your baby’s diet?

When can my baby eat nuts and eggs?

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This is one of those topics that is difficult to get a definitive answer on.  Depending on who you ask, potentially allergenic foods (like nuts, eggs, and fish) can be introduced into baby’s diet anywhere from 6-36 months.  That narrows things down, right?

A few recent studies have shown that there’s actually no benefit to delayed introduction of potentially allergenic foods in terms of keeping your children from developing allergies.  In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their policy statement to reflect this:

“Although solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age, there is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease regardless of whether infants are fed cow milk protein formula or human milk. This includes delaying the introduction of foods that are considered to be highly allergic, such as fish, eggs, and foods containing peanut protein.”

Give me a minute to get my objections out of the way here-

  • Solid foods should not be introduced before 6 months of age.
  • Ideally, babies should get their nutrition from breastmilk only for the first 6 months.  If this is not possible, a dairy-free formula is the best choice.

There.  I feel better.  Moving on…

Many parents will read this and think, great, I can start giving my baby everything we eat!  The advice that most traditional pediatricians will give about delaying the introduction of these allergenic foods is based on the idea that introducing an allergen too early may actually cause your baby to develop an allergy to that food.  These recent studies, and the statement from the AAP above, suggest that it doesn’t actually work like that, which is good news.  The new idea is that if your child is going to have an allergy to eggs, it’s going to be there whether you give them eggs as a baby or not.

BUT.  Just because feeding a certain food to your child won’t cause an allergy later in life doesn’t mean that their little bodies won’t be sensitive to it right now.  It’s important to remember that your child’s gut flora and enzymes are still developing and their digestive systems may not be able to handle some potentially allergenic foods.

I recommend waiting until your baby is a full year old to begin introducing things like tree nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and seafood.  I also recommend holding off on peanuts until your child is at least 3.  (Peanuts aren’t actually nuts at all- they’re legumes- and they’re prone to a certain kind of mold, one reason that so many children have issues with them.)

When you do begin to introduce potentially allergenic foods, remember to follow The 3-Day Rule.  Introduce new foods one at a time and watch for any kind of reaction that might indicate a sensitivity or allergy.  Symptoms to look for include sneezing, spitting up, runny nose, rashes (particularly around the mouth or diaper area), changes in stools, or changes in mood.  If you suspect that a certain food is causing a reaction, stop offering that food and see if the symptoms clear up.

Every baby is different.  Following a a schedule to the letter is less important than doing what works for your kids (although, I suggest checking out my guidelines as a great starting point).  Do your little ones eat any of these potentially allergenic foods, or have allergies?

Zucchini and Potatoes with Fresh Basil and Parmesan

ingredients for zucchini and potatoes baby food

I think fresh grated parmesan cheese is WORLDS better, but my grocery budget this week was a little tight. Sad.

This is a new one to me.  I got some beautiful zucchinis for free and thought, what could I do with these?  I had some fresh basil on hand and added some potatoes to bulk it up.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 medium zucchinis
  • 2 small yukon gold potatoes
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Be careful with the basil; start with a little and taste it.  I LOVE basil and could eat it in everything, but good fresh basil is pretty peppery.  The strong flavor might be too much for some babies if you put a lot in there.

Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and toss into a steamer basket or double boiler. Steam potatoes for about 10 minutes.  Since potatoes are starchy, they need a head start on the zucchini.Here’s how you make it:

  1. Meanwhile, cut the zucchinis into 1/2 inch thick half moons and add to the potatoes.  Steam another 5 minutes or more until tender.  It’s important that the zucchinis and potatoes are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly.
  2. Allow veggies to cool for a few minutes.  Put steamed veggies in your food processor along with basil leaves and parmesan cheese.  Blend well.  Add water to bring to a thinner consistency if desired.
  3. Taste!  Add more basil or cheese if you want to.

zucchinis, potatoes, basil, parmesan cheese homemade baby food

If you want this to be gluten-free, just make sure you get straight up parmesan cheese.  Some grated cheeses are coated with starch, so carefully check the ingredient list or get a block of solid parmesan.  You could easily exclude the cheese to make this dairy free.  In my opinion, there are few things that aren’t improved by the addition of cheese, and most babies do fine with cheese even if they are sensitive to cow’s milk.

