...from baby food to toddler food to family food!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


When my youngest cousin E was a baby, one of her first words was "meat!"  (She also really liked "chevre," a soft goat cheese; yes, she was an adventurous eater!)  Although I don't want to encourage William to be too much a carnivore (plant proteins are a much healthier and eco-friendly option), I do want him to be exposed to a variety of different, delicious foods.

My husband and I have been trying to make the move to local, grass-fed beef. Certain high-end cuts of this can be more expensive than store-brand "natural" meats, but I've found that lower end cuts like chuck (stew beef) and ground beef are quite affordable! So, in the past two weeks I made a beef stew and homemade meatballs, both of which I adapted so that William could try some! Here are the recipes with *baby-friendly adaptations:

Slow Cooked Beef Stew
about 1 lb. stew beef
1/2 a medium onion
2 bay leaves
5 carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into big chunks
about 1 cup butternut squash chunks (peeled)
1 cup frozen peas
hot water to cover ingredients
sea salt, black pepper and garlic powder to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp flour

I used my Crock Pot for this, but you could just as easily use a large, heavy-bottomed  pot over low heat.
Place the stew beef, onions, and bay leaves in the pot and cover with hot water.  Add just a little bit of salt, pepper and garlic powder for initial seasoning.  Set the crock pot to high for 4-6 hours. An hour before serving, add the potatoes and carrots.  30 minutes before serving add the squash and peas.
When done cooking, strain the stew ingredients through a colander, collecting the liquid in a bowl. 
*at this point, I set aside a few cubes of cooked beef and veggies for William.  I stored them in a container with a bit of the original cooking liquid.  When serving, I warmed a bit of each, cut up the veggies, and shredded the beef with my fingers.In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then slowly add the flour while whisking (making a roux that acts as a thickening agent). Continue to cook and whisk constantly for two minutes, then while still whisking slowly pour in about 2 cups worth of the cooking liquid. Raise heat a bit and continue to whisk until liquid thickens into a gravy.  Turn of the heat, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. I also added some savory and thyme, but you can choose to add any herbs you like.

For adults, serve in bowls with some gravy over the top.  Some bread and butter on the side makes this a seriously comforting meal!

This simple recipe is adapted from my current favorite cookbook, The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World.
1 C cubed bread (crusts cut off)
Cooking Meatballs for Baby
1/4 C milk
1 lb. ground beef
1 C chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)
1 C freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten
pinch red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 C all-purpose flour on a plate
1 29 oz can tomatoes (I used diced)

*For baby:  In a small bowl, set aside a small chunk of beef, a pinch of the cheese, garlic and herbs.  Add a splash of 1/2 & 1/2, milk or formula. Mix and form into tiny meatballs, and cook well on all sides in a hot, oiled pan.  Set on paper towels to cool and drain excess oil.

In a large bowl, mix the bread with milk until it is absorbed. Add the beef, herbs, cheese, garlic, egg, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until everything is evenly distributed, then form into 1 1/2 inch balls.
Heat a big skillet over medium heat with olive oil in it (I used more than called for, enough to cover the bottom of the pan).  Lightly roll the balls in flour and place in the pan.  Brown on all sides, turning gently with tongs about every 3 minutes.
If you use whole canned tomatoes, first put them in a bowl and squish them up with your hands.  (The texture of raw tomatoes grosses me out a bit, which is why I chose to use already diced tomatoes!).  Pour tomatoes over the meatballs in the pan and simmer over medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meatballs & Sauce for Mama & Dada!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have encouraged William to be an active eater from the first bite of pureed and thinned-out-with-breastmilk avocado.  Instead of putting the spoon into his mouth, I help him guide it in with his own hand.  Now, at age 9 months, William can put the spoon into his mouth independently, and sometimes will hand it back to me or place it on the tray for me.  (That is "sometimes" because he is 9 months old, and seems to instinctively need to drop things on the floor while seated in his highchair, spoons included!)

I began offering William "finger-foods" around the age of seven and a half months, about 6 weeks after starting pureed and mashed foods.  He was at a point where he was ready for more texture, and was very interested in touching his food.  While this can get very messy, it is a great thing to encourage! The more a baby explores the properties of foods (temperature, feel, smell, taste, etc) with all of his various senses (first sight, then smell, then touch, then taste), the more familiar and comfortable he becomes with food in general.

