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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cooking Together!

As William approaches age two, he really is mostly eating meals along with me and my husband. "Eating" being a loose interpretation of rejection, throwing and squishing at times....
So to enhance his relationship with food I've now started putting my energy into finding ways William can help cook! It is often said that when children are involved in preparing meals, they are more likely to taste and enjoy the food.

Here is a recipe for home made granola that is delicious, healthy, and safe for toddlers to help prepare. Try letting your child help measure the ingredients, dump them into the mixing bowl, and stir everything together.

William's "Gagona"

Stir together:
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ (optional)
1/4 cup golden flax seeds (or sesame seeds)
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup pepitas (or sunflower seeds)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cashews (or other nuts)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds (or other nuts)

Warm in a pan:
1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil (or another vegetable oil)
2/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Stir sauce into the dry mixture, then spread in thin layers on cookie sheets or in pans.  Bake in oven at 225 degrees for about an hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that it toasts evenly.  Stir in 1 cup dried fruit if desired after removing from oven (we used dried figs).

William loves this as a crunchy snack, or on top of his yogurt at breakfast. I like it on top of my coconut milk ice cream!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Baby's Palate And Food Memories Shaped Before Birth

by Gretchen Cuda-Kroen
August 8, 2011

Want your child to love veggies? Start early. Very early. Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy not only nourishes her baby in the womb, but may shape food preferences later in life.
At 21 weeks after conception, a developing baby weighs about as much as a can of Coke — and he or she can taste it, too. Still in the womb, the growing baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid daily. That fluid surrounding the baby is actually flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten in the last few hours.
"Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk," says Julie Mennella, who studies taste in infants at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. In fact, Mennella says there isn't a single flavor they have found that doesn't show up in utero. Her work has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

The Scent Of Amniotic Fluid
To determine if flavors are passed from the mother to the the baby via the amniotic fluid, researchers gave women garlic capsules or sugar capsules before taking a routine sample of their amniotic fluid — and then asked a panel of people to smell the samples.
"And it was easy," says Mennella. "They could pick out the samples easily from the women who ate garlic." The sense of taste is actually 90-percent smell, she added, so they knew just from the odor that the babies could taste it.
Mennella says she got the idea from dairy farmers, who in the 1960s and 70s were doing research on how the diet of the dairy cow impacted the flavor of the milk. She says cows that graze on wild garlic and onion, or who live in stinking barns, produce milk with distinct flavors.
But Mennella says that not only is the amniotic fluid and breast milk in humans flavored by food just like cows, but memories of these flavors are formed even before birth. That could result in preferences for these foods or odors for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli.
Mennella says this had already been observed in rabbits, so she decided to test it in human babies — with carrots. Pregnant women were divided into three groups. One group was asked to drink carrot juice every day during their pregnancy, another during breastfeeding and a third to avoid carrots completely. Then when the children began to eat solid food, researchers fed them cereal made either with water, or carrot juice and videotaped their responses.
Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk.

Introducing Babies To Food Culture
"And just like the European rabbit, the babies who had experienced carrot in amniotic fluid or mother's milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal," says Mennella. "And when we analyzed the video tapes they made less negative faces while eating it."
This makes a lot of evolutionary sense, says Mennella. Since mothers tend to feed their children what they eat themselves, it is nature's way of introducing babies to the foods and flavors that they are likely to encounter in their family and their culture.
"Each individual baby is having their own unique experience, it's changing from hour to hour, from day to day, from month to month," says Mennella. "As a stimulus it's providing so much information to that baby about who they are as a family and what are the foods their family enjoys and appreciates."
That very idea got Matty Lau thinking 'how is it that kids in other cultures eat foods that are spicy, bitter, or have pungent flavors?' She's a Chinese-American who had a baby in late July and recalls growing up eating foods most American kids she knows would never touch.
"My parents are great cooks — and so they'll cook things like preserved oysters. I always wondered how it was that I was able to grow up eating bitter vegetables like kale and mustard greens and things like ginger," says Lau.