Introducing Whole Grains

Contrary to popular belief, grains should not be introduced before 8 or 9 months of age.  I know, I know… your pediatrician, grandmother, and even strangers will insist that rice cereal is perfectly fine, even before 6 months.  I once had a home depot employee follow me through the store trying to convince me that rice cereal would make Isabella begin sleeping through the night.  But it’s just not true.

It takes a while for baby’s gut flora to develop.  Exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months is critical in this process.  And until baby is 8 or 9 months old, they haven’t developed enough of the enzymes necessary to fully digest grains.  So while you can buy cereal labeled “4 months and up” at the grocery store, it doesn’t mean it’s good for her to eat.

I know plenty of parents who have struggled with fussy, colicky, gassy, constantly-spitting-up babies for months and can’t figure out what the problem is.  I’m willing to bet that in many cases, cutting out grains (and other foods that aren’t age appropriate) would do wonders for solving the problem.

When preparing grains, soak them overnight to improve their digestability.  I usually add double the amount of water recommended and simmer them slowly until all the water is gone.  Sometimes I’ll even pulse the mixture a few times in my food processor before jarring it or adding it to other purees.

Every baby is different.  Some may be able to digest grains just fine at 6 months, while others may be 12 months or older before they can digest them without being uncomfortable.  This is why it’s so important to introduce foods one at a time and note if baby is showing any signs of sensitivity.

As a side note, rice cereal doesn’t necessarily help a baby to sleep all night.  Isabella didn’t start doing that till she was almost a year old, well after she began eating whole grains.

Basic Guidelines for Introducing Solids

There’s one question I hear a lot, and it’s the same question I had before Isabella began eating solids- how do you know what to give her, and when?

Breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life is the best way to give your baby a strong immune system.  There’s nothing on earth like mother’s milk, and the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 full months (or more) are too many to list here.  If for some reason breastfeeding isn’t an option, it’s best to avoid a cows milk formula, as it’s one of the most common allergens and causes many babies to experience colic symptoms (not to mention a LOT more spitting up).  Solid foods (including rice cereal) are not nutritionally necessary before 6 months of age and can actually be harmful for your baby.

The first two years are a critical period in developing your child’s tastes and future eating habits.  This is a window of time in which children tend to be more open to trying new foods.  If fresh, flavorful, whole foods are all that are offered, they’ll be more likely to prefer those foods as they grow.  If highly processed foods full of sugar and additives are all that are offered, they’ll tend to prefer that.

Every baby is different, and their ability to accept and eat different foods varies.  Remember, it’s essential to introduce one food at a time, and only every few days.  Follow The 3-Day Rule: watch for reactions like sneezing, runny nose, rashes (particularly around the mouth or diaper area), changes in stools, or changes in mood.  If baby has a reaction, hold off on giving her that food for another month, then try again.

Certain foods are potentially irritating, meaning that they could cause a reaction in your baby’s sensitive and still developing digestive system.  This system is designed to introduce potentially irritating foods one at a time, when baby’s body is most likely to be ready for them.  There is news on the front of potentially allergenic foods (foods that are thought to encourage the development of allergies), so check out the information for yourself and do what seems best to you!  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of what foods to introduce, and when.

6-9 Months

Steamed veggies blended with water are a great option, as well as raw pureed fruits.  Younger babies need their food to be a thinner consistency.

  • bananas
  • apples
  • peaches
  • pears
  • carrots
  • peas
  • winter and summer squash (pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, etc.)
  • sweet potatoes and yams
  • melons
  • avocado
  • cold or frozen berries in a mesh bag (fantastic for teething, very messy)
  • herbs and seasonings except for garlic (just go easy)

9-12 Months

Grains should not be offered before 8 or 9 months as baby’s digestive system hasn’t developed enough of the enzymes necessary to digest them.  When you do offer them, it’s best to soak them overnight and cooked for longer than suggested on the package.

This is a great time to introduce finger foods like puffed rice, cheerios, and soft fruits cut into small pieces.  Don’t expect your floors to stay clean, though.

