Ever since Audrey started on solid foods at six months, she’s loved oatmeal. We spoon-fed oatmeal to her for months, and now she asks for her “oats” and feeds herself. I was happy to find a cheaper, more nutritious alternative to the typical rice cereal, which many parents are now avoiding as a first food. (Read an article about how to choose baby and kid cereals here. Learn more about the oat porridge I made Audrey in the early months here.)
I had a harder time finding a dry cereal that Audrey could enjoy as finger food. Cheerios, a common baby finger food, contain both wheat and sugar–two ingredients doctors say to avoid during baby’s first year. Plus, they’re not organic. My neighborhood stores offered plenty of organic Cheerio-like cereals, but almost all of them also contained wheat and sugar (sometimes disguised as organic cane syrup).
Finally I found the perfect solution: puffs. Both Nature’s Path and Arrowhead Mills make puffed grain cereals that are perfect for babies. The only ingredient is the grain itself–no sugar, no salt, no additives or preservatives. I’ve seen puffed corn, rice, millet, wheat, and kamut. Kamut is the preferred puff in our household. Although it is a larger relative of wheat, many people with wheat allergies or intolerances can digest kamut. If you are really worried about introducing wheat or its cousins, I’d recommend the corn puffs instead.
What about the price? I try to buy the six-ounce bags when they are on sale for $1.50 ($4/pound), but the regular price is $1.90 ($5.06/pound). Yes, this is more expensive than a jumbo-box of Cheerios, which can be had for 22.2 cents an ounce ($3.55/pound). However, I think the extra price for an organic, whole-grain cereal is worth it. And most importantly, kamut puffs are one of Audrey’s favorite foods!
This week’s Works for Me Wednesday is all about what doesn’t work for you. Cheerios weren’t working for me, so I’m glad I found an alternative. For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, head over to Rocks in My Dryer.
It takes almost no time to whip up a batch of pancakes from scratch. Pancakes from a mix are filled with chemicals you don’t want your kids to eat, and they come in packaging you have to recycle or throw out. For even speedier homemade pancakes, Joy explained how pre-mixing the dry ingredients can save even more time.
The version I use is adapted from the Joy of Cooking’s basic recipe. I use 100% whole wheat pastry flour. The pancake is a fairly versatile food–you can experiment with different flours and milks if your kids don’t eat wheat or dairy. I’ve even forgotten the eggs and had them turn out all right!
This recipe is suitable for babies and kids over one year old.
Whole Wheat Pancake Recipe
Mix together in a large bowl:
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour (or even regular whole wheat flour)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
In another bowl, mix together:
1 ½ cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Combine wet and dry ingredients, gently whisk together, and cook pancakes on the griddle.
Pancakes are endlessly adaptable. Add blueberries, raisins, spices, or nuts to boost nutrition or calories. I make a whole batch and keep leftovers in the fridge or freezer, then reheat them in the toaster oven for quick snacks. My daughter, who has always hovered at the lower end of the growth charts, can eat up to four pancakes at a sitting.
I think I finally did it: I found an object that embodies the Green Baby Guide’s motto. The humble pancake saves time, money, and the planet.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those minimalist cooks who owns nothing more than a good knife and one skillet. After years of acquiring every kitchen gadget and appliance under the sun (including, but not limited to, a crepe maker, stand mixer, hand mixer, waffle iron, and panini press), I finally had to admit that I’m actually a kitchen maximalist. The upside of this is that I didn’t have to run out and buy anything for my baby-food making needs.
Below you’ll find my review of every conceivable food-masher known to home cooks. Needless to say, it makes the most sense to start with what you already own and purchase something only if what you have doesn’t work. I’d also recommend buying something that you’ll use in the kitchen for years, even after baby’s palate has matured.
Blender–I found it funny when Joy wrote about using her blender to make baby food because this is the one gadget I never tried–it seemed like too much mess, and I didn’t want to add a lot of water to the food. If this is what you have, though, it will work just fine. Keep in mind that the blender is better at liquefying than mashing, which is why you’ll need to add water for best results.
Hand blender (immersion blender)–My aunt and cousin gave me a hand blender years ago. At first I thought I would never use it. What’s the point of a little hand blender if you already own a full-size blender? At the time I didn’t have a full-size blender, but I was still skeptical. But then, only moments after unwrapping my new gadget, we used it to chop up some chocolate in a big pot of milk. This was necessary for reasons I have now forgotten. I still use my hand blender to this day.
But I digress. The hand blender is great for making baby food. You don’t need to add a lot of water, and it’s much easier to clean than the regular blender. Plus, it’s efficient for mashing small batches of food when you don’t want to drag out the heavy-duty appliances.
Food Processor–Due to my aforementioned desire to have a minimalist kitchen, I lived without a food processor for most of my life. Now I can’t envision a future without it. It turned out to be my number-one tool for food-mashing. You can grind dry things as well as blend wet things, so I used it to mill oats that I then cooked into a porridge. Audrey ate this porridge three times a day for months. (Read about that here.) You can also use a food processor to grind nuts into nut butters or chop up vegetables very finely without liquefying them. The food processor works much better than a blender to make hummus, another baby staple (or so I’ve heard–my particular baby has not caught on to this infant culinary trend).
Food Mill–A food mill is another handy gadget for the baby food chef. The advantage of this implement is that it will sort the stringy, seedy, or otherwise inedible parts of food from the soft, mushy parts. So, for example, you could cook up some string beans and crank them through the food mill, and the strings and stems would be left behind. Beyond the realm of baby food cookery, I’ve used the food mill to make gnocchi (a food processor would render the potato dough into a gluey mess) and coulis–the food mill saves hours pushing berries through a sieve with a spatula.
Mini Food Mill–I never had one of these, but Joy soon abandoned hers in favor of her blender. These teeny-tiny food mills are sold in baby stores all over. Supposedly you can take them everywhere you go and grind up your food at restaurants with it. This doesn’t seem particularly practical, and once the baby is eating normal food the mini food mill would be out of commission.
Potato Ricer–Many mashed potato lovers swear by the potato ricer, which could also be used to mash starchy baby foods. It wouldn’t work at all on green vegetables or fruits, I would imagine.
Potato Masher–So many foods can simply be mashed with a potato masher. This is a nice, carbon-free way to pulverize your baby’s delicacies. Of course, this is just conjecture as I do not own (nor will I ever own) a potato masher.
Pastry Cutter–A pastry cutter can double as a potato masher, in a pinch. It’s also great for turning soft foods such as sweet potatoes or bananas into delectable purees.
Fork, knife, hands–Most home cooks own one or all of these items. They can be invaluable for the baby-food maker in the family and have many household uses once baby yearns for more toothsome fare.
Other implements–I’m sure I’m missing a few obvious food-mashers. A mortar and pestle? A chinois? An ulu?
Making all of my baby’s meals from scratch (and avoiding jarred and boxed baby food) has saved me hundreds of dollars. I always knew exactly what went on my child’s plate and had a grand time experimenting with my arsenal of kitchen gadgets. My daughter has since moved on to more sophisticated fare (such as apple slices and crackers), but I’ll always take pride in knowing that I created some truly delicious and wholesome recipes. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites:
Ingredients: one banana
Directions: peel banana and place on a small plate. Press the tines of the fork repeatedly into the banana until it is completely mashed. Serve immediately.
Originally I didn’t think organic baby food would be such a priority for me. No one in my very frugal extended family had considered purchasing organic food because of the extra expense. The turning point came when I read in Consumer Reports, the ultimate thrifty guide, that organic baby food was worth the extra cost not just for the sake of the environment, but for baby’s health.
As if I wasn’t already convinced, last Wednesday’s issue of The Seattle Intelligencer drove the point home with an article entitled “Harmful pesticides found in everyday food products”. The article describes a recent scientific study of 21 children between the ages of 3-11. Researchers kept careful records of their dietary habits and found that those who ate mainstream produce showed signs of organophosphates in their urine and saliva samples. These findings are a bit upsetting considering that organophosphastes were developed from nerve gas during World War II. During the winter months, the detected pesticide levels were higher in the children, which most likely showed that they were eating more imported fruits and vegetables. Now, before you get too worried, doctors aren’t sure what effects, if any, organophosphates have on children. Still, it feels pretty great not to take the risk.
When I first did research about pesticides, I was shocked to find that the foods with some of the highest levels of pesticide residues are family favorites such as apples and peaches. I wasn’t sure I could afford to buy only organic foods, so I focused on buying organic for the foods with the highest pesticide residue. The environmental working group has developed a printable wallet-sized card that lists the top 43 fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide load. If you simply can’t afford to buy organic, Tiny Footprints, the website of the Oregon Environmental Council, recommends cleansing produce by mixing one teaspoon of dish soap into a gallon of warm water. Then thoroughly wash and rinse before consumption. The photo below shows one of the fruits with the sixth highest pesticide residue: the humble strawberry.
Once I had procured my produce, I was off to become a baby food Betty Crocker (organic-style). I bought a fifteen dollar baby food grinder when Roscoe started on solids, thinking that it was the only method for mashing his food. It very quickly ended up in the back of the cupboard when I realized that our blender and some ice cube trays were all we really needed. I peeled and boiled or steamed the food, tossed it in the blender with some extra water and poured it into ice cube trays. Then I dumped the frozen cubes into Zip lock bags for storage with labels and dates. Mainly I did large batches at once—which was quite convenient but sometimes backfired when Roscoe decided that he hated my four large Ziplock bags full of sweet potato puree. You can find some simple directions for home blended baby food on Wholesome Baby Food’s website. Here Roscoe has decided to use his dinner as a facial treatment rather than an actual meal.
In the beginning, I was determined to make every drop of baby food myself. When I complained to my daycare provider about exhaustion and the stress of preparing Roscoe’s food, pumping breast milk, and writing lesson plans, she suggested a revolutionary idea: buying a little sanity in the form of prepared baby food. In the end I made some of Roscoe’s meals myself but also found deals on prepared organic foods.
The best discovery I made on prepared food for Roscoe came outside of the baby food aisle. I bought large jars of organic applesauce and boxes of frozen organic pureed squash that worked great as baby food. I also used cans of organic pumpkin and as my son grew, I used cans of organic beans and as finger foods. Here Roscoe considers the complex flavors of pureed squash.
Earth’s Best was our standby in jarred baby food and teething biscuits. Roscoe always loved their food (much better than anything that emerged from my blender) and we appreciated the fact that their whole line of baby foods are certified organic. By buying large boxes of several dozen jars of Earth’s Best at Costco, the cost was just a few pennies more per jar than standard baby food.
When Roscoe started to be able to feed himself, we discovered Healthy Times puffs. They are wheat-free, dairy-free, and soy-free but Roscoe never seemed to notice that they were missing anything. They had much less packaging than mainstream puffs and were very fairly priced. Healthy Times was started by a mom over twenty years ago who was looking for organic, healthy alternatives and now has a whole line of foods including jarred baby foods and teething biscuits.
Annie’s Homegrown is more of a kids brand than a baby food label, but we’ve started Roscoe on the bunny crackers and would love for him to grow up with the brand name. Annie’s has been around for a decade and were far ahead of the mainstream organic food movement. They offer crackers, cereal and even organic macaroni and cheese that are appealing to children and much more nourishing than the mainstream alternatives.
The lesson that parenting seems to teach over and over again is, “be flexible.” If you’re planning on making every drop of baby food from scratch, be open the fact that exhaustion may occasionally trump your plans. Or, if you think it’s utterly impossible to make your own baby food, give it a whirl and see what you think. The decision to feed our son organic food has raised my family’s awareness about the quality of our produce and the contents of our fridge are now reflecting our move toward organic foods. We have the youngest member of our family to thank for propelling us much further on our green journey.
At my daughter’s one-year appointment, my pediatrician recommended that we increase her weight gain by giving her Pediasure instead of milk. Considering this same doctor had once suggested feeding our baby Bugles, Pringles, and Lorna Doone cookies just to help her pack on the pounds, my first reaction was very resistant. After all, I wouldn’t eat those foods—did I really want to start a junk food addiction in my young child?
I went to the store to check it out, and found that the first three ingredients of Pediasure are water, sugar, and maltodextrin. So what is maltodextrin, anyway? It’s a common food additive that can be produced from starch—Pediasure derives theirs from corn. I’d been careful to feed my baby nothing but organic fruits, grains, and vegetables during her entire first year—it felt like all that care about avoiding unnatural foods would go out the window as soon as she chugged her first bottle of sugary, chocolaty, maltodextriny Pediasure.
I wanted my baby to eat organic foods not just for health reasons—I wanted to support organic farms and dairies. Buying Pediasure would not meet that goal, and each drink came in a separate plastic bottle. I was sure Audrey would drink five sips and the rest would need to go down the drain. All this hypothetical waste was driving me nuts.
So how could I fatten my baby naturally? In the end, I defied doctor’s orders and made sure to fortify her foods with more calories, vitamins, and fat. My daughter ate almost anything as long as it was mixed with oatmeal. I ground organic oats in the food processor and made her a concoction out of it. Then I mixed in a frozen cube of pureed beans, vegetables, or fruit. I began adding more and more ingredients until one little dish contained well over 300 calories.
How I Fortified My Daughter’s Food:
We met with a dietician who applauded my efforts in fattening our baby up the natural way. Another tip she offered was to add a couple tablespoons of cream to her milk, which we also tried for several weeks. Eventually, she fattened up and the doctor declared that she was happy with Audrey’s weight gain. It’s been months since she’s eaten a delectable bowl of oats, kale, olive oil, almond meal, rice protein, and flax seeds. Hey, at least it wasn’t maltodextrin!