Instilling A Love Of Chinese Flavors Before Birth
While she was pregnant, she consciously tried to provide her baby with the flavors she loves from her native Chinese cuisine. She the hopes that when her baby is older, it will share her love of flavorful food.
"I was really concerned that my child enjoy food as much as the rest of my family," says Lau.
University of Florida taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk says babies are born with very few hard and fast taste preferences. She says Mennella's work shows that very early exposures to flavors – both before and after birth — make it more likely that children will accept a wide variety of flavors. And when those early exposures are reinforced over a lifetime, Bartoshuk thinks they might have far-reaching implications, even promoting good eating.
"To what extent can we make a baby eat a healthier diet by exposing it to all the right flavors — broccoli, carrots, lima beans, et cetera? Could we do that or not? My guess is we could," says Bartoshuk.
Menella acknowledges that many toddlers will still make a sour face when given broccoli, no matter how much the mother ate while pregnant. And maybe they will never like it. But she says parents should keep exposing young children to these flavors because they can eventually learn to like them.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Soup!

I threw together a basic blended vegetable soup the other day in order to use up some extras from my organic produce delivery.  I tried to keep it light, but very flavorful! This soup is great chilled or warm, and William gives it rave reviews ("mo SOOP!").

Summer Veggie Soup:
1 32 oz carton vegetable or chicken stock
Enough roughly chopped fresh veggies to fill to top of stock (I used asparagus, broccoli, carrots and corn)
1/2 small onion
2 cloves garlic- smashed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Fresh (or dried) herbs (I used fresh dill and thyme from our "urban garden," which is a pot)

Sautee the roughly chopped onion and smashed garlic cloves in the olive oil in a soup pot until fragrant. Season with a bit of salt and pepper if desired.  Add the carton of stock and enough roughly chopped veggies to reach the top of the stock, but still be submerged. ring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until all the veggies are soft. 
Allow to cool, then blend with immersion blender (stick/wand) or in a food processor or blender. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed, then blend in fresh herbs to taste.  Serve chilled or warm.

This recipe would work well for a baby who is new to eating solid foods.  It is a great introduction to fresh herbs, as well as onions and garlic!

Part Two of my Toddler blog post

Toddler Series Part Two: Four Challenging Toddler Behaviors & 4 Ideas for Dealing With Them

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keeping Cool

This summer started out hot here in the Boston area (although this past week was disappointingly dreary and cool).  William has also had a low appetite due to his four incisors trying to come in, so I've been making a nutrient-rich smoothie for him just about every day! There always seems to be some left over (even after Mama has a taste), so I've been freezing the rest in our awesome push-up Kinderville Little Bites Ice Pop Molds.

Here are a few of our favorite smoothie/ice pop recipes:

Purple & Green - good way to get in some extra veggies!
(all measurements approximate)
1 cup milk (or hemp/almond milk)
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 a cooked beet
1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
a handful of fresh or frozen spinach, chopped

Tropical - refreshing on a hot day!
1 cup milk (or alternative milk)
William & his buddy Andrew enjoy ice pops at our Memorial Day BBQ
1/4 cup yogurt
1 banana
1/4 cup fresh or frozen mango chunks
2 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut

Almond Cream - packed with protein!
1 cup milk
1/4 cup yogurt
1 banana
2 Tbsp almond butter

Optional add-ins
Probiotic powder
flax oil
D/vitamin drops

Keep cool, everybody!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Seriously: healthy chips!

I'd like to thanks a friend of my friend Paige for sharing her recipe for kale chips on a Facebook conversation regarding getting more veggies into toddlers.  I spiced it up a bit, and was really surprised by how yummy they are! William really enjoyed them too, asking for "chee!" every time he saw the container I was storing them in.

