Blackberries ripen in the August sun, cherries plop onto neighbors’ lawns, and squash crops overwhelm backyard gardeners. There is nothing I love more than taking advantage of summer’s opportunities for hand-picked fruit—especially when it’s free, organic, and grown locally.
Here are my favorite food finding tips:
Wild berries: Blackberries seem to be a national favorite but huckleberries, salmon berries, and thimbleberries are just a few of the other choices available here in Oregon. I usually call our city maintenance department to check about which areas are being sprayed, ask about berry hot spots, and end up picking loads of free organic berries! I slather my clan up with sunscreen and scramble out the door in the morning hours before the sun zaps our enthusiasm. Then we freeze the berries or make them into jam to last through the winter months.
Fruit trees: My goal is to load up with fruit from a neglected apple tree this year. When I see a tree with rotten fruit under it, I shall screw up my courage, knock on the door and ask if I can pick some. (My son’s charm might help.) Even if the homeowner wants to use the fruit, chances are he or she will reach a point of saturation with fresh cherries/apples/pears. Also, here in Oregon, we have the Portland Fruit Tree Project, which helps save urban fruit from rotting away on city sidewalks. You can check out their website to donate to their cause or to join a local harvesting party. A large portion of the fruit they save goes to vulnerable people who need healthy, organic food. In other areas, try to call city maintenance to see where city-owned fruit trees are located.
Tomatoes, zucchini, squash and other garden faire: Although it’s wonderful to grow a prolific garden, slogging through twenty pounds of summer squash in a few weeks is no easy task. On the first days of September, my fellow teachers often leave heaping boxes of squash, tomatoes and zucchini in our staff room for the taking. It’s worth it to let your friends and family know that you’ll welcome their garden overflows and then sit back and enjoy the unique flavor of a homegrown food. You may be inspired to grow your own garden next year!
Damaged fruit: According to Parade Magazine, grocery stores toss an estimated $20 billion worth of food annually. While it might be tough to get large chain stores to offer you a discount on imperfect produce, independent grocery stores sometimes have a damaged fruit and veggie section. If not, ask the manager if you can get produce for free or for a discounted rate when it needs to be removed from store shelves for disposal. You can always cut away the bad sections and use the rest to make soups or sauces.
By picking the food yourself or saving it from the grocery store dumpster, you’ll be cutting your costs and ensuring that local food doesn’t go to waste. Instead of buying kiwis from Chile next January, you can happily pull those local blackberries out of the freezer for a low-emissions, no-cost treat!
Every week the Green Baby Guide will be hosting the Thrifty Green Thursday Blog Carnival. If you have a blog and some thrifty green ideas of your own, please join us! See this post for details.
Oats were one of Audrey’s first favorite foods. I’ve written a few times about the porridge I made for her as a little baby when I needed to fatten her up. Once she was about fifteen months old, I started making her normal oatmeal for breakfast. She has astounded me with her capacity for oatmeal. Today I gave her a full adult serving (1 cup cooked) and she ate the entire bowl! Normally, though, I will cook ¾ cups of dry oats for us both. That will yield about a cup of cooked oats for me and a half cup for her.
So what is thrifty and green about our breakfast? I buy oats in the bulk section. Organic oats cost about $1.00/lb. I can sometimes find conventional oats for $.50/lb. on sale. That means our ¾ cup (2.25 ounces, according to my scale) of organic oats cost just fourteen cents! I add some dried apricots and a little brown sugar, which boost up the price, but oats still end up being much cheaper than most other breakfasts. And, by resisting convenience foods such as instant oatmeal packs, freezer waffles, or toaster pastries, we’re avoiding wasteful packaging.
Oats for Two
¾ cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 ½ cup water
Four or five dried apricots, cut into pieces
Put the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and zap for two minutes*. Stir. Cook for 1.5 minutes longer and stir again. Spoon a portion of the oats into a smaller bowl for the baby. Top with brown sugar and eat!
*Note: our microwave is not very strong. Cooking times will vary depending on your microwave. You can also cook the oats on a stovetop, of course.
For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, check out Rocks in My Dryer. Bon appétit!
Joy’s popsicle post provided me with a burst of inspiration: Could I sneak vegetables into my daughter’s diet by disguising them in a tasty frozen treat? The answer is yes. Here’s my groundbreaking recipe:
Pint of very ripe strawberries (overripe is okay)
2-3 cups of carefully washed spinach leaves
1 TBS honey (or more, to taste)
Place the strawberries in the blender and fill the remainder of the blender with spinach leaves. Add honey and puree until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds. (Yields 2 cups liquid)
I invented this recipe and gave the strange-looking brown popsicle to my daughter. She took one lick and said, “Yum, yum!” Then she ate the whole thing, making quite a mess in the process. Of course I sampled this brown concoction myself. It really does not taste of spinach at all-it’s just pleasantly strawberry-flavored.