You will want to start with foods cut into small bits, but the challenge is not making them too small for baby to pick up!  I found that when I pushed beyond my comfort level, William surprised me with what he could handle, both in size and texture. I find that cooking the food first, and then cutting into appropriate sized bites works best. Start with all skins removed.

Below are some easy to prepare beginner finger foods:
(microwaved) sweet potato
ripe pear
ripe peach
baked apple
steamed carrots
steamed butternut squash
white potato

Here are some finger foods with more challenging textures and flavors:
canned beans (cannelini, garbanzo, pinto, etc.), squashed so that skin pops 
steamed green beans
peas, squashed
firm tofu
steamed broccoli
steamed cauliflower
steamed baby spinach leaves (or any greens), crumpled into balls
brown rice cakes (no salt), such as Lundberg Eco-Farmed Brown Rice Cake, Salt Free, 8.5-Ounce Units (Pack of 12)
crumbled cracker pieces (I've tried Ryvita Whole Grain Rye Crispbread, Dark Rye, 8.8-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 10))
Kamut puffs (I found Nature's Path Organic Kamut Puffs Cereal, 6-Ounce Bags (Pack of 12) at my local Whole Foods)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Start at the Beginning.....

...a very good place to start!
At age 9 months, William is almost fully on table foods now, although I still avoid some of the major allergens (wheat, fish, nuts, etc.).  I thought I would backtrack a little bit with more detail to help parents who want to start their babies on more adventurous foods. 

First Mashes/Purees
Avocado: make sure it is ripe! A Hass avocado skin should appear dark, almost black instead of green, and it should give a bit when you press it with your thumb. Cut in half, and twist to disengage one half from the pit.  Use a spoon to scoop out just the amount you want to use, then replace the halves together (helps prevent browning) and store in an airtight container in the fridge.  When you are ready to use the other half, the easiest way to remove the pit is to hold the avocado in one hand and a large heavy knife in the other.  Carefully whack the knife into the center of the pit like you're chopping with an axe. Hold the avocado still, and use the knife to twist out the pit.
Mash the avocado with a fork to desired consistency. For very early eaters, thin with breastmilk or formula.  As a first food, babies will likely only eat a few bites. Within 2 weeks, William was up to 1/4 avocado twice a day.
*1/4 avocado has 5 grams of healthy fat, 1 gram of fiber and 1 gram of protein

Sweet Potato:  Scrub potato well in the sink, then poke a few holes all around with a sharp knife or fork.  Place on plate and microwave about 4 minutes (this of course depends on the size of the sweet potato and your microwave!).  When potato is soft to the touch all around, cut in half and scoop out desired amount from the skin.  Mash with fork (or puree a whole batch), and thin out with formula or breastmilk if needed.
*2 oz sweet potato has 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein and is rich in potassium

The easiest, most convenient natural baby food! It is not quite as nutrient-rich as avocado or sweet potato, but is still a great first food.  Make sure the banana is fully ripe (barely any green left on skin, beginning to brown is even better), and mash desired amount with a fork. Thin with breastmilk or formula if desired.
*2 oz banana has 1 gram of fiber, some vitamin C and lots of carbs!

In my next post I will suggest some first finger foods that are natural and easy to prepare, such as avocado, sweet potato and banana......(hmmmm, deja vu, anyone?).

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Pancakes!

This is similar to the "Baby Omelette" recipe, but calls for more cereal to be added to create a batter.

First Pancakes
1 egg yolk
Oil or butter
1 Tbsp half and half (or breast milk, formula, milk, juice, water)
powdered baby cereal
cinnamon & nutmeg
(& mashed banana or pureed fruit to sweeten)

Whisk the egg and liquid with a fork. (optional: mix in mashed banana or pureed fruit to sweeten). Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk a bit more. Slowly add sprinkles of powdered baby cereal (rice, oatmeal, multigrain, etc.) an mix, until you get a "batter" consistency (thickened, but still liquid enough that it will pour out slowly). In medium hot pan, heat a bit of butter or oil (I used olive oil) and pour the batter in, forming one small pancake. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, then flip and cook 1-2 minutes more.  Cut up into bite-sized portions. Allow to cool and serve. A serving size for a baby under 1 year of age is 1/2 a pancake.