Spiced kale chips
1 bunch of kale, washed well, torn into bite-sized peices
olive oil
sea salt
garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center.
Toss the torn kale (no thick stems, just green leafy parts) in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil until they are all coated:  sprinkle in a bit of salt and garlic powder and toss well.
Lay each piece of kale out on a baking sheet so that they aren't touching.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until crispy to the touch (but not browned).  Allow to cool before eating.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

It took me about three batches to finish making the entire bunch of kale into chips, but it was well worth it!  Try any combination of spices to season before cooking.
Some ideas:
garlic powder and parmesean cheese
chili powder and garlic powder
dill and black pepper
premixed seasonings like Adobo or Old Bay

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Toddler-friendly cookies

All-natural, whole grain, sweetened with honey! (No sugar, no white flour) Any combination of nuts and dried fruit work well in this recipe. They come out light and cakey. Healthy enough to be served for breakfast!
(And they're pretty mama-friendly as well!)

Honey-Bunny Cookies
3/4 cup room temperature salted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 cup mashed banana (and/or applesauce)
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
(optional: 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg)
(I also mixed in 1/2 cup of plain roasted almonds, ground up in food processor and 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cream together butter and honey.  Beat in egg. Stir in banana/applesauce and oats. 
Combine the rest of the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then stir into creamed butter/honey/egg mixture.  Stir in optional nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.) and dried fruit (coconut flakes, raisins, cranberries, cherries, etc.).
Drop by teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet and cook for 12 minutes at 400 degrees.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Convenience is Key....

when feeding a toddler! 

That doesn't mean it has to be bland though.  Below are some of my and William's recent favorite foods that are healthy,  flavorful, quick and easy to prepare. 

Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods has a line of delicious and healthy kids products that William and I have become fans of.  We particularly enjoy the Sweet Potato Littles and Spinach Littles: think of them as toddler-sized potato pancakes in fun shapes including stars, teddy bears and dinosaurs!

Sargento Vermont Sharp White Cheddar chesse sticks are a flavorful alternative to the basic cheese stick (which is usually made with part-skim mozzarella).  William has alternated between wanting to hold ("hoh!") and bite these and asking me to cut them up ("cuh!")  into teeny tiny cubes.....

Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta Pagodas, Wheat Free, 8 Ounce Boxes (Pack of 12) is a delicious gluten-free pasta, the texture of which I actually prefer to our usual whole wheat pasta! The great thing about this quinoa pasta is that a serving size has 4 grams each of protein and fiber! We toss it with olive oil and our favorite jarred marinara sauce or some pesto.

Larabars  are delicious snack bars made almost exclusively of dried fruit and nuts.  There are some flavors like Larabar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bar that incorporate chocolate chips, which Mama likes! But William's favorites are the banana bread and blueberry muffin flavors, each with just a handful of all-natural ingredients.  A great healthy but nutrient-rich snack on the go!
William on Easter, snack in

And I don't know what we'd do without our  Munchkin Snack Catchers filled with an on-the-go snack like Barbara's Bakery Puffins Original! We always seem to be on the go......

 Additional favorite snacks: dried mango, dried cranberries, puffed grain cereals, whole apples (nature's convenience food!).

 Do you and your child  have any favorite convenience foods to share? Please leave a comment!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Two New Recipes!

Sorry, everyone, it's been a while since my last post! Things have been so busy, I wasn't putting much creative energy into cooking or writing :) But in the past couple of weeks my life has mellowed out a little (healthy baby, snow has melted, etc.), and I've come up with two new baby/toddler-friendly recipes to share with you.

Pasta "Bolognese"
A traditional bolognese sauce recipe uses beef, pancetta, onions, tomato paste, meat broth, white wine and cream. Celery, carrot and onion are sometimes added. I used what was on hand to make my vegetable-rich and baby-friendly version of a bolognese sauce:

 1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup jarred marinara sauce
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 oz. soft goat cheese
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. of pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat shells, cooked 1 minute LESS than package instructions)
1/4 cup cooking liquid from the pasta

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then add the garlic. Cook for a minute, until fragrant, and add the carrots.  Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring a few times, then add the zucchini, stir and cook a minute more.  Move veggies to the edges of the pan and add the ground beef, stirring and breaking it up occasionally as it cooks. Season a bit with salt and pepper. 