  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • oats (We do overnight oats a lot- simply mix oats and water or rice milk and leave in fridge overnight. Easy breakfast!)
  • millet
  • amaranth
  • yogurt
  • cottage cheese
  • cheese
  • egg yolk (That’s right- the yolk is ok.  It’s the whites that are allergenic for most babies.  This is a great way to get protein if you don’t do meat)
  • poultry
  • greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard, lettuce)
  • papaya
  • mango
  • kiwi
  • hemp milk (not a replacement for breast milk)
  • rice milk (not a replacement for breast milk)
  • coconut oil
  • butter
  • olive oil

12-18 Months

Baby’s desire to feed herself begins to increase, as do her caloric needs.  This is a great time to offer bulkier, higher calorie foods.  Begin to introduce potentially irritating foods and continue to watch for allergic reactions.

  • grapes
  • strawberries
  • onions
  • garlic
  • hummus
  • beans
  • broccoli and cauliflower
  • lentils
  • lemon and lime
  • tofu (closer to 18 months)
  • salmon (closer to 18 months)
  • goat’s milk
  • honey

18-24 Months

Begin adding more protein through slow-cooked meats and some nuts.

  • soy foods
  • fish
  • lamb
  • beef
  • whole eggs
  • almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts
  • nut butters from the above nuts

2+ Years

Cautiously add allergenic foods one by one, watching closely for signs of sensitivity.

  • Cow’s milk (Other dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are easier to digest because they are cultured.)
  • peanuts
  • gluten (wheat, rye, barley, spelt)

There are two resources I found incredibly helpful as I introduced solids to Isabella.  One is The Baby Book by Dr. Sears– it’s basically the bible on all things baby-related.  The other is The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, MS, CN, which includes a very conservative schedule for food introduction.  Check out their website for tons of great vegan recipes.

Why make your own baby food?

Any grocery store worth it’s salt will offer a dozen different brands of baby food.  You can get organic brands for just a little more money even at generic grocery stores, and they come in zillions of different flavors and packages.  So why make your own?

  • Save cash.  This was one of my big motivators for making my own baby food.  You might think, hey, a $1.29 jar of baby food, that’s not so bad.  But it adds up fast.  My daughter has been known to put away 8 or more jars of baby food in one day.  At $1.29 a jar, that’s $10.32 a day, or $72.24 a week.  I usually spend less than half that on ingredients for food that will last her over 2 weeks.
  • Know exactly what’s in it.  Personally, I just find baby food out of the jar a little unsettling.  I can see the ingredient list- I know what they say is in there.  Even if it says there’s no preservatives, chemicals, dyes, or factory worker’s hair, I just feel better seeing the whole foods go into my blender with my own eyes.
  • Offer more interesting food.  The baby food at your local grocery store is pretty dull.  You’ll see ingredients like apples, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, chicken, turkey, oats, and rice… and those are all great.  I’m just saying that none of them have amaranth, quinoa, bulger, dragonfruit, starfruit, kiwi, bok choy, kale, or purple cauliflower.
  • Offer fresher food.  The fruit in that apple-banana-blueberry blend you just picked up was probably harvested several weeks ago.  It was pureed, then packaged, then sat in a warehouse, then traveled in a truck for a few days, and has been sitting on the shelf at your grocery store for who knows how long.  And chances are they’ve added something to preserve the food during this process.  Sure, it’s safe to eat.  But would you want to?  I know I wouldn’t.
  • Offer more flavorful food.  Babies are perfectly able to eat- and enjoy- a variety of herbs and spices.  Anyone who has taste-tested a jar of baby food knows that the vast majority of it is pretty bland.  And if you expose your kids to interesting flavors early in life, they’re that much more likely to enjoy a variety of foods later in life, instead of being that annoying kid that refuses to eat anything but white bread and chicken nuggets.
  • It’s not as hard or time consuming as you might think.  Sure… you can get totally carried away and make all kinds of gourmet madness for your baby (like I often do) but you don’t have to.  But many of my staple recipes (and Isabella’s favorites) take just minutes to prepare and jar.  Making your own baby food can take as much or as little time as you want.
  • It’s fun.
Why do you make your own baby food?  If you’ve thought about it but haven’t tried it yet, what’s stopping you?