Now, I know that disguising vegetables in other foods is controversial. When Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious came out, I read reviews from critics who claimed that lying to children about what they were eating would result in bitterness and mistrust in their parents as they grew older and wiser. This seems a little far-fetched to me. Besides, I did not lie to Audrey; I just handed her a popsicle and she ate it. I hope she grows to love normally-prepared vegetables very soon, but in the meantime, I’m glad I found a way to sneak some greens into her summer confections.
This week’s Works for Me Wednesday is all about easy recipes that use five ingredients or less, so head on over to Rocks in My Dryer for more simple cooking ideas.
The sun’s out, your baby’s teething and it’s time for a soothing summer treat. So, how exactly do you concoct the perfect popsicle?
Popsicle molds: There are several plastic molds on the market (I have to confess that I own a set), but there are other options available around your home. You can make mini-pops with icicle trays or individual used yogurt cups. Crate and Barrel made BPA-free popsicle molds earlier this year but they appear to have been discontinued. I’ve written to our friends at The Soft Landing about their safest choice for popsicle molds and will keep you posted on their response. If you prefer to avoid plastic altogether, you can use paper cups, carefully washing them out and reusing them each time. You can also try small juice glasses, ensuring that you gradually cool the glass so that it doesn’t crack with extreme temperature change.
The perfect recipe: Growing up, my mom made homemade popsicles out of fruit juice, but they were always extremely dense. We longed for those soft store-bought brands that seemed to melt in your mouth. If you’d like to get that texture at home, try blending in whole fruit or yogurt. The thicker mix will also make it easier for your popsicle sticks to stand up if you’re using ice cube trays or cups. If you’re up for using gelatin, (which vegetarians might not be) it will create a softer popsicle that doesn’t melt quite as quickly.
Natural Dripless Popsicles: These are a great way to recycle half eaten fruits and get healthy food into your child. Pictured is the momentous day that that I served Roscoe his first dripless popsicles. He ate four in a row in one sitting. When I asked him what he would dream about right before bedtime he said “sicles.” Luckily there was no reason to feel bad about his popsicle obsession since I used organic plums, my son’s half eaten bananas(tossed into the freezer over the last few weeks) and a bag of organic frozen blueberries. He loved them even though he’s usually picky about eating any of these fruits by themselves.
Heat water, gelatin and sugar in saucepan over low heat until gelatin dissolves, for about 5 minutes. Then toss gelatin mixture in the blender with fruit and puree. Pour the mixture into cups and wait until frozen. Enjoy!
A chocolate dream: I found a recipe for Berry Fudgy-cicles on vegan-food.net. and modified it just a bit. Honestly, these are completely amazing and taste way better than anything this healthy should. The secret ingredient for these homemade fudgesicles is silken tofu which provides them with plenty of nutritional prestige. I’m not sure if this treat will be more exciting for my son or for me!
Toss the following ingredients in a blender, puree, pour into molds, and freeze.
Baby-sized options: If baby is too little to handle her own popsicle stick, consider using one of the products that use a tiny mesh bag. You can put frozen fruit chunks or ice in the mesh and then let her gnaw away to her heart’s content. This link shows Muchkin’s Fresh Food Feeder (which is BPA-Free according to their website), but you can usually find one of these in a local store if it’s easier than ordering online.
What are your ideas for summer treats? Please add your exotic recipes to our post!
When I was still pumping at work and crawling out of bed for nighttime feedings, I clung to the dream of weaning at one year. Although I loved my amazing ability to create food for my infant without a second thought, there were times where I longed for freedom.
It came as a surprise to me that I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding after my son’s first birthday. Luckily, the decision to continue had many benefits for my son, for the environment, and for my own health.
For baby’s health:
For the mother’s health:
For the environment:
Roscoe started to wean at 20 months and is now finished breastfeeding, but I have to say that I really do miss it. If I was a stay-at-home mom I would probably have gone a bit longer, but Roscoe was starting to want less and less so we just followed his lead. For more detailed information on why extended breastfeeding is such a great option, check out this article from Mothering magazine.
I’ve recently realized that the foods that thrive right here in my local community gardens have somehow become more exotic to most families (including mine, until recently) than mainstream items like oranges or bananas. My grandparents generation regularly ate homegrown cabbage or beets, but today these are somewhat of a culinary rarity in many households.