Once meat is browned, stir together with the veggies in pan and pour the marinara sauce over. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.  Uncover and stir in the goat cheese, crumbled, until it melts. Then stir in the cooked pasta and cooking liquid, turn up the heat to medium high and allow to cook, stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes more. Top with freshly grated parmesean. Serve and enjoy!

There are a lot of substitutions that would work well in this recipe: ground turkey or veggie crumbles instead of beef (or no protein at all!), canned diced or whole tomatoes instead of marinara, fresh tomatoes, and just about any veggie diced up instead of the carrots and zucchini.....use what you have!

Coconut Rice
I've been trying to use more coconut products in my cooking since I've been hearing so much about its health benefits, not to mention its uses as a beauty product (healed up my ridiculously dry hands overnight, and is a great treatment for dry hair!).  I've been using unsweetened coconut milk on my breakfast cereal, and giving some to William, who isn't a huge fan. He loves his "moo" milk!!!

Coconut oil is an easy product to incorporate into cooking.  It is very slightly sweet though, so it's best used in dishes that intentionally blend sweet and savory flavors together.  I've used it to pan-fry panko-breaded chicken, and just came up with this recipe when trying to get creative with leftover plain brown rice.

1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 a small onion, diced
1 Tbsp. shredded dried coconut (optional) 
garlic powder
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes (optional!)
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small yellow squash, diced
2 cups cooked brown rice (I used short grain organic)
1 cup vegetable broth

Heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions (and shredded coconut for an extra touch of sweetness and coconut flavor!) and cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the carrots and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the squash, season with a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes (careful!) and cook a minute more.  Add the cooked rice and vegetable broth.  Stir together, cover and simmer over medium-low 5-10 minutes (depending on how soft you'd like your veggies).  Uncover and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  Enjoy!

Substitutions: any oil or butter could be used in place of coconut oil, any veggies could be added or replace the carrots and squash; white rice, quinoa or any other grain could be used in place of the brown rice.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hidden Treasures

My college friend Mama P, mom to toddler G, inspired to me to write this post. While I have been philosophically opposed to the idea of "hiding" ingredients in dishes to intentionally "trick" children into eating them, as the mother of an almost-toddler I am beginning to see that it is sometimes necessary! I think that as long as the child's experience of and response to the food is handled with respect (whether it is a yucky, yummy or "meh" one), no harm can be done.  But don't forget to continue occasionally offering the hidden ingredients in their whole, exposed form to give your child the opportunity to experience their true flavor and texture! Over time (months? years? decades?) they may still learn to enjoy them.

When I was a baby, I loved to eat fresh tomatoes from the family garden. I would bite into them like an apple. The thought of doing that now makes me shudder in revulsion (and actually gag a little)! It is shocking, I know, that a foodie like me has an aversion to tomatoes, but it's true. Raw tomatoes are challenging for me. Chunky tomato salsas and sauces as well:  it's an issue of texture, not flavor.  For most of my childhood and adolescence I simply did not eat tomatoes in their whole form, but in my early twenties I began to enjoy them again: thinly sliced in a sandwich or on top of a pizza was how it began.  Then in my mid-twenties a friend served me sliced heirloom tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese and black pepper (*drool*).  Now every summer that is a dish that I absolutely crave! Lesson being: tastes change repeatedly over a lifetime.  So hiding food here and there is only a transitory deception: it's quite possible that the foods we hide for our children now might be a favorite sometime in the future!

William, who currently dislikes all orange vegetables!

Some "Hidden Treasure" Ingredients

pureed spinach or broccoli
pureed carrots, cauliflower, yellow squash or summer/winter squashes

Any meat gravy
ground turkey, beef or chicken
Cooked mashed fish (cod or salmon)
Pureed white beans, garbanzos, etc.

Some good "bases" to mix the hidden treasures into:

Mashed white potato
Mashed Sweet potato
Rice (I prefer brown rice because it has more nutrients and fiber!)
Macaroni and cheese (see previous post!)
Plain cooked pasta (again, I prefer whole wheat)
Couscous or orzo
Scrambled eggs/omelette (add a small amount of the hidden treasures into the whisked eggs and milk before cooking)