A while back, Barrett suggested I write something about the food I make for the Boy. Initially, I dismissed the idea because it seemed to me so basic: steam/boil food, purée, cool, serve. Also, I was afraid it would turn into just an excuse to post cute baby pictures. I reasoned that this is a site about food, not babies, and if you are interested in laugh-out-loud kid stories, you should be reading Motherhood is not for wimps, not Too Many Chefs.
But the exchange with Barrett did set me thinking more about what I am doing and why. And I realized that my dabblings in the world of baby-food might be of interest to current or potential parents out there. If you are in that group, welcome to my world. It's a messy one.
The ideal here in the Expat flat is to give our boy as many different vegetables as possible. In a perfect world, they would all be gently steamed or boiled, organic, and unsalted with no added butter. They would not come in little glass jars as I would make them all myself. We are trying to avoid foods that come from another continent. And we are trying to move gradually to bigger bits and pieces that have to be gummed instead of just swallowing. Oh, and absolutely no vegetable purée in the bottle, which is a weird French idea to get babies used to the taste of vegetables.
Why all of the above? Well, common sense backed up by research indicates that introducing your child to a large variety of vegetables early in his life makes it much more likely he'll love eating them when he's older. Making our own food ensures that it doesn't taste exactly the same every time; again, I think and hope this encourages him to embrace different tastes. With home-made food, I can control the consistency of the food better and work gradually towards "adult" food. Then there is the economic element: the price per pound is phenomenally lower and though we earn a comfortable income, it's money that would be better spent on other things. And lastly there is the environmental impact: even if you recycle those little jars, it's a lot of packaging and a lot of energy is going into the production of them.
As our boy has parents who both work full time, we have to make some compromises. We are not holding up well on the organic front as there are no organic stores convenient to home or work. We tried to go to the organic market in the 17th arrondisement on Saturday but got pathetically lost and ended up at a different market altogether. We occasionally buy frozen organic vegetables from Monoprix. We have resorted to glass jars a few times, mostly when travelling. They, however, are organic and have no sugar or salt added.
At nine months he's getting better at eating chunks of food, though it has to be something he really loves, i.e., a fruit. All in all, he's adapted well to the home made food and eats carrots, peas, green beans, aubergines/eggplants, courgettes/zucchini, celeriac, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Confession: I couldn't stand the thought of mashed potatoes with no butter or salt and so he got a little - less than us - in his mashed spuds. You gotta live wild sometimes!)Fruits are a given: plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, strawberries, but NO BANANAS.
Essential equipment: a very good mini-food processor or a stick blender. A big food processor is fine but it will only work if you want to make loads of purée at a time. This is great if you have a freezer, but even then there will probably be times when you only have a little fruit and want to make a small batch. You'll also want to have a good scale so that you can follow (roughly) the doctor's advice on how much to feed at mealtimes. Another good piece of equipment is the potato masher. This is great for making the transition from smooth purée to chunky bits. Lots and lots of little plastic tupperware containers. Lots and lots of them. A dishwasher is also a very useful thing to have.
What surprised me most when I started (though it probably shouldn't have done) is how LIQUID fruits and vegetables are. I had always assumed that strawberries got very liquid because I usually add sugar to them. Nope: they go pretty much completely liquid even without the sugar when you cook them. Which brings us to Piece of Advice Number One: get some organic baby rice cereal and stir it into your more liquid fruits. Feeding a baby water-thin fruit purée on a tiny spoon with almost no bowl to it will a) take you through to the next meal time and b) result in the biggest messiest baby you've ever seen. I've seen a lot of stuff about rice cereal being empty calories and unnecessary but to me they miss the point: it's the best thickening agent in the world and if it's organic and sugar-free it's not bad for the baby either.
This brings us neatly to Piece of Advice Number Two: rice cereal can also be used to "water down" a flavorful new vegetable and make it more palatable to a suspicious baby. I also frequently put a scoop of formula powder in new foods, so that he has a cream-of-carrots purée, for example.
Piece of Advice Number Three: do not assume that because baby refused a food once he therefore dislikes it and it can be crossed off the list. According to my baby book, a child can refuse a vegetable as many as 10 times before deciding he likes it. I have come home several times to hear the nanny tell me "He really doesn't like X" only to see him devour a huge bowl of it with enthusiasm the next day. Just like us, some days they are in the mood for carrots or zucchini and some days they are not.
The next tip seems so basic to me that I'm almost embarrassed to include it. But Barrett thought it was original, so here goes: use every wile and trick at your disposal to get the food into the baby. Start out with the vegetables as he's less likely to want to continue with it once he's even half full. When he starts refusing it, give him a spoonful or two of fruit and then go back to the vegetable. Keep doing this until he's eaten all the vegetables or catches on. My guy is nine months and he hasn't caught on yet.
Another trick is to give him a toy to play with while eating. I initially thought this was a recipe for a very dirty toy (which it is) but a fellow-mum taught me how useful it is. As soon as the baby opens his mouth to gnaw on the toy (which he will, trust me) if you are quick you can get the spoon in there first. They never cease to be surprised by it!
I make up a couple of fruit and vegetable bowls every couple of days. It doesn't actually take that long, about half an hour from start to finish. A week or so ago as I was looking at all the gorgeous peaches and plums in the store I suddenly realized that in a month's time I'll no longer have the luxury of such choices and so I bought a few pounds and put the resulting purée in freezer bags in 120 gram amounts. If I'm alert in the morning, I just take one out of the freezer and put it in the fridge and by lunch it's defrosted. If I forget, there is always the microwave.
One more tip on this subject: nearly every web site or cookbook that deals with home made baby food advises you to freeze the food in an ice cube tray. I tried this and found it was more hassle than it's worth. Frozen food is remarkably difficult to get out of an ice cube tray. If the food is very thick, I advise putting a sheet of waxed paper on a plate and plopping spoonfuls of food on it. Put the plate in the freezer, and, when the spoonfuls are frozen, remove them to a freezer bag. If the purée is very liquid, just pour it in a freezer bag directly and use a marker to note the date, the fruit and the quantity.
As mentioned above, there aren't really any "recipes". Fruit with pits (peaches, plums, nectarines) are usually boiled until tender because it makes it easier to slip the skins off. Apples and Pears are peeled and cubed and cooked in their own juices. You don't even need to add water; as they heat up they will release loads of juice. Vegetables (with the exception of zucchini) are peeled and either steamed or boiled until tender. Zucchini is thoroughly washed, sliced, covered with Saran wrap/cling film and microwaved until tender. (That's my secret Last-Minute-Forgot-To-Prepare-Dinner weapon.)
The One Recipe
Only one dish I make for him qualifies in my mind as a Recipe. I made it for him the other night when he had been through a particularly tough day. (This standing up lark is very tiring and leads to many buises when the legs give way!) Take 120 grams of peach purée and add to it 1/4 cup oatmeal and one scoop of formula powder. Stir well and add a little water if it's too thick. (It depends on how liquid your peaches are, obviously.) Heat for 20 seconds in the microwave. And voilà: Cream of oatmeal and peaches. It went down so well I had to make a second bowl five minutes later.
If you don't make your own food or didn't make it for your children, please do not assume I think you are a bad parent. We all make choices. One of the reasons I've made this one is that I can see that my boy's half sister is a very picky eater and I don't want him to be difficult. Parenting is all about compromises and making choices. You may choose to buy the little pots and spend the half hour of time saved playing with your little one. That's a good thing. I love food and want to instill a love of good food in my son. That's also a good thing. But you can't please everyone.