As a child, I’m sure I was no easy ride for my mother when it came to feeding me. I heard the stories about how they tried all kinds of milk looking for one I was willing to drink. Apparently I didn’t like goat’s milk, cow’s milk or any other kind of milk. Not sure what Mom ended up doing about that. Maybe I was just a naturally smart kid. I am not lactose intolerant, though I don’t drink milk or milk products and haven’t for over thirty-five years. I figured I was weaned a long time ago and didn’t need it anymore.
I remember one or two evenings spent sitting at the dinner table by myself staring at some ice-cold food that had been served to me hours ago. I was destined to sit there until said food was consumed. That happened once with spinach. It was my own fault though, because I was crazy for the cartoon character, “Popeye,” and told my mother I wanted to be strong like him. So she fed me canned spinach which had been simmered for, oh, maybe a half hour, and expected me to eat it.
Now I love all kinds of vegetables and usually prepare more than one vegetable side dish when I cook a meal. I love so many vegetables and know so many ways to prepare them, I bet I could cook the rest of my life and not have the exact same meal twice!
The exception is beets. I can’t stand beets. I don’t even want to get close to a beet because I also can’t stand the smell of them. Funny, because I love colorful food and red happens to be my favorite color! I don’t know what it is about beets, but they are 100% exiled from my menu. Just today, I saw a nice picture of a beet, blood orange and fennel salad on http://dailyamusebouche.com/2012/03/06/fennel-beet-and-blood-orange-salad/. So beautiful and yet, for me . . . ugh. But maybe you love beets and so I’m generously showing you where to find a recipe (’cause you ain’t gettin’ it from me, no sir!).
I raised three children and I was thrilled about feeding them their first foods and cooking for them. (Stopping here to chuckle over the picture of Popeye above with his nephews Peepeye, Poopeye and Pupeye. These easily could have been nicknames for my three boys at one time or another! I’ll leave it to them to work out who’s who. The fourth one, Pipeye, could be any one of their little friends who usually stuck around at mealtime.)
I made all their food myself right from the beginning. Today, talking to young mothers, the idea of making all their own baby food seems overwhelmingly complicated and I don’t know too many who are willing to do it. But I found it was very, very convenient and very, very worthwhile.
It was convenient because when I cooked for the adults, I could easily set aside a portion to prepare for the babies. I did this because the children’s food would be simpler than ours and have much less salt than ours. I cooked their food a little softer than ours so I could grind it up and/or they could manage to chew it with their little teeth.
Let me first say, that I am a proponent of breastfeeding. That is surely baby’s best first food and that is what I did. Interestingly, weaning was a pretty easy transition for my children. As they grew and developed teeth, they naturally reached for solid foods and the breastfeeding gradually faded away by the time they were about two. I attribute that to the fact that I did make their baby food and they had an excellent, wide range of organic whole foods in their young diets that satisfied their nutritional needs.
One exception was when one of them started eating dirt–I knew I needed to put more minerals in his diet and that put an end to the dirt diet. Another was when one of them started developing slightly bowed legs. This is not necessarily unusual in a toddler and you can observe that a young baby’s legs are definitely bowed before they start walking. I immediately increased the variety of his foods and the condition was soon gone. Food variety is extremely important for growing bodies!
As the children got older, my philosophy was to offer as wide a variety of foods as I could for them to try. And they had so much energy! [Comment received from one of them with the suggested blog topic: “How to deal with three boys running around in circles between the living room, dining room and kitchen during meals slapping their stomachs”]
I also did a lot of decorative cutting (carrot flowers, radish roses, broccoli trees) and entertaining presentations (we’ve all seen smiley faces made of pancakes or eggs or whathaveyou). Today, my grown children still enjoy a wide variety of vegetables and know many ways to prepare them.
It turned out that all three are really good cooks! As a mom, I’m happy about that because anyone should know how to make an appealing, basic meal for themselves and hopefully know how to do it in such a way that they don’t get a serious nutritional deficiency.
I asked my son Dan how he learned so much about cooking. He said, “Mom, you used to carry me on your back all the time while you were cooking so I saw how you did it!” Yes, I did carry each of them on my back in one of those baby backpacks–especially when I was cooking. I had no idea they were taking any of it in.
There’s quite a bit more to know about making baby food and how and when to introduce foods to your baby. Here is how you can get started once your baby is ready to consume more than just breastmilk.
The first food for most babies is in the cereal category. I recommend organically grown whole grains only. Start by making a whole grain milk that is just the consistency of your own breastmilk. As the baby gets older and starts developing teeth, you can increase the thickness and increase the cooked grain solids. This is the recipe I used:
- 4 parts organically grown short-grain brown rice
- 3 parts organically grown sweet brown rice
- 1 part organically grown barley
1-inch piece of kombu seaweed*
- Spring or filtered water
- Brown rice syrup or barley malt**
Wash and soak the grains overnight in filtered or spring water. Pressure cook the soaked grains with a 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed and five times more water (you may use the soaking water to cook the grains). Bring the cereal up to pressure and cook for one and a half hours. Remove the kombu.
For only liquid milk, strain the mixture in cheesecloth. For cereal, include a little of the ground or mashed solids—more as the baby is older and can eat more solid food. Sweeten the grain milk with rice syrup or barley malt to the approximate sweetness of breastmilk. And if you aren’t sure what that would be, try a half teaspoon for each cup.
*Kombu is a sea vegetable containing many minerals and trace minerals. While I do not recommend giving young babies any salt in their food, a piece of this kombu is desirable for making the grain milk highly digestible and for providing minerals in an organic, plant-based form.
**Brown Rice Syrup or Barley Malt are whole-grain sweeteners that are complex carbohydrates, not simple sugar. In other words, they burn slowly and provide a steady source of fuel to the body.
You may have heard that Rice Syrup has gotten a very bad rap recently due to a study by researchers at Dartmouth College who have linked the presence of arsenic in certain organic products. It is our responsibility to do our “due diligence” in monitoring the quality of the foods we eat–even those that come from the local health food store. I also know that there has been a long-running attack against organic foods, vitamins and certain other healthful products that is nothing more than rumor-mongering by merchants of chaos. In other words, I think you have to look behind the curtain and see who is backing (funding) such research and get all the data on it before deciding whether your information is valid or not. You see vested interests in the pharmaceutical industry and in drug research all the time and it is present in food research as well.
Here is an excellent analysis of the recent organic food/arsenic “scare” by someone I respect. http://www.christinacooks.com/_blog/Living_the_WELL_Life/post/Brown_Rice_Syrup_and_ArsenicThe_Truth_I_Discovered_-_by_Christina_Pirello/
Take a look and read all the way through it. Do more homework if needed. Any mom would want to be sure. My own conclusion is that a high-quality organic brown rice syrup from a reputable company is not only fine for consumption, but it wins hands-down compared with refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and any artificial sweeteners.
Here’s to happy, well-fed babies! (And out of my deep respect and love for my children I am resisting the temptation to post photos of anyone eating dirt, falling asleep in their plate of food or running around slapping their stomach which might be considered embarrassing!)