Our family’s vegetable vocabulary was much smaller until just a few months ago. Since joining a CSA, I’m humbled by just how ignorant I was about the range of produce available. We ate the same ten types of veggies most of the time and rarely tried anything outside our repertoire. Then we got a rutabaga.
Of course, I had no clue what this alien veggie was even called until I looked it up on our CSA website. Previously, I had only used rutabaga as a nickname for my infant, but I had no idea how to prepare it.
After looking in the Joy of Cooking for a simple recipe, I found that it was easier than I imagined. I peeled, sliced, and sautéed the rutabaga with a bit of red wine vinegar, a few herbs and some salt. The result was incredible! The rutabaga flesh was buttery and smooth, with a taste that my toddler loved.
After that first success, I’ve learned that there are so many simple ways to prepare the veggies outside my comfort zone. I’ve thrown red cabbage, kale, leeks, and potatoes into frittatas and stir fries with great success. There’s really no recipe required! Just chop veggies, sauté them and season for stir fry or toss in eggs and cheese for frittatas.
My best adventure was making homemade pizza with sausage, leeks, and red chard. It was a great success and everyone loved the veggies I slipped in! So, if you’re wanting your toddler to develop a healthy palate, you can take the lead by throwing some unique produce in your cart or planting them in your raised beds. Enjoy!
As soon as my daughter turned one, I wanted to introduce her to whole milk. Like many other parents, I wanted her to have hormone-free milk, so that meant paying more and buying organic. Right? I like to save money, but organic milk costs a lot more than conventional milk–sometimes up to twice as much. There was also something else I wondered about: all the organic milk I found on the shelves came from other states–some as far as Ohio! Part of the reason I tried to buy organic foods was that I wanted to help the environment, but buying something that needed to be ultra-pasteurized and taken on a thousand-mile road trip wouldn’t be any better for planet Earth than buying conventional milk from a local dairy. In fact, it would probably be worse.
Ideally, I’d be able to find milk that was both organic and local. At the time, this was not an option. I had to choose, and I ended up deciding that supporting a local, non-organic dairy was a better choice than buying organic milk that came from far away, considering my local dairy did not use hormones. Plus, at under $3 a gallon, it was more affordable than many of the other brands on the supermarket shelves. Now, just one year later, Alpenrose dairy has gone organic, so it’s possible to have local organic milk here in Portland.
Of course, not everyone plans to introduce cow’s milk to baby’s diet. Joy’s son, Roscoe, has some food allergies and intolerances. She continued to breast feed him after a year and offered him soymilk as an additional beverage. Now that he’s older, he can tolerate cow’s milk, which Joy buys from an organic dairy. Because Audrey is so small, I was glad she took to whole milk, which comes packed with vitamins, fat, and calories. (Read my “Fattening Baby, Naturally” post for more baby-fattening ideas.) Although cow’s milk is not an environmentally or nutritionally perfect food, I opted to introduce it to my baby’s diet over alternatives such as soy or almond milk.
Some questions for our readers: Do you plan to introduce cow’s milk when your baby turns one? What alternatives to cow’s milk, if any, have you tried? What are your thoughts on conventional, organic, and local milk products?
My daughter has loved black beans since we started her on solid foods. First we blended them up and added them to her oatmeal porridge (Mm-m, doesn’t that sound scrumptious?). Later, she was able to pick individual beans up with her hands and gum them. Once she was about eighteen months or so, she enjoyed eating black beans in salsa or chili. We make three pounds of dried beans at a time, use most of them in Andy’s frozen burritos (we make twenty burritos at a time), and enjoy the rest in other recipes.
Using dried beans instead of canned has a few advantages. First of all, it’s cheaper. I estimate that we save a whopping $2.80 every time we cook our own beans. We also avoid the toxins lurking in cans. (Holly on the Ecobaby Blog wrote about her concerns with canned beans here.) Last but not least, we’re keeping more than seven fifteen-ounce cans out of the recycling bin every time we cook a vat of tasty legumes.
Here’s how we make three pounds of dried beans:
Three pounds of dry beans will yield over six pounds of cooked beans.
Note: You can add spices to the beans while cooking, but don’t add salt until they’re done or they may never soften.
Freeze your cooked beans in six or seven glass jars (old peanut butter jars are perfect), and you will have them on hand to use in place of the canned variety. I like to cook huge batches at a time to make the effort worthwhile. Although it takes about ten hours from start to finish, the hands-on work involved in cooking three pounds of beans is minimal. Now I just have to decide what to do with that $2.80 I saved!
For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, visit Rocks in My Dryer.
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.