The Starting Point
When I decided to make Mattelyn’s baby food, it was a no-brainer – but it was also like staring at a blank page – I had no idea where to begin. There are tons books and countless Websites and millions of blogs like mine and then there’s all of your friend’s & family’s advice. All of the information is overwhelming and let’s face it – there isn’t a good STARTING POINT. That’s what I was missing – the launching pad if you will. That’s my hope for this post for you.
Each book I found and read was either a cookbook or a “when to begin” – but I was having a difficult time with WHERE to begin, with WHAT equipment and HOW? There are a couple of books that I think were really great and I think you should take a look at any of them. Specifically, the first book, Top 100 Baby Purees by Annabel Karmel, I would read all the way through – there are great pockets of information throughout the book and it is written based on the phases of weaning complete with recipes. I say read through once because your mind will pick up and remember certain pieces of information that you will find helpful AT THAT MOMENT OF TIME. Every baby progresses at their own rate and you can continue to go back to the book as she reaches a new milestone. It’s an easy quick read. That’s what I do! The other two books are, Great Expectations: Best Foods for your Baby & Toddler by Jeannette Bessinger and Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.
This is a personal journey… and I want to share mine with her (AND with you).
I want eating to be fun and interesting for Mattelyn. Her relationship with food is an everlasting one that should be healthy from day one. I want her to have an appreciation for the nourishment we put into our bodies and an understanding of where it comes from – not just from a shelf in a jar at the grocery store. Food is a necessary part of our life and a healthy relationship (hopefully!) we will have forever. I want her diet and tastebuds to be given an ample head start and now is the time. I was afforded that luxury as a child because my mom was a licensed home child care provider and she was required by law to serve healthy, well-balanced meals. My mom also grew up on a farm and is an amazing cook. Our childhood was influenced heavily by food and because of this early relationship with food, I have a genuine love of it – cooking it, tasting new foods, preparing dishes from different cultures, gardening to grow my own veggies, photographing food, serving food to friends and family – my love for food goes deep. It ends up the center of almost every activity we do in life. It is certainly the center of celebrations and holidays. I was given the gift of experiencing food and good home cooking from a very young age. My first memories include those of my grandpa’s chicken farm with his 1,000’s of chickens and tons of eggs, his wild strawberries, his personal garden of potatoes, the vast fields of corn and acres of beans, cows and his grape vineyard in the back yard.
I was fully aware of where my food was coming from and how yummy fresh eggs from the chicken and cream from the cow were! I couldn’t wait to go “mushroom hunting” in the fall and to go for walks to pick wild strawberries on his land. So that is where my love of food comes from and I would love to pass it on to Mattelyn. She comes from a long bloodline of good home cooks and gardeners.
When the pediatrician commented at her four month check up that she was teething and would probably cut teeth early (she did – at 5 months old she got both of her bottom front teeth) I got excited about the prospect of making her food. My husband looked incredibly puzzled and said, “You want to MAKE her food??” The best way I could exemplify the reason WHY I wanted to was easy – look at a jar or pouch of store bought baby food and recognize that it has a shelf life of two years – and it’s vegetables and fruit! Even better, make a fresh puree of butternut squash, carrots and apples and taste it. Now, taste a store bought puree of the EXACT same thing. GROSS. The flavor is unmistakable – it’s preservatives. Which she will get plenty of soon enough in her young life. Fresh is GOOD for her, tastes good and encourages non-picky eaters. All of the pre-packaged baby foods taste alike with small variances – and baby will like the store bought faster because they almost all taste “sweet.”
Even before she could eat, I was always showing her different fruits and vegetables.
We make weekly trips to the organic section of Whole Foods and she watches mommy pick out butternut squash, parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, pears, prunes, bananas, mangoes, avocados, sweet peas and green beans. When I take them home, I pull each one out and let her feel it and she watches me wash them. I want Mattelyn to hold her food even at the young age of 4 and 5 months when it appears they have no idea what is going on. (But so much is going on!) And I am acutely aware that someday it is all just going to “click” for her. I strap her into the Baby Bjorn and she watches as I wash, peel and cube the veggies. She watches the apples and pears cook on the stove and the veggies steam. She smells the beautiful aroma of the root vegetables steaming together and the whole kitchen suddenly smells like Thanksgiving! She watches as I blend them in the blender and she touches the side of the blender. She witnesses the straining process. She is literally a part of the whole baby food making experience. She watches as I put it into the ice cube trays and is keenly aware of the freezer as I place her food to freeze.
When it is time for her to eat after her naps, I sign to her the baby sign for “eat” and she gets excited. I pick her up and we get her bib. She sees me getting her food pouch out of the freezer and her little legs go so fast kick, kick, kick! She makes audible sounds of excitement and begins licking her lips at 5 1/2 months old.
