Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Adventurous Baby

Chronicle of the 14 month journey that led to my child eating this beautiful meal:

People get weird when you start doling out parenting advice, so I feel the need to preface this post with the following disclaimers: I am not a baby expert. I only have one baby and no formal training with babies. I am also not trying to turn this into a forum on breast feeding v. formula and will not comment on the fact that my child was formula fed from 3-12 months. That is for another very different type of blog. If any of my friends (actual, real life, non-internet type) want to know more about that particular journey, I am happy to share my experience face to face.

I am writing this post because I have a 14 month old who is finally entirely on table food and LOVES vegetables. I am not writing to say how you should raise or feed your baby. Only to share my experience up to this point. With those disclaimers out of the way, lets begin.

At six months old, our pediatrician told us it was time to introduce food. My child could not yet sit up and we were finally in a happy little stress free eat/sleep routine of 5 8oz bottles a day. I was not thrilled because I did not want to disturb the routine. That is how it goes with babies though. As soon as you feel like you have them figured out, it is time to change.

I already had this hair-brained scheme/theory about how I wanted to feed my baby. It went something like this: I do not want to start with rice cereal because we are trying to eliminate starches and anything non-whole grain from our diet, so why in the world would the very first food introduced to my baby be just that? I told this to my pediatrician. She blinked, then said fine, the point is that they practice eating. At six months they do not eat for nutrition or sustenance. They just need to learn how to swallow and chew, not in that order.

I was also dead set against commercial baby food. It is sometimes contaminated, it is full of sugar and god knows what else. Not to mention, it just looks gross. So thus the journey of figuring out what to feed my baby and how in the world to make it began.

Thankfully, we were beginning a CSA season, so I started there. It took me about a month to master the process, but here is what I did. I took a fresh vegetable, I steamed it, I pureed it. I added no fats or seasonings. I poured the puree into ice cube trays (not easy to find these days by the way). I froze the trays for 24 hours. I popped the cubes of food out of the trays and into a freezer bag that was labeled with the type of food and the date.

When it came time for a feeding I microwaved the desired number of ice cubes and fed it to the baby. In the beginning it was one ice cube at a time. Then we graduated to two ice cubes. By 9 months he was eating 6-9 ice cubes in all kinds of combinations of vegetables.

For Christmas last year (just before the baby was born), my husband bought me this little beauty at Williams Sonoma:

It is beautiful in the way only Swedish design can be. It is a neat idea, and it works fine. I used the first one for 4 months before it broke. They sent us another one for free. That one got rickety, but did not actually break. There are two main downsides to purchasing a babycook (that name cracked me up, it is not for cooking babies, it is cooking FOR babies). First, it makes a very small portion, enough for just a day or two. Second, it takes up valuable counter space and is another gadget to clog the kitchen with. The advantages are that you do not use stove or oven space to cook, and you steam and puree in the bowl so there is very little mess. In all honesty, the next time around, I am not going to mess with a babycooker. A plain ole pot to steam vegetables and an immersion blender does the job just fine and you can make bigger batches that way.

There are all kinds of storage methods on the market for baby food, and I experimented with several of them. Most of them take up a ton of freezer space and do not efficiently stack. In the end just the cheap ice trays and freezer bags worked the best for me.

The vegetables and fruits I prepared this way were:

Lima Beans
Green Beans
Yellow Beans
Sweet Potatoes (not steamed, baked then pureed)
Butternut Squash (not steamed, baked then pureed)

Again, my hair-brained scheme/theory was that with no seasoning or fats and lots of vegetables comprising my baby's first bites, he would develop a taste for vegetables. Not vegetable casseroles with milk, eggs, butter and cheese added, but hopefully that he would just like vegetables. And he did like them, he ate just about everything I offered and even kicked his legs and smiled at most of it.