This smelled like french toast while it was cooking (yum), and William absolutely devoured it! He used the sign for "more" for the first time today because he was so motivated by this delicious food! (And we've been working on that sign for months.....).

On a side note: William now uses the following signs: nurse, eat, water, dog, down, "coldie" (our word for a cold teether), and he waves bye-bye.  He also has a very distinctive "I want it" grunt, and an "animal sound" grunt!  Not a bad expressive vocabulary for a just turned 9 month old! Yes, I am a proud mama today (and always).

Here is a photo of William when he was just about 1 month old.  It is absolutely amazing how much a baby changes in 9 months!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Little Off-Topic......Plastic

My husband and I recently made a decision that was not as easy as it might sound: We decided to stop using plastic food storage containers! The ridiculous jumble of various shapes and sizes of containers and lids has been cleared out of the cabinet! This has been a time-consuming (and somewhat costly) shift, but one that we hope will have a positive impact on our family's (especially William's) future health.

Since 1946, when Tupperware brand plastic food storage containers were introduced, American families have been using such containers almost exclusively (and microwaving in them, putting them throught the dishwasher, etc.).  It is now known that plastic containers can contain harmful chemical compounds like Bisphenol A (BPA) and pthalates.  When exposed to heat (by putting hot food into the container, microwaving or running it through the dishwasher), these chemical compounds are released from the plastic. Both have been linked to various health issues (such as asthsma and autism) , and babies and children are most succeptible to their effects.  A lifetime of exposure to such compounds could very well be a contributor to the overall increased rates of asthma, cancer, autism and other health issues in the US.

Since several countries recognized the dangers of these chemical compounds in 2008, plastic products that are BPA and pthalate free have become more widely available.  Just this year the FDA raised concerns about fetal, infant and childhood exposure to these compounds.  What concerns me is that these compounds have just been identified as harmful in the past few years!  What else could be in plastics that our babies are being exposed to? 10 years from now, there may be several more identified, and I don't want to take that chance.  The cumulative effects of small exposures to toxins could affect William's health 20, 40 or 50 years from now, and I feel it's my responsibility to help protect his future health as well as his current health.

We replaced our plastic storage containers with glass, silicone and stainless steel containers (many of which do have plastic lids, but at least those won't be touching the food!).  We will no longer wash any plastic items in the dishwasher (lids are washed by hand), and we stopped microwaving in plastic years ago. I hope that these small steps make a difference........

Here are some of the products we invested in to replace our plastic containers:
Pyrex Storage Plus 20 Piece Container Set
LunchBots Pico Stainless Steel Lunch Container
Oggi 3-Inch Diameter Stainless Steel Pinch Bowls with Airtight Lids, Set of 3
Kinderville Little Bites Stackable Bowls Set of 4

Crate & Barrel Glass Bowls with Lids

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


"Learning is the human activity that least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity." - Ivan Illich

More "Balls"

I don't know what else to call them! Now that William is enjoying self-feeding so much, I've been coming up with recipes that that he can pick up, which can only be classified as "balls!"  But it is way too reminiscent of that SNL "Schwetty Balls" skit.......

Very inappropriate for a baby-centered blog!!!.....so from now on, I will refer to them as "bites," for lack of a better word! (Any other ideas are welcome).

Hummus Bites
Canned chick peas/garbanzo beans
Olive oil
Garlic Powder
Mash some garbanzos in a small bowl with a fork.  Add a drizzle of olive oil and mash some more, until you form a thick, somewhat dry, chunky paste. Mash in a sprinkle of garlic powder (chopped, steamed greens like spinach could be added into the mixture as well).  Roll into small round bites and serve.  Can also be finished with a roll in powdered baby cereal or crushed puffs/o's so that they are less messy and easier for baby to pick up. Great source of protein, fiber and healthy fats!

Tonight William had these Hummus Bites for dinner, along with steamed butternut squash chunks, chard leaves, broccoli florets, shredded mozzarella cheese and a small bowl of jarred pureed pears with a spoonful of yogurt and nutmeg.

The most recent additions to William's diet have been tofu and cherries!