Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Time for Fresh

Fresh produce is great in the spring, summer, and fall (some produce is fresher and better tasting in each season). If you've ever had a tomato plant or fresh herbs growing in your backyard, you know what fresh tastes like. Fresh produce is also FANTASTIC for your baby, because you know it's fresh and hasn't been sitting around. The longer produce sits around in a store, the more vitamins and minerals that are lost due to aging.

Maybe I've been living in the dark ages, because I just learned about the most awesome program: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Wow! What an awesome way to help out your local farmers! I love the thought of supporting local businesses and do when I can, but am always learning new way to provide support. Click here to search for a CSA in your area and to learn more.

I've heard of neighborhood community gardens, as my town has many. But I hadn't heard of the CSA Program. The CSA Program consists of "shareholders" who sign up to receive weekly fresh produce, and sometimes other extras, such as eggs. You receive a variety of produce, depending on the season. If you receive more produce than your older family members can consume, you can make it into baby food and freeze for later! Some of these programs deliver to your door or you go to a local pickup location. You provide, in return, payment to help the farm with operation costs. Some towns have a lot of programs, and some only have a few. Most of them begin in May or June. Go here for a great description from someone who has been using the program (and check out their awesome blog, Once a Month Mom!).

Now, I have contacted the ones in our area, and unfortunately, they are full already. So what's the other option (besides planting a garden, which is another wonderful idea if you have space!)?

Farmer's Markets are wonderful places to pick up fresh produce, meat, fish, eggs, and others. Again, this is a great way to support local businesses or farms, and a great way to eat healthier and try food that perhaps you wouldn't pick up at the store. Click here to search for farmer's markets in your area. Farmer's Markets are wonderful places to get some great things!
Have fun with these great programs!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Awesome Avocado

Avocado is a great first baby food. It is smooth in consistency and isn't too strong in taste. It doesn't need to be cooked and is really easy to mash. It doesn't cause constipation as other "first" foods can. Plus, they are pretty easy to find at the grocery store year-round.

Best of all, avocado is highly nutritious. Avocado contains mainly monounsaturated fat, which is important for your child's brain development. Fats aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and are necessary for nerve development. Unsaturated fat is beneficial to heart health as well. Children under age 2 should never be on a fat restricted diet. Consuming mainly unsaturated fats (found in most oils, some fish, and nuts) is a more healthy option than saturated fats (found in meat and animal products). Choosing avocados are a better option for mom and dad's health, as well. Avocados are an excellant source of potassium and contain more than bananas. Potassium is important for heart function and bone formation and maintenance. They are a good source of Vitamin K, essential for normal clotting of the blood, and Vitamin B6, necessary for normal red blood cell formation. Avocados are high in fiber, folate, and many other things, as well. They are a GREAT source of nutrition!

In some places, avocados are called alligator pears because of the rough skin, which I think is a fun name for a toddler. Sometimes calling a food by a fun name can have an effect on whether or not the child will eat it.

Choose avocados that are slightly softer when given gentle pressure. To cut an avocado, cut lengthwise all the way around the pit, turning the avocado as you go. Gently pull the avocado apart. Remove the pit and SAVE IT if you are going to put any of the cut avocado in the fridge. Place the avocado halves fruit side up on a cutting board, and starting on one side of a half, gently run a knife all the way through, down to the skin, but be careful not to pierce the skin. Be sure to keep the half on the cutting board to avoid cuts! Next, run the knife through the other way, creating a checkerboard effect (see the above picture). Pick up the half skin side down in your palm, and loosen the pieces from the skin by squeezing the half gently (you're not juicing a lemon here). Using a spoon, slide it in between the fruit and the skin and dish out the pieces. You're done! Click here for a great visual of this: Scroll down to 3A.

If you are feeding a young baby, mash the avocado pieces with a spoon or add to a food processor, food mill, or blender. Add a bit of water, formula, or breastmilk if the puree is too thick for your baby. Dish into freezer cube trays or a bowl. In my experience, 2 large avocados makes approximately 12 ounces. Pureed avocado freezes very well. If you are feeding an older baby (my 9-month old eats pieces, and only has 2 teeth), cut any larger pieces into baby-sized cubes. If you are storing the avocado in the fridge, add the pit into whatever container you use, and either cover in plastic wrap or put a lid on the container. The added pit will help the avocado to remain bright green, instead of turning brown, due to enzymatic browning. Lemon juice should not be used, as citrus can be highly allergenic for young babies; delay introducing these.

Avocados can be slightly pricy; double-check the prices of large avocados, small avocados, and organic avocados to be sure you are getting the lowest possible price in terms of value. For instance, if the larger avocados are pricier than the smaller, you may be able to buy 3 smaller ones instead of 2 larger ones for a cheaper price and still get about the same amount. We've even seen organic avocados cheaper than non-organic.

Have fun making this nutritious food for your baby!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Beaba Babycook Review

Click here for a great review about the Beaba Babycook (and a giveaway!!), which I mentioned in this blog post. Click here for The Bloom Blog - great posts and information!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beginning Solids

Just a few things about beginning solids:

1. Don't start until your baby is ready.

  • Baby's intestines are immature when very young, causing something sometimes referred to as "leaky gut." The intestines are unable to stop potentially harmful substances from getting through into the baby's system. Between about four and seven months, the intestinal lining begins to mature.
  • Breast milk is high in Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which coats the stomach of the baby and keeps unwanted substances from passing through. In the very early months, baby is not able to produce much IgA. When the intestines mature, they secrete IgA to coat the lining.
  • Food allergies can occur when food molecules are able to enter the baby's system through the "leaky gut" and get into the baby's blood. The immune system may then produce antibodies to that particular food, causing a food allergy (essentially, your body attacks the food as if it were an illness). By about six to seven months, the intestinal lining is more mature and able to filter offending allergens. This is why waiting until baby is a bit older is a good idea, especially if there is any family history of a particular food allergy.
  • Many parents prefer to wait until baby starts showing interest in food, such as watching you eat, grabbing at food on your plate, or mimicking your eating behaviors.

2. Start with only one food at a time.

  • This is done so you can watch for any adverse reactions. If you notice any, then you automatically know which food caused the reaction. Some reactions to watch for include red rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. Talk with your doctor about other reactions to watch for.

3. Wait four to seven days between offering new foods.

  • This will give you time to watch for adverse reactions. Also, as an added bonus, this gives your baby time to get used to a food. Some people estimate that your child has to be exposed to a new food, particularly vegetables, 15 - 25 times before he/she will taste it and really enjoy it. So the four to seven days between foods is good!

4. Consider starting with something other than the usual recommended first foods.

  • Bananas and rice cereal are oftentimes constipating for baby. This makes baby very cranky and sore! You can certainly try them, of course, but if your baby becomes constipated and cranky, consider switching to something else for awhile. Avocado is a great consistency and a great first food. You could also try sweet potato. Mix the new food with a little bit of breast milk or formula so baby finds it's taste somewhat familiar and the consistency is watery enough for a young baby.

5. Milk first, please!

  • Baby still needs breast milk or formula first. It still provides the best nourishment and nutrition that baby needs until baby is about one year old. If you are breastfeeding, giving baby milk first is essential to keeping up your milk supply. Offer baby a bit of food after formula or breast milk.

Here is a great article about beginning solids.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby Food-Making Equipment

Now that you're convinced about making your own baby food, where do you start?

It's actually really easy and not unlike a usual cooking routine. First of all, you will need some equipment, most of which you probably already have. Here is a list, in no particular order:

1. Peeler/Corer
  • It is usually a good idea to peel your fruits and vegetables for babies who are just beginning to eat solids. This will ensure that the consistency is smooth enough for your young baby to eat. Once your baby starts eating thicker purees, you can try adding the peels. It is true that the peels of fruits and vegetables contain fiber and nutrients. A corer is also great to have for coring various fruits.

2. Knives

  • You will be chopping most of your fruits and vegetables to make it easier to puree them.
3. Steamer
  • One of the best ways to prepare food is by steaming. A stand-alone steamer (I use a rice cooker/steamer combo) or a steamer pot used on the stove are great tools. However, there are other ways of cooking that can be used if you don't have a steamer. A steamer/rice cooker combo is also really handy to use when cooking rice to make rice cereal because most are automatic and will shut off on their own so you can do other things during the cooking process and don't have to rush back to the pot. Or try this all-in-one baby food maker: Beaba Babycook!
4. Baggies/Reusable Containers
  • Baggies are great to use in the freezer. We use gallon-size and quart-sized bags. Make sure to buy baggies specifically made for the freezer to prevent freezer burn (although, my food is never in the freezer long enough to get this!). You can also use small, glass jars to store food in (think commercial baby food-sized jars), or you can use plastic containers to store the "food cubes." Whichever you choose, make sure to label your containers/baggies with the date the food was made and the contents.
5. Ice Cube/Baby Food Trays
  • You can purchase specially-made ice cube trays that come with lids. These are nice because the lid (usually) prevents ice crystals from forming on the top of the food and also keeps your food from tasting like whatever else is in your freezer (meat is notorious for this!). Fresh Baby makes a great tray that are approximately one-ounce cubes; these can be ordered from the internet and sometimes found in special baby stores. Another option for a larger serving size is KidCo's Babysteps Freezer Storage Tray, in two-ounce size cubes, available at Toys "R" Us/Babies "R" Us (thanks to my sister-in-law for finding it for me!). Both of these particular tray brands are BPA/Phthalate Free and made from FDA-approved food-safe plastic (see here, last paragraph, about this concern). I have not seen these items at the large discount stores.
  • If you do choose to use regular ice-cube trays, make sure NOT to use tin foil to cover them to ensure that no bits of foil get into the food (since it tears so easily). Use plastic wrap, instead (Press and Seal works great!).

6. Food Processor/Blender/Food Mill

  • For small jobs, you could just use a fork to mash up the food, and add a little water or breast milk/formula to achieve the desired consistency, if needed. But for larger jobs, such as a pound of carrots, a food processor or blender saves a lot of time. These work great for pureeing. Another option is to get a food mill. These come in both hand-cranked (as the link shows) and electronic models. I do not own one but have heard very good things about them, especially for traveling and single-serve uses (the model above has a 4-ounce serving cup). A food mill would be handy to crank out baby food alongside your meal so baby can eat with you.
  • All-in-one baby food makers exist, such as the aforementioned Beaba Babycook, which looks really neat and can also be used to warm food (although, if you are making a lot of food, this might take more time since it may be smaller than your steamer and food processor!).

7. Freezer

  • A stand-alone deep freeze works best, but you can also use a refrigerator-freezer combo. Food kept in a deep freeze will afford you more room in your normal freezer, and at times food will keep longer in a deep freeze. You will have more storage room in a stand-alone freezer also, and can make larger batches of food. But any freezer will do!

That's about it! Of course, you may need things like bowls, flatware, spatulas, oven-safe bake ware for roasting, and pots and pans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Better Baby Food

Why make your own baby food? Here are a few reasons:

1. It's the best nutrition for the best start.

  • Why start babies out eating canned food that has been sitting on a shelf? As adults, we strive to eat well and we attempt to get our children to eat well also. It just makes sense to feed the smallest members of our family healthy food, too. It helps build healthier eating habits early in life, which can then be carried into childhood and adulthood.

2. It's more appealing.

  • Have you ever smelled the baby food in the jars? Even just looking at it makes me cringe. Who knows how long that stuff has been on the shelves? Even babies eat first with their eyes! Your own baby food will smell exactly how it should and it will taste much better! Have you ever compared the food in the jars? Some of the SAME food (in different jars, but the same brand) is even different colors! It just makes sense that if you want your baby to like fruits and vegetables, you should give them what tastes better.

3. It's a fun activity to do with your baby!

  • Sling your baby up and let them help. They love the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables, and it teaches them about food. Many experts agree that a great way to get kids to eat food is to let them help with the growing and/or cooking process. Why not try this early on? Of course, take safety precautions when using equipment and knives. But babies can still help "pick" things out at the store or pick homegrown food, unpack the food when you get home, watch you mash the food (for example, if you use a fork), and "help" you spoon it into freezer trays. Babies learn a lot when able to interact with their environment!

4. You know exactly what is in your food and how it's prepared.

  • Your baby food is 100% fruits, vegetables, meats, or grains, with the addition sometimes of a small amount of water or milk. You don't have to worry about fillers that may be added in other baby food, and you can feel better about the safety of your food (follow all safety precautions, of course!).
  • Some baby foods contain extra ingredients - oftentimes, called "fillers." A very popular baby food website says right on the website that their purees do not contain added starches, sugars, or salt - however, while looking at one of their meat selections, "corn starch" is right on the ingredient list! Even if it is used as a thickening agent, it is still added.
  • How fruits and vegetables are prepared can affect the amount of nutrients found in them. Steaming, for example, is a much better way of preparing food. Generally, the less time spent cooking the item, the higher the nutrient content. The same goes for the amount of water added - the less cooking water used, the less chance nutrients will leach out in the cooking water. The more processing that is done, the more nutrients that are lost. I'm not sure I've ever seen on any baby food websites exactly HOW the food was prepared - but, I think it is safe to assume that your baby food would contain a higher amount of nutrients.

5. It costs less!

  • Making your own baby food is much cheaper per ounce. When I can, I will get into the cost factor. However, it is hard to compare the direct cost, because sometimes commercial baby foods have added starches, water, or other ingredients. Since homemade food is mostly 100% fruits, vegetables, or whatever you use, it's not a direct comparison since added ingredients are oftentimes cheaper and enable compaies to stretch their dollars. But even with the addition of ingredients to make their product cost less, it is still cheaper to make your own.
  • Here is an example: One package of sweet potatoes I looked at cost $0.99 for 5 ounces; about $0.20 per ounce. The sweet potatoes that I used ($0.99 per pound) cost about $0.06 per ounce. Of course, this will change depending on where food is bought, whether or not you use organic produce, if items are on sale, etc. Please keep in mind that this is not a direct comparison because water is added to many sweet potatoes bought at a store and I am using the cost of the sweet potato I used only. This is just an approximation.

I'm sure there are many more reasons why - this is by no means a complete list!

Next post: Equipment!