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Archive for the ‘Cooking for kids’ Category

As I have said previously, Mr. T and I have always fed our daughter “adult food.”  No, not the “special” brownie kind, don’t call CPS on me.  Just not what comes to mind when you think “baby food.”  Sure, I have bought a few jars here and there, cause let’s face it, they are convenient.  For the most part, though, I have simply pureed whatever we cooked for us.

When she was around six months old, we decided to introduce real food to her previously breast milk only diet and toyed over what to feed her first.  Conventional wisdom and pediatricians all say to start with rice cereal.  I’m not a doctor or an expert by any means, but I do have taste buds.  As does my daughter.  And that crap tastes like wallpaper paste.  So, I was not too keen on ruining my daughter’s first food experience by giving her something I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole (or 20 ft, for that matter…it’s the definition of bland).  So we went against all the books and decided to give her something tasty.

We did, however, stick to something basic for her first foray into food and went with homemade applesauce.  It was fairly easy to make, and depending on how many apples you buy it makes a ton.  I bought organic apples (be on the lookout for an upcoming post, The Dirty Dozen), peeled and cored them, and then roughly chopped them into ½ inch cubes.  I put the pieces into a glass microwave safe dish with a teeny amount of water in the bottom and cooked them until soft.  Then I broke out the handy dandy immersion blender and pureed till the cubes were smooth.  I knew she wouldn’t eat much at a time, so I spread the puree into ice cube trays, and after the cubes were frozen, popped them out and put them into a freezer safe gallon bag.  I know, it sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t.  Granted, I never had time to watch American Idol or The Bachelor…but you make time for the things that are important to you, right?

The process is the same for other fruits and veggies, as well as meats.  A great resource that I used all the time was www.wholesomebabyfood.com.  However, here are some of my tips/tricks:

Vegetables – fresh/frozen green beans sometimes don’t puree very smooth and some babies have issues with the texture.  I always had success with sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peas, eggplant, and hard gourds (like butternut and acorn squash).  I often steamed them over the stovetop rather than in the microwave, too.  Always add a little water or broth when pureeing, and add more as needed.

Fruits – blueberries, apples, peaches and pears were her favorites.  She also loved bananas, but there is no need to cook/puree them as they easily mash with a fork.  You can use water or juice to get the right consistency.  If it is too runny when you thaw the cubes, break out the wall paper paste to thicken (baby cereal, not actual wall paper paste…)

Meats – She loved chicken the best but I would generally puree a small amount each night rather than pre puree and freeze.  Meat has a tendency to separate and get mealy when you try to heat it back up.  The trick to getting it smooth is using way more liquid (I used chicken broth) then you think you need.  

Combos – With lots of small individually frozen cubes, it’s easy to make a combo meal for your tot.  Some of her favorites were: apples/chicken, peas/carrots, peach/banana, pear/apple, apple/blueberry, apple/sweet potato or carrot, pork/peach, apple/blackberry, green bean/chicken.

Seasonings – This is the best part: adding flavor to your baby’s food.  Her favorites were: sweet curry powder to the carrot/pea combo and green beans, cinnamon and cloves to her sweet potatoes, carrots or apples, garlic/paprika with the pork/peach, ground almonds with green bean/chicken (be careful of nut allergies).

Just get creative with your combos and remember that a little seasoning goes a long way.  And please taste it before giving it to your kid.  If you think it’s good, chances are they will too.  It works both ways, too.  If you taste it and your gag reflex kicks in, try the dog.  If Fido turns his nose up, well, that’s where having a few jars of baby food on hand comes in handy.

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Yes…You read that right.  My 12 month old daughter’s favorite food is SPINACH.  She also loves mustard and turnip greens, kale and swiss chard.  Sometimes she shovels greens into her mouth so fast she nearly chokes (true story – she really did put so many little pieces of spinach in her mouth so fast they wadded up and she started gagging).  I NEVER would have thought she would like spinach, much less that it would be in her top ten list.  But low and behold, she sucks it down!  (Disclaimer – you should never give spinach to a baby under 3 months of age due to a risk of nitrate poisoning – but in my opinion you shouldn’t be giving real food to a 3 month old baby anyway!)

The reaction I get when people learn of this love is mixed.  Many are impressed, some are perplexed, and a surprisingly high number of people make the comment “better her than me.”  Therein lies the problem.  So many adults are turned off by this power veggie that they never even give their child a chance to like it.  I certainly didn’t used to like it and only started eating because I read about how great it is for you.

How good for you is it?  Glad you asked… Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B2, potassium, and vitamin B6, protein, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc, dietary fiber, copper, selenium, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids.  It is also loaded with flavonoids which act as antioxidants, protecting the body from free radicals. Researchers have discovered at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that act as anti-cancer substances.  For example, the United States Department of Agriculture states that a 180 g serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron, whereas one 170 g ground hamburger patty contains at most 4.42 mg.[i] All of that healthy goodness in a little green leaf.

So I’ve demonstrated why YOU should be eating it.  Now on to the burning question in your mind, “how on earth did you get your child to eat (and love) spinach?”  I get that a lot.  It’s simple – she eats what we eat.  Since she began eating solids, I pureed what I cooked for my husband and me.  Once she was old enough to eat more textures I cut up well cooked (and soft) pieces of whatever we were eating and put it on her tray.  Since we always eat meals together she could easily see she was eating the same thing we were and I honestly think that helped tremendously.  Children want to be included in the family and learn though imitating.  Yet so many people overlook that fact when it comes to what their kids eat.

Another reason she started eating (and liking) the foods we ate – she was also never given the option to eat anything else.  Baby food is not outrageously expensive or anything, but every dollar saved counts in my family.  Sure, it’s easier to open a jar, but pureeing what I’ve already cooked takes less than 3 minutes (I have an immersion blender with a mini food processor attachment).  I also know what is in it and how it is made.  With so many recalls and stories of unsafe prepackaged foods I figured I’d take that risk out of the equation completely.

My biggest motivating factor for only feeding her what we eat is simple; I want her to eat what we eat.  Simple as that.  I have NO interest in preparing a separate meal for her (or my future children for that matter) nor do I want her ordering the expensive fat laden garbage off the kids menu at a restaurant.  So what better time to start gearing her taste buds for “adult food” then with her first taste of food ever!

Now, six months after her first taste of food, she eats practically everything (except ginger ice cream….REALLY not a fan).  I let her try things I know she can chew and mash and as long as she can physically eat it I don’t worry about whether she will spit it out.  What you eat is a learned process – just look at what children and adults eat in other cultures.

So please, use caution on what your kids can safely eat, but beyond that, let them try anything and everything.  Start ‘em young, and hopefully you will raise your own little foodie.

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Imagine two piles in front of you.  In one pile are bright red tomatoes, bunches of fresh basil and other aromatic herbs, a large head of garlic and fresh, handmade pasta.  In the other pile you see a handful of dehydrated onions and garlic, a bucket of pureed canned tomatoes, a container of carrot juice, and vials of Potassium Chloride, Vegetable Oil, and Ascorbic , Citric, Malic and Succinic Acid.  You are told you are to eat a meal made from the pile you choose.  Which pile looks more appetizing?

I assume you would pick the first pile.  So why do you give your child the second?  The second pile is a handful of ingredients found in a can of SpaghettiOs®, a common processed food given to children for lunch and dinner.  Let’s take one ingredient from the list above in more detail: Potassium Chloride.  One of the main uses for Potassium Chloride is in the manufacturing of fertilizer.  It is also the third drug used in the 3-drug combination for a lethal injection and was once used as a fire extinguishing agent.  Are you hungry yet?  To be fair, the percentage of Potassium Chloride found in a can of SpaghettiOs is relatively low.  However, it does not occur naturally in food, nor do many of the other ingredients used in the thousands of processed foods found on the shelves today.  I for one firmly believe that the foods you eat (and feed your children) should contain as few unnatural substances as possible.

As a busy, working mom, I can agree that popping the top on a can and throwing a bowl of this seemingly innocent food into the microwave is beyond convenient.  To a family struggling to make ends meet it is relatively cheap (about $1 a can) and is certainly popular among the palettes of children (and many adults, for that matter).  College students across the country would surely starve the death without microwave pizza rolls and Ramen noodles.  Processed foods are obviously popular and plentiful, likely because they are so easy and cheap.  But what is the true cost of feeding the many processed foods out there to our children?

Processed foods generally contain trans fat or hydrogenated fat.  Consumption of trans fat has been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, and can potentially promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease. [i] They also often contain high fructose corn syrup.  Regardless of what the Corn Refiners Association wants you to believe, it is thought to be one of the leading causes of the rise in obesity.  Since the fructose in corn syrup does neither stimulate insulin secretion nor reduce the hunger hormone ghrelin, you will continue to feel hungry while the body converts the fructose into fat. The resulting obesity increases the risk of diabetes and other diseases. [ii] Besides the unnatural and unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods, they are generally low in fiber.  Fiber is the part of food that our bodies cannot break down or absorb.  It provides the sense of feeling full while eating which helps alleviate overeating which can also control weight gain.  It reduces the risk of high cholesterol since fiber traps cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed in the blood.  A diet low in fiber can cause constipation, gas to even more serious diseases like diverticulitis and colon cancer.

Need another reason to kick out processed foods from your kid’s diet?  They have been shown to make your kids hyper!  Almost all processed food contains artificial coloring and in a 2007study done by The Lancet, researchers found that artificial colors and/or a sodium benzoate preservative in the diet can result in increased hyperactivity in children.[iii] “These findings show that adverse effects are not just seen in children with extreme hyperactivity (ie, ADHD),” the report states, “but can also be seen in the general population and across the range of severities of hyperactivity. Our results are consistent with those from previous studies and extend the findings to show significant effects in the general population.[iv]

Now, I am not expecting anyone to raid their pantry and remove all convenience foods and chastise parents who give processed foods to their children.  Nor am I saying that occasionally giving your child a bowl of crowd pleasing SpaghettiOs®, a bag of chips or even a can of soda will make them fat and give them cancer.  I’ll use the old adage “everything’s fine in moderation” here.  Furthermore, with today’s busy lifestyle where both parents work and kids are involved in every extracurricular activity known to man, it may be next to impossible to completely eliminate all processed food from your child’s diet (and your own for that matter).  I do believe, however, it is important to do your best and try.  There are a number of websites, cookbooks, and resources available on how to cook nutritious meals with fresh ingredients in a relatively short amount of time.  I have even provided my own fast, healthy recipes here.  (link to recipe section) Furthermore, with proper planning and a little know how, home cooked meals are often cheaper to prepare.  (link to tips and tricks/menu planning) While it may not be as simple as opening a can, your child’s health rests in your hands.  So please, as often as you can, step away from the can opener, and just say no to SpaghettiOs®.

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