Tasty Sweet Potato Fries

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These are a favorite in our household.  Bitsy Girl hasn’t met a sweet potato she doesn’t like, and I found this to be a great way to convince Beard to enjoy sweet potatoes, too.  Win win in my book.

I know sweet potato fries are becoming ridiculously popular nowadays, and everyone and their mother has a recipe up for them, but I think my version is slightly different, so I thought I’d put my two cents in.

First, I start with two cleaned sweet potatoes and I cut off the ends:

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Then I slice up the sweet potatoes into fries.  I make them relatively large, but definitely not like steak fries.  Sweet potatoes become much softer when cooked, so you can’t make them too thin, but I just don’t like a giant hunk of potato as a fry.  So mine end up looking like this:

100_2407I sprinkle some salt (to taste), 1 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp chili power on the fries.  Then I mix them in the bowl.  After that is when I drizzle over a few tbsp of olive oil and coat the fries.  I find that the fries retain flavors better if they are seasoned prior to the olive oil coating.

100_2408I spread the fries out on a cookie sheet so they aren’t touching each other for the most part.  These babies get baked at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes.  And they are delicious!

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Baby Food Snob

(I have been thinking about writing this post for a while, and I was tentative to start because of how much ground could be covered, should be covered, and would likely be covered by my knowledge.  This topic has come up too many times in the past few weeks for me to ignore it, so I will share with my readers what I know and where they can learn more for themselves.)

A few days ago Beard was telling me about a conversation he’d had with some of his man buddies about their children.  One man’s daughter had just begun to eat baby food, and the other was enlightening him about the different stages and different types of containers that baby food comes in.  They laughed shortly about the weird pureed foods that come in jars, and apparently, my husband was fighting his judgmental disposition from writing itself all over his face.

You see, we are baby food snobs.  There are no two ways about it.

When we found out we were going to have Bitsy Girl, my mother gifted us with the very food processor she used to make my baby food.  (Yes, this appliance is over 20 years old and still works like a dream.)  She explained that I never ate jarred “baby food”; instead she and my father would puree already cooked foods to feed to baby me.  Newly pregnant, I hadn’t really considered anything along these lines; I was more focused on labor and delivery than what I would be feeding this little child over a year from then.

As we grew more accustomed to the idea of parenthood, Beard and I researched things we would like to do for our children, and the topic of baby food came up again.  This time we were paying better attention.  With lots of advice from my mom, the instructor of our birthing class, and an excellent book called Super Baby Food, we felt that we were armed and ready to take on making all of our daughter’s food.

At almost 15 months old, Bitsy Girl has never eaten baby food from a jar or package.  We have literally made all of her food.  Of this, we are both very proud.  And a bit snobbish.

Why did we choose to make our own baby food?

First and foremost, we made this decision because we would know exactly what was in our daughter’s food at each meal.  If we made her food there would be no hidden preservatives.  Foods could be as fresh as we’d like.

Another factor for us was cost.  I tend to be a little bit of a budget freak (hey, we’re still paying off student loans!), so I try to shave little bits out of our budget if possible.  And the fact is that jarred baby food can get very expensive, especially if you are going to buy organic and natural.  A typical jar of baby food vegetables, let’s say carrots, costs between $0.50 and $1.  I could easily buy a pound of organic carrots at the grocery store or farmer’s market for $1.50 and make about 20 – 25 servings of pureed carrots.  It just didn’t make sense to me to purchase something I could so easily make at home at a lower cost.

How did we make our own baby food?

Some baby foods are more difficult than others to make.  Most vegetables and some fruits can be easily pureed after being steamed or boiled.  Foods like carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, potatoes, peas, green beans, and more fall into this category.  We simply cooked a portion of the food without salt or sugar, then put it in our food processor and let it do its thing.  We would add enough water to food to make a thin puree for Bitsy Girl when she was very young, and as she grew older and more used to food, we would use less water, allowing her more of a mashed food.

Some fruits, like pears, bananas, and avocados can be pureed raw or even mashed with a fork.  These were great in a pinch when I didn’t have very much time to make something for Bitsy Girl to eat and had nothing already made for her.  And as strange as it sounds to eat avocado by itself, most babies love it.  It is rich and creamy, plus babies aren’t usually born with an aversion to green foods.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, Bitsy Girl ate a few kinds of homemade baby cereals. My favorite to make was oatmeal because it was easily ground, but you could use rice, millet, barley, etc.  We simply ground up uncooked grains, then cooked them according to instructions found in our trusty Super Baby Food book.  

For protein, we would feed our daughter foods like yogurt, which can be fed to babies without any real preparation.; it is already easy for them to eat!  Several books and websites I had read suggested tofu, but the stuff kind of grosses me out, so we would feed Bitsy Girl beans instead.  Beans could be pureed with other foods to add some protein to the mix.  

How did we store our homemade baby food?

Of course when we were going through the trouble of pureeing and mashing all of Bitsy Girl’s food we didn’t want to make single serving sizes.  Instead, we would make several servings of food at once and store them.  For pureed fruits and vegetables, we would pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze them until solid; then the “food cubes” could be stored in a freezer bag or container in the freezer, labeled with the type of food and date on which it was made.  These foods stayed fresh for up to 6 months.  We stored grains and cereals in a container in the refrigerator, and they kept for 3-4 days.  Yogurt, of course, could be scooped out of its regular container, so there were no special storing processes for that food.

What kinds of finger foods can babies eat and when can they eat them?

Beard and I used a lot of Bitsy Girl’s cues for our parenting, and feeding was no exception.  When we noticed her picking things up and putting them in her mouth (about 8 or 9 months old) we cut up mushy bits of food for her to grab.  Bananas were first because the texture is easy for babies to eat and because they were and still are her all time favorite food.  We moved on from bananas to avocados, then veggies cooked until soft.  Medium textured cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar, etc.) came soon after, and with all that Italian and Wisconsinite blood in her, Bitsy Girl was a fan.  

Bitsy Girl began to eat meat around this stage.  Chicken or turkey could be cooked and shredded for her to pick up with her hands.  White fish worked well, too.  We held off on beef for a little while, but by around 10 months, she was enjoying homemade Swedish meatballs.

Once Bitsy Girl could eat foods with her fingers, we began giving her foods that we were eating, as opposed to bland, unseasoned foods.  She would eat the pasta we were having for dinner or some succotash with butter and garlic.  As young as 9 months, our daughter was eating most seasonings that I use in the house.

I should say here that I cook with very little, if any salt, so I felt comfortable feeding these foods to my baby.  If you cook with salt, I would save a small portion for your baby before salting your foods.

Making your own baby food may sound like a scary undertaking, but Beard and I learned that it really isn’t.  It has so many great rewards, and it really only takes a bit time than shopping for baby food, opening a jar, and heating it up.

As a final note I want to leave you with an internet resource that was invaluable to us on our baby food adventure:

http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/

This website has so many great charts depicting what foods baby can and should eat when as well as ideas on how to serve and prepare different foods.  Enjoy!.  Enjoy!

To Meat or Not to Meat

This is the third installment in my nutrition series.  I will be discussing whether meat is nutritionally necessary, not whether or not it is ethical.  That is a completely different debate for which I am unable to provide a clear answer.

There really is a lot of information about how the human body processes food and what enzymes are used to break down what we put in our mouth.  God made the body so well that there are actually specific enzymes for each specific food group:  carbohydrases break down carbohydrates like grains and sugars, lipases break down fats, and proteases break down proteins and amino acids. 

Simply looking at this information, it would seem that the human digestive system was created to eat carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  Easy, right?  Well, not really.  Proteins do come in many different forms, like meats, legumes, nuts, dairy, etc.  So meat is just one possible source of a necessary portion of our diet.

Let’s take a closer look.  Some typical vegetarian sources of proteins include beans, tofu, yogurt, and nuts.  Typically beans have about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, tofu has about 20 grams per 1/2 cup, yogurt has 8-12 grams of protein per 1 cup, and nuts have anywhere from 2.5 – 9 grams of protein per 1/4 cup.  Meats, on the other hand, can be more protein rich per serving.  Beef has roughly 7 grams of protein per ounce of meat, chicken has 8-9 grams of protein per ounce of meat, and fish ranges from 6-8 grams of protein per ounce.  I am making the assumption that when one eats meat, they typically eat between 4 and 8 oz, which means per serving meat can have several times the amount of protein of your typical vegetarian protein sources.

Is this better, though?  You always hear people say “Protein is good for you.  Eat more protein.”  While protein is good for you, it is only good if you eat a proper amount for your body size.  Too much protein and your body cannot use it and either converts it to bodily fat or excretes it.  So the question is:  how much protein does a person need each day?

Adult females need about 46 grams of protein per day, and adult males need about 56 grams of protein per day, according to the CDC.  Children, of course need less protein because they are smaller in size.

I’ll use myself as an example.  How can I consume 46 grams of protein per day without meat?

First, let’s say I have a cup of yogurt and some granola and fruit for breakfast.  I use Greek yogurt, which has more protein, so that’s 12 grams, plus I’ll estimate about 2 grams for my granola because it has almonds and sunflower seeds in it (but not 1/4 cup of each!).

Then for lunch I’ll have a big old salad with lettuce, all sorts of veggies, 1/2 cup beans, 1 oz. of cheese, and a slice of bread and butter on the side.  I dress my salad with olive oil and vinegar.  That gives me 9 grams of protein for the beans and 8 grams of protein for my cheese.

Then for dinner let’s say I make omelets, which I love doing!  I use two eggs in my omelet, plus lots of veggies and maybe a slice of toast.  This gives me about 12 grams of protein.

My grand total for the day is 43 grams of protein.  That does not include any meat.  (I didn’t include any snacks, but anything like nuts, peanut butter, etc would add to your protein amount.)  So it is not terribly difficult to eat enough protein on a meatless diet.

But, there is one little nagging piece of the puzzle left:  vitamin B-12.  It is a water soluble vitamin needed only in small amounts in the human diet, and without it, permanent damage can be done to the brain and nervous system.  B-12 is a vitamin we obtain ultimately from bacteria, and before the sanitation craze of the current generation, you could get B-12 vitamin from vegetables that weren’t scrubbed to death. Nowadays your best (and really only natural sources) of vitamin B-12 are found in animal meats, especially liver. 

Vegetarians can of course eat fortified foods like breakfast cereals to obtain this vitamin, and their brain will function just fine.  But the fact does remain that B-12 is the one nagging vitamin that cannot be wholly obtained from non-animal sources.  It is because of B-12 (and my strange fear of fortified foods) that I choose to continue to eat meat.  I buy organic when I can, and local is even better.  But I feel it is right for my family and nutritious for us to consume meat.

(P.S.:  Plus, I like a good steak every once in a while.)