There is nothing more satisfying than making your baby’s food and watching them get excited – being a baby, LIFE is their first time for everything! I want her to be afforded every luxury in life I can give her and the gift of not being a picky eater and encouraging the behavior of tasting and trying new healthy flavors at this young age will only further encourage a barrage of healthy decision making. Knowing exactly what you’re putting into your baby’s tiny body is a wonderful fulfilling feeling. Not to mention, listening and watching your infant eat and hearing their bodies get nourished is the best. I can’t describe it well enough, but I can tell you, it will make you feel like a very proud mama! You are also giving them an early advantage to not becoming picky eaters – yes, at this young an age! Plus, before you know it, this stage is over and the whole baby food making is a thing of the past. They aren’t in this stage for long so making the food for a couple of months is TOTALLY WORTH IT.
I decided to go organic or locally grown to be sure the food didn’t contain GMO’s. Briefly, this is food grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Unfortunately, you will read a ton about GMO’s in all baby formulas. That is why we went with Earth’s Best Organic Baby Formula for sensitive tummies. Not to push this idea or to worry you – but so that you are aware – here is a brief excerpt I read on Baby Center that summed it up perfectly for me. There is a truckload of information out there that you can read further about.
What does it mean when food has been “genetically modified”?
Genetically modified (GM), or genetically engineered (GE), foods are made from plants that have had traits in their DNA changed. Scientists take genes — the pieces of DNA that differentiate living things — from one plant or animal and insert them into another organism. These plants are also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The purpose of genetically modifying plants is to make them better in some way. So a corn plant, for example, might have a gene added that makes it more nutritious, more resistant to herbicides, insects, or diseases, or more tolerant of drought or cold.
The terms “organic” or “organically grown” indicate that the food has been produced without synthetic pesticides and also without synthetic fertilizers and certain other chemicals that are common in conventional, “industrialized” agriculture. Food labeled “certified organic” has been independently verified to be produced to organic standards. (http://www.babycenter.com/0_genetically-modified-foods-what-you-need-to-know_12230.bc Article reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board).
Beginning Weaning – Phase One – (5 1/2 – 6 months) – Cereal
(*Also note, upon beginning solid foods, you should still be breast feeding or bottle feeding baby at least 18 ounces a day. So I always breast feed baby first, then give them their solid foods. Especially in the beginning, solid food is a supplement to their daily eating regimen. It’s really interesting because it will change organically or naturally and you and baby will fall into that rhythm as time goes on).
Doctors recommend you begin with cereal – rice cereal is the easiest to digest and is naturally gluten free. They recommend a month (or so) of only rice cereal. When I was told this, immediately! I had so questions! Here’s a little about Cereal:
- The directions for first time cereal is on the side of all of the cereal boxes. It makes PLENTY.
- You have to use formula or breast milk to make the cereal – I began using formula (the Organic formula mentioned above) – because Mattelyn was only breastfed and hadn’t had formula yet – I thought this would be a good introduction. Turns out it was a good idea!
- To make the formula to use with the cereal, you follow the directions for making a two ounce bottle – one level scoop of formula into two ounces of purified water. Shake bottle to mix and place in bottle warmer for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Remove and shake again.
- To make the cereal you add a tablespoon of the cereal to a bowl and stir in 3 teaspoons (or close to one ounce) of the formula you just made. That’s it!
- Taste EVERYTHING you are giving baby. Note that this is their first time trying to eat – tasting new tastes – their tongue has to learn to push things to the back of their mouths. When they are making all of the “yuck” faces each time you introduce something to them, know that these are genuine reactions to everything – new tastes, textures, a new way of eating. Don’t chalk it up to them not liking it! And make sure that your facial expressions are reflective of happy – make yummy noises and don’t say “We agree, it IS yucky,” like my husband did!
- On a more personal note, the rice cereal for whatever reason gave Mattelyn really bad gas. Her tummy was bloated and she was miserable. The cereal was the only thing that was different and I quickly switched to the Oatmeal cereal made by the same Earth’s Best Company. It actually had a little more flavor and she was fine with it.
- Give them cereal every day, three times a day for about two weeks to a month or until you feel comfortable adding a vegetable to their diet. Then, replace the cereal at lunch and dinner with 2 ounces of the veggie puree.
- One more note on the importance of cereal in the beginning – you will hear many people say you can skip cereal all together and never give your baby anything “from the box.” I understood this completely but also decided it was just as important for her to have an introduction to formula. And, both the cereal and the formula are enriched with iron which is super important at 6 months of age. Babies are born with an iron store that lasts the first 6 months, and a baby’s iron requirements are particularly high between the ages of 6 months and two years. This is the most critical time for brain growth and a lack of iron in the diet can lead to impaired mental development! (Top 100 Baby Purees, p. 33, by Annabel Karmel.)
Stage Two Weaning or Phase Two – (6 – 7 months)
- Introducing her to veggies first is KEY because this is when they can learn to be picky – as they tend to want the sweet stuff like fruit over the veggies BEFORE they have a chance to like the flavor of the vegetable. And if they aren’t introduced first to the veggies, they won’t obtain the “taste” for it and you could lose that small window of opportunity to introduce them to really good, healthy foods packed with the vitamins and nutrients their growing bodies so desperately need especially in the beginning.
- Introduce a veggie every three days after giving her a new veggie three times a day for two to three days along with the morning cereal. It can take that many times for baby to actually “like” the veggie.
- The best veg to begin with are root vegetables because they are naturally sweet, puree really smooth and are least likely to produce food allergies. Carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rhutabaga, pumpkin & butternut squash Mattelyn loved. Also pears and apples (full of fiber to assist in the early poops which also change when they begin solids!) Bananas and mangos, papaya and avocado are all natural baby foods because all you have to do is mash and serve. She loves all of the above!
- Steam all of your vegetables! Steaming preserves all of the fresh taste and vitamins. Vitamins B and C are water soluble and lost during boiling. (60% of nutrients are lost to boiling while only 7% are lost when steaming).
- I use a blender (simple blender) and a hand held immersion blender by Cuisineart ($29) with the measuring cup that came with it – such an easy way to quickly blend. It leaves the food a tad more lumpy however than the smoothness you will get using a full-size blender. Some people choose to use a food processor or a smaller food processor – which is fine too, it just is more time consuming in my opinion with more parts to clean!
- Strain your veggies and fruit! Purchase a large strainer – it is going to get used! Not all cookbooks tell you to strain. But if you taste the “strings” in a puree of butternut squash or the way apples and pears puree with “grit,” you will notice this is a must. It will also gag a new eater.
- After steaming, pureeing and straining, prepare your purees for ice cube trays – yes, they are your best bet for the beginning. (You will start mixing flavors after you have introduced each food – at least three times a day for 3-5 days PER FOOD. They will begin to get bored with the single foods and you will notice on your own when it’s time to begin mixing purees to make them more interesting – it doesn’t take long after introducing them to each veggie.
- Use cheap ice cube trays and fill with the purees. They are each about ¾ – 1 ounce in size. They will eat about 2 ounces per serving in the beginning (for about the first month) or two of the cubed purees at room temperature. You will notice their desire to eat more as time goes on.
- Once the trays are frozen, I pop out the purees and place the cubes of puree in Ziploc bags to access easily throughout the day.
- After the first month of giving them cereal – everyday – 3 times a day – morning, noon and dinner – you can add strained apples or fruit puree to make it more appetizing. I didn’t add any fruit until she had been introduced to her veggies for a few weeks though.
- I shop on Sunday mornings with her and have Matt watch her for the food prep on Sunday afternoon during Bear’s games. She can participate when you want – but to really get a week’s worth done, it’s great to have a good 2 hours.
Stage Three Weaning or Phase Three – (7 – 9 months)
- After a couple months (around month 7.5) or so, you can begin serving Greek yogurt (double protein and half the sugar) mixed with fruit purees. In the beginning they say no dairy but that is cow’s milk which is difficult for them to digest. Yogurt is different and contains protein they need and important digestive enzymes – but most importantly, protein. (*Mattelyn was lactose intolerant for her first 5 months of breast feeding. She outgrew it but I was already in the habit of consuming soy and almond milk myself). So I continue with almond and soy milk when a recipe calls for milk in anything). Foods like eggs, cheese, yogurt and avocado are IDEAL nutrient-dense foods for the second and third stage of weaning – around age 8-9 months. Try scrambled eggs with a bit of cheese and cottage cheese. Mattelyn gobbled them up! At that stage they want something more than their purees. And she will let you know she’s ready for a change and wants finger foods.
- At first, finger foods can be given along with the purees you know she likes.
- Good finger foods are peeled apples, pears, bananas, seedless grapes, dried fruit – raisins, apricots, steamed or raw veggies – sticks of carrot or cucumber, broccoli florets, cubes of cheese, fingers of toast, mini sandwiches, rice cakes.
- Everyday, she should now be receiving 2 – 3 servings of starchy foods like potatoes, rice, lentils, quinoa and pasta or bread.
- Fruits and veggies at least twice a day now – rather than her only foods (like it’s been with the purees).
- At least one serving of protein every day, including meat – can be eggs which are very easy to prepare if she will eat them.
- On a personal note, Mattelyn let me know at 8 months that she did’t want to eat her purees anymore and was ready for more! She just quit eating and was fussy and making a “gagging” face each time it was time to eat. There are a couple of things that happen at 8 months – they have become more mobile than ever and have a new found freedom and a high chair becomes annoying because it constrains, they are teething which makes everything miserable and they are ready to move to more interesting food and finger foods end up being the answer. It can be very, VERY frustrating! Just as you got your groove going with making the purees, you have to change EVERYTHING. And now, you are thinking of her daily meals AND your own not to mention dinner with the whole family at night. It is always good for me to remember that the goal is to have her eating what we eat – and she is well on her way!
- I am noticing at 8 months, her tasting and trying new and different things at such a young age has led to a healthy trying of new things. There’s nothing she won’t try. She is one of the least picky babies so far and I am proud of that because it’s a lot of work. And it starts when they’re young.
My next post will be about the baby food puree storage system we purchased and my opinion about whether to spend the money on it or not!
I hope this was helpful. I also would loved to hear from each of you as you embark on your journey!
XO ~ Stephanie