Family Mealtime: Cooking for Babies Guest Post from Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There is no doubt that I am inherently a food snob, and it is no secret that I’m trying to turn my kids into foodies too. I believe that what we feed our babies — and how we do it — can influence their eating habits as they get older. I’ve got a one-year old who loves sushi and a toddler who will at least try anything, but loves hot curries, tagine, and a medium rare steak. All is not perfect; she hates potatoes.

In our house we make all our own food and we try to do absolutely everything organic. I’ve been accused to being snobby with this insistence. Maybe, but my thought is that organic food generally tastes better and my biggest concern, aside from nutrition, is developing the girls’ palates. If an organic pear has a better taste than a supermarket one, then that’s the one that will teach her what a pear should taste like. There is also the environmental benefit, of course.

Finally, we generally cook in season for ourselves and so we did for baby food. That meant she ate a lot of root vegetables to start. It also meant a splurge on the so not local fruits like oranges, mango, and papaya, but they are in season in the Southern Hemisphere and she was introduced to them after Christmas in Baja. With spring finally here she is enjoying strawberries, the first rhubarb, and soon the local asparagus.

It also means I am cooking for all of us, and not just her. This is something ultimately central to teaching the girls dinner table etiquette and the importance of family dinners. We all sit down together and eat the same meal. Sure, Hubby and I might have cold veggies once we’re done cutting and helping the girls eat, but we all enjoy the mess and mayhem of sitting down together. It’s noisy, food ends up all over the place, and we spend more time laughing and chatting as much as people can with a 1 and 3 year old.

Mealtime is also about exploring new tastes and textures. Just as I introduced solids we were still breastfeeding a half dozen times a day. At the time, she was getting a lot of her nutrients from me, supplemented by the veggies, fruits, fish, and meats she is trying out. I must admit, though, that one of the main reasons I was still breastfeeding is that I am too lazy for bottles.

Don’t waste your money on fancy kits or cookbooks. Even if you aren’t much of a cook, this is easy to do. Really easy to do. Just do one food at a time. As they develop and you feel confident you can try mixing flavours. I always go for things I would generally eat myself – squash with apples and maybe some chicken, beets and oranges, beef and broccoli. And a kit? Just fancy ice cube trays and a special DVD.

Introducing New Foods
When I first introduced a new food I only made one or two servings. That way I wasn’t stuck with a huge batch of cauliflower if she wasn’t going to eat it. I would simply put a few florets or tablespoons aside from whatever I was making for the rest of us. Introduce one new food every few days. Once you are sure the kid likes it and has no reactions then make bigger batches.

Now, there comes a point when all babies should refuse baby food. It’s often a hard adjustment for us parents. Will they get enough to eat? Have I chopped those beans small enough? Does she have to be so messy? Many a friend will keep trying to feed the purees and mashes to make sure that the kid is getting enough to eat. But remember this, by the time they insist on finger foods they usually don’t need to eat as much. And they do get more in their mouth than you think they do. That is, until they learn to feed the dogs hovering below the high chair.

It is rather tempting at this point to let them survive on bananas and peas. This phase of baby food can be more time consuming than the purees. Only because of the incessant chopping required. You are your baby’s sous chef, dicing and prepping every day. The one saving grace is that this is also the time when you can start introducing spices, oil, butter, and other condiments. Knowing that can make your life a lot easier.

At this point you have two choices: reserve a bit of what you are making to steam and chop for your little one. This only takes a few extra minutes of prep, and maybe another pan/dish if you want to cook it separately. Or, you can simply take what you’ve cooked – prior to salting it – and cut it into small pieces. Okay, you can do it after seasoning it too, but I am notorious for undersalting, according to Hubby.

Transitions and Mealtimes
No recipe, no technique. This is about the transition from purees to people food. You’ve been getting rougher textures already, right? You’ve been offering things like bananas, peas, and blueberries to encourage her pincer grasp, right? No? Then start with these. In fact, I start with these within a month or two of starting solids. The longer you stay on smooth purees, the harder it will be to move to finger foods.

Again, make sure you are sitting down to eat with your baby. Too often we feed the baby first, make our dinner, then feed ourselves. Sure, your dinner will get a little cold or it will feel like you are eating ungodly early, but it is important to sit down as a family and eat. Your baby will see you eating your food and their natural curiosity will draw them to your food. Not to mention the extra benefits your family gains when sitting down together.

Thank you for sharing, Cheryl! We actually split Cheryl’s introduction to baby foods into two posts, so watch for the second half tomorrow, with more ideas on what to feed your growing ones and how to make their food yourself without too much fuss.

Visit Cheryl’s weblog:
Backseat Gourmet
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(Image: Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet)