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!

A Few Green Updates on a Usual Day Off

Somehow in central Virginia we have gone from very warm, humid summer weather back to  rainy, breezy spring weather.  I am not complaining, of course.  I am grateful for a short break before the real heat and soul-melting sun begins.

The recent bout of rain and cooler weather has meant wonderful things for our little garden.  After my a weeding extravaganza early last week, all of our food producing plants have had plenty of room to grow, and grow they did.

It looks like our strawberry patch will have another large harvest very soon.  It was covered in the familiar white blossoms, most of which have become green strawberries.  They’ll be ripe for picking in a few short days.

Our lettuce is actually having a second go around for this year’s early season.  Last year we had lettuce until about Memorial Day, then not again until late September.  It really doesn’t do well under the direct sun of summer.  Because of our cooler weather, though, some of the lettuce plants that had gone to seed have actually reproduced!  New lettuce plants have sprung up in the patch, giving me fresh green leaf lettuce again.

The zucchini and squash have been doing beautiful things, as well.  I see those tell-tale orange-yellow flowers already, and my mouth is salivating at the prospect of making my Nonna’s Patoli, an Italian zucchini fritter that I made in large quantities last summer due to our generous zucchini harvest.

Our final surprise this week was string beans.  We officially harvested our first three string beans this morning.  The plants themselves are doing well, and have been climbing the trellis Beard fashioned for them out of some pieces of old deck we had in our yard.

I’m glad to say that all of our garden successes (and failures) so far have come with them help of three very important things:  water, sunshine, and physical labor.  We do not use any chemicals to control our weeds, nor do we use a specific plant food to make them grow faster or bigger.

For weeding we just pluck weeds out as we see the little suckers stick out of the ground.  It’s hard work, and probably why organic produce is so darn expensive, but it’s worth it.  I know there isn’t anything unsafe hiding in our food.

We have started a compost pile in one of our raised beds, and I hope we’ll be able to use some of that nutrient rich soil next spring.  For now, though, we are faithfully adding organics and rotating it manually with a shovel.

Do any of you keep a garden?  What are you finding in your garden this week?

 

Fitting it All In

This is my final installment in my nutritional series.  Please check out the previous ones if you like this post.

 

For the past week I’ve been blogging about good nutrition to fuel your body.  I’ve touched on fiber, the low-fat craze, the meat/vegetarian question, and nutrition especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.  Today I’d like to give some pointers on how to easily fit good nutrition into any lifestyle and on any budget.

 

1.  Have fruit and veggies convenient and available.  Our family has always kept most fruits on the counter because they do not require refrigeration.  Our regulars like bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes (unpeeled), and clementines are fine sitting on the counter staring us in the face.  When fruit is right there in your face, you are more likely to grab it when you are hungry.  The same goes for vegetables; have them and make them convenient.  If you don’t normally cook with vegetables, buy something fairly easy to use, like those tubs of washed baby spinach.  It’s easy to make a salad or sautee that up for a nutritious treat.  Baby carrots are also my best friends.  We are members of Sam’s, so we can buy 5 lb bags of baby carrots, and yes, we can eat them all before they go bad.  They are delicious!  For other vegetables (like peppers, broccoli, avocado, tomatoes) think about how you usually use them or may want to use them, and cut them or slice them when you have a few minutes.  Having a container of pre-chopped bell peppers means I am much more likely to throw them into a sauce than if I had to chop them after having already chopped the onions and garlic.

 

2.  Buy real food.  And you will know what real food is when you see it.  It will require washing, maybe soaking, and usually some cooking, but it is worth it.  I promise that learning to make your own rice pilaf is so much tastier and healthier than the box of Rice-a-roni you’ve been serving.  The same goes with meat.  Buy pre-cooked, pre-seasoned meats means you don’t really know all that is put in your food.  Sure you could read the label, but who really knows what dextrose gum and xanthanol are anyway??

 

3. Buy whole chickens.  This is really to help in the budget area, but it is also so simple that no matter what our food budget has been I’ve always like to roast a whole chicken.  A whole organic chicken at our grocery store usually costs about $8.  I can either roast the chicken whole or cut it into pieces and cook it that way.  When budgets were very tight for us, Beard and I would survive on one chicken per week for the two of us.  We could have pieces of roast chicken one night, some shredded chicken in quesadillas or paninis another night, maybe a stir fry another night, and make some chicken soup with the bones.  The best part, the chicken is real and you know what’s in it.  And whatever you add to it is your own choice.

 

4. Stay away from reduced fat anything.  I learned this lesson all too well with peanut butter.  When a company advertises some food as low fat, typically all they have done is removed some of the fat and replaced it with sugar (or worse, processed syrups) for flavor.  Usually the reduced fat versions have nearly as many or just as many calories as the full fat version, but they simply won’t keep you full as long because it will spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry an hour later.  Do yourself a favor and go ahead and buy the full fat version of whatever you’re purchasing.  Your waistline and your taste buds will not be disappointed.

 

5.  Use whole grains.  This is almost a no brainer.  Experts have been saying to eat whole grains for more than a decade now.  The truth is whole grains have more nutritional punch than any of the white, bleached ,tasteless carbohydrate products you can buy.  when you’re bringing home a loaf of bread, make it whole grain (not whole wheat, that’s a misnomer), and cook with whole grain pasta.  Sometimes it may cost a little bit more, but your heart and your colon will thank you (they told me so, I promise don’t ask why bodily organs speak to me, but they do).

 

I hope this series was helpful to my readers.  Tomorrow we’ll be going back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Thanks for reading!