Feeding Baby: Are Finger Foods Healthier Than Purees?

It’s no secret that I love to puree. It’s my favorite step in the whole baby food-making process. So I was surprised to discover that a new British study found that my baby may have been privy to  extra health benefits if I had skipped the purees and moved straight from bottle to finger foods. According to the British Medical Journal, researchers examined the eating habits of 155 British children and learned that self-fed babies eat better, preferring carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, and rice, versus their puree-fed counterparts who favor sweets. They also determined that self-feeding may help ward off obesity since babies can stop eating when they’re full; spoon-fed babies may get an extra spoonful or two than they really need or want. Of the babies studied, 93.5 percent never had a choking incident.

Granted, my puree-fed child (that’s him, covered in pureed avocado when he was six-months-old) is going through a applesauce-raisin-and-graham-cracker-only phase this week, so it’s hard for me to say whether he truly prefers grains to cookies, and I have to work to make him gain weight, but maybe I would notice some divine difference in his eating habits if I had resisted the allure of my blender. At least I can take comfort in knowing that both puree-fed and self-fed babies studied exhibited the same degree of pickiness (see Bug’s menu of choice above…sigh).

Overall, I think this study does raise some compelling points about self-feeding. It could be healthier for your child, and it’s certainly less time-consuming for you. A friend of a friend’s baby transitioned from breastfeeding to whole fruits and veggies beautifully, and my friend talked about following in her footsteps. As a first-time mom, I didn’t have the guts to pitch Mason’s carrot puree and hand him a carrot instead–but I admired what I considered to be brave and maybe equal parts daring and crazy. (Mason once choked on pureed chicken and I was so traumatized I double-pureed all of his meats from then on!) Now that I’m braver and more experienced at feeding babies, I see the wisdom in giving them whole foods first to see how they respond instead of automatically starting with purees. At the very least, it’s one less transition for them to make. Would you have felt comfortable giving your five-month-old finger foods the first time you introduced her to solids?

Homemade Baby Food: How to Make 13 Fruit Purees

It’s so easy and economical to make your own baby food, and fruit purees are particularly fun to fix because babies usually love them. I adored whipping up fruit purees for Mason. I’d spend hours preparing the fruit after he went to bed–the washing, chopping, cooking, and pureeing was my way of de-stressing and showing my baby love. It made me feel good to know exactly what he was eating, and wonderful memories are associated with many of those purees. Organic avocado puree was Mason’s first introduction to solids. A swirl of pear puree magically turned green beans into a veggie he loved to eat. The best: strawberry puree sweetened Mason’s oatmeal the morning he said “mama,” his first word, for the first time.  I could go on and on. Now that my boy is 16-months-old, I don’t get to puree fruit very often, and I miss it.

If you haven’t made your own homemade fruit puree yet, try it out. We’ve taken the guesswork out of preparing 13 of the most popular fruit purees by creating step-by-step guides with photos and mix-in suggestions (links below). Best of luck, and be sure to let us know how it goes! (NOTE: We are working on guides to making vegetable purees for baby. Stay tuned!)

How to Make:

Baby Applesauce
Best for babies 4+ months

Banana Puree
Best for babies 4+ months

Peach Puree
Best for babies 4+ months

Avocado Puree
Best for babies 4+ months

Plum Puree
Best for babies 6+ months

Apricot Puree
Best for babies 6+ months

Blueberry Puree
Best for babies 6+ months

Cherry Puree
Best for babies 8+ months

Strawberry Puree
Best for babies 8+ months

Mango Puree
Best for babies 10+ months

Papaya Puree
Best for babies 10+ months

Hunger Strike, Part 3

toesWhat hunger strike? After his six+-hour fast, Bug takes a break from organic cheese toast and roast chicken to nibble on his tasty toes.

Bug has “fasted” before but I thought we were past that. Then I arrived at school to pick him up this afternoon and heard he had an “awkward” day. After two breakfasts — strawberry-banana oatmeal, Swiss cheese, and cantaloupe at home and a breakfast of eggs, toast, and pineapple at school — he refused to eat for the rest of the day. He slept through lunch. He skipped the afternoon snack of zucchini bread in favor of a bottle of whole milk, and he developed a diaper rash so uncomfortable he couldn’t sit on his bottom.

He’s only been in school for 16 days, but I’m used to hearing that he had a great day when I pick him up. I take pride in my happy, easy-going son who eats well and loves his teachers and classmates. Suddenly I was hearing that he had essentially starved himself all day and that there was a painful rash on his boo boo. I headed home, totally stressed out.  WHAT THE H–L WAS GOING ON HERE?! How could I have failed my little precious so spectacularly? Because, clearly, this was all my fault.

I called my mom the minute we left school and she reminded me that it’s normal for a one-year-old child to be difficult at mealtime. She added that diaper rash was also very normal and nothing to worry about. “He’s totally fine, I promise,” she said. But still.

At dinner, I decided to serve Bug a few of his faves and then call the pediatrician if he still refused to eat. I laid out a spread of brown rice bread topped with melted organic cheddar cheese, organic roast chicken, and cooked organic Gala apple. Simple, low-key, impossible to resist…I hoped. Bug fed himself the goods. At one point, he kicked back and nibbled on his toes. No big deal, just enjoying a leisurely meal. I tried to be nonchalant but inside I was doing a little victory dance. Mama fixed it all, everything was right in the world once again. When he was finished eating, I tackled that diaper rash with a thick coat of Desitin.

Crisis averted, I could think more logically about the situation. I had to admit there were compelling reasons that seemed to have contributed to this hunger strike: 1. Bug was tired after a rough night for of being up at 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., upset for reasons unclear (let’s face it, we were both tired) and he preferred to catch up on sleep after two adult-size breakfasts. 2. His wicked diaper rash was uncomfortable enough that drinking a bottle and playing on his knees was preferable to sitting in a hard chair on his bottom, even if it meant missing yummy zucchini bread. 3. He missed his mama and her amazing cooking.

OK, #3 is probