on making baby food

May 9th, 2013

Evan and his duck á l'orange.

This isn’t a mommy blog. Really, it’s not. And I don’t intend to make it one. But this is the place where I write what I write, and what I write is often a reflection of what I’m doing and thinking about. Having had a baby nearly seven months ago, it’s inevitable that baby-related posts would show up here.

I’ve been experimenting with making my own baby food for the little guy’s consumption, and I thought I’d set down some basic principles about how to do it. It’s really not that daunting, as I’ve discovered, particularly if you let go of a few outdated ideas about what babies “should” eat.

  • Would you eat it? The most important factor to consider. Taste it. Does it need salt? Pepper? A bit of cumin? Don’t be afraid to add a little spice. There’s really no reason for babies to eat bland food. Indeed, societies in which people eat spicy food don’t tend to shy away from feeding their infants the same foods they eat in pulverized form.
  • What food groups do you want to include in a given dish? Carbohydrate? Protein? Fat? A combination? The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care claims that the enzymes required to properly digest grains are not present in infants until around one year of age, so I am putting off grains until my guy is a year old. Babies aged nine months and older may be at risk for anemia, so including liver and egg yolks in their food might be a good idea. I have been combining all carbohydrates with fat or protein so as to avoid any spikes in blood sugar. It is my belief that fats used by traditional cultures are the best ones to eat, so I use coconut oil, butter, ghee, schmaltz, and olive oil in my baby food.
  • Equipment and utensils. You don’t need any special equipment to make your own baby food. I’ve been using a good coffee grinder that I bought at a yard sale and some four ounce mason jars to store the food I make. Make sure to use a separate bowl for feeding, so as to keep the rest of the food in the jar clean of bacteria and baby saliva. I use a small sterling silver espresso spoon or a small bamboo spoon for feeding. The silver is mildly anti-bacterial, and therefore, not simply cosmetic, or, er, a symbol of being spoiled rotten. I use small, sturdy cube-shaped porcelain bowls to feed Evan, and will eventually graduate to a sturdy bamboo bowl when he starts eating solid foods in larger amounts. Silicone bibs are very convenient, as they are easily washed in the sink after meal time.
  • Make a little at a time. You don’t know what your little one will like until you try, and even if he likes it, a jarful can easily last a few meals and keep for a few days. I always taste the food first before feeding Evan, to make sure it’s still fresh.
  • Use the ingredients from your own meal. Watermelon is in season at the moment, such that when I make watermelon feta cheese salad, Evan gets chilled watermelon soup. There’s no need to prepare a special tiny pureed meal if you don’t have the time.
  • Be adventurous. The cheese shop I go to was sampling some soft goat cheese recently. I took a disposable spoon and gave Evan a little taste. He made the most amusing face, an expression of surprise, curiosity, maybe a hint of disgust. I think the tangy, goaty flavor threw him for a loop. That’s OK. The taste was completely new to him, and he was discovering the flavors and texture of the cheese. When he finished his taste, I offered him a small taste of a slightly less pungent soft cheese. Guess what? He was curious about it and opened his mouth immediately when I showed him the spoon. Your infant may surprise you if you offer him something new and unexpected.
  • Allergens and unsafe foods. Initially, I was very cautious about the foods I fed Evan. I began with one food at a time, mixed with a fat or some yogurt. I would switch to a different food after 3 or 4 days to be sure he had no reaction. This is a prudent course of action at first, I think. But there is a whole world of foods to savor, and he didn’t appear to be allergic to anything, so I began combining more than two foods, and adding in spices in moderation. I am, however, avoiding all nuts and any foods that cannot be sufficiently pulverized so as not to be a choking hazard. I am also going on the recommendation to avoid honey (even though traditional cultures feed it to babies, or so says my local Yemeni apiarist) and raw milk. I do suggest doing your own research in this area and drawing your own conclusions. The research on food allergies and first foods is still very open-ended.
  • Keep at it. Your baby may not like the first bite or two of something new, but she may take to it with gusto a few tentative bites in. If she doesn’t like something you’ve made, take it in stride. She is developing her palate, and is becoming discerning, which is fun to observe.
  • Offer a choice. Sometimes a baby just wants the comfort of his bottle, rather than a strange new mashed food on a spoon. My friend Quan taught me a trick: when your baby seems a bit fussy about his solid food, offer him a choice. Put his bottle on one side and his bowl of solid food on the other. Then ask him which he’d prefer. He will examine each option and grab at the one he wants. It’s perfectly OK to switch to his bottle if he wants it.
  • The joy of eating. It is indescribably satisfying to watch your infant discover the joy of eating. Savor and encourage it. I like Evan to tell me when he wants more and when he is done. This allows him to discover his palate, his sense of hunger, and satiety. When he wants more, he bangs on the tray of his high chair. When he is done, he purses his lips and turns his head away. He can always eat more later, or the next day, if he wants. And I can finish his food if he can’t.
  • Have fun. I like to eat my meal along with Evan if I can, so that he learns to have routine meal times, and enjoy the conviviality of shared meals. I love seeing him smile in delight when he eats.

P.S. I find it necessary to mention that the above post is simply a reflection of my experience, research, trial and error. I am not a health professional of any sort, and wouldn’t dream of dispensing advice in such a capacity. Infants, like adults, are individuals, and what works for one may not work for another. YMMV.

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