When my baby was 8-9 months old I realized that 12 months was just around the corner and had a panic moment where I realized that soon he would not be on formula. With no formula, no built in nutritional guarantees, and just vegetables would not cut it. So, I did a bunch of research and decided to introduce the dreaded baby cereal. I found a few good options of whole grain cereals that were enriched with various nutritional necessities, and decided on the Happy Babies whole grain oatmeal:

I added this into the morning routine, and he still gets a big serving of this a day.
Again, things were chugging along nicely where he would eat 6-9 cubes a day in various combinations for lunch and dinner. Then, BOOM, he threw a bomb into my routine when he was about 10 months old. He stopped eating my food. One day he just refused to take another bite. As first time Moms tend to do, I panicked again. With the 12 month deadline of being off formula quickly approaching, I had to find something he would eat. So much for that whole no commercial baby food idea. Again, many hours of research and shopping led to my decision to switch to Happy Babies organic purees. Here are is an example:

These handy little packets use only organic fruits and vegetables and the only additive is ascorbic acid (vitamin C). No mystery chemicals or high fructose anything. He loved them and my baby was eating again. All was right with the world. The only downside to these packets (aside from the environmental impact) is that they are all mixed with fruit. Every single mix includes a very sweet fruit like pears or mangoes to make the vegetables more palatable. I was concerned that he would develop a taste for very sweet foods, but had to just deal with it so he would keep eating.

I should also add that during this time period I introduced various other solids like eggs and avocados to prevent future allergies and help him learn to chew.

At 12 months he went off the bottle and off formula and overnight his appetite grew exponentially. Even if I was still making all his food there was no way I could have kept up with his appetite. He was eating 6-9 packets of Happy Baby food a day. I also introduced these complete meals:

These meals fall into the gross looking baby food category, however I tasted everything and it tasted good. They really do look kind of like dog food out of the packet though. I  found them to really be a little too thick and chunky for him, so I would mix in a vegetable packet with these to thin them out. He would eat these packets, but it was clear he did not love them.

So, at 12 months I decided to take another swing at making his food. I would cook extra of whatever we were eating for dinner, then add stuff to it and puree. Here are some examples:

Meal 1: pork, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, peach applesauce, whole grain pasta
Meal 2: steak, spinach, butternut squash, quinoa, applesauce
Meal 3: grilled chicken, zucchini, squash, onions, quinoa, cantaloupe

He loved these homemade meals and I got an unexpected feeling of satisfaction that my child was eating my cooking again. I should add that I made these, then froze them in little 4 oz plastic (BPA free) food storage containers.

He is now 14 months and as of this week done with the purees. He is eating table food and most of the same things we eat. He eats much earlier than we do (he eats at 5:30, we don't eat until 8), so he usually gets leftovers of what I make the night before. Here is his dinner from last night:

He had pork chops, butternut squash roasted with butter and brown sugar, steamed broccoli, strawberries, and (not pictured) a cup of yogurt and a slice of whole grain bread. When I presented him with his feast, the first thing he went for was the.....wait for it......broccoli (!!!) I may have lost a few battles along the way, but I won the war, my child loves vegetables (so far at least). Here is a picture of his first bites of dinner last night:

I know that seems like alot of food for such a little baby. I am not sure where it all goes, but he does love it! Here he is post-meal (and post-plate dumping onto tray) signing that he is all done:

Table food eating: check. Chewing and Swallowing: check. Vegetable and fresh food loving: check. Next baby adventure: mastering the fork and spoon. Wish me luck.


  1. Love it! What a great story from a GREAT mom!!! Expect maaaannny phone calls over the next few years about this exact topic. :)

  2. This brought back so many memories. When the girls were little I bought a baby food grinder. This was before processors were on the market so it was a hand crank kind of thing. They ate everything we did! I probably did it for different reasons though. I had my mouth wired shut for a few months after some major surgery and attempted to eat jarred baby food (that's what the Dr recommended) and it tasted horrible so my mother would take what they were having and put it in the blender. I was able to have good tasting healthy food without the added expense of the jarred food.

    Keep us updated! Keep up the good work raising a good eatter!

    He is even cuter in real life!

  3. I love reading this. That is one lucky boy! He sure has a great Mom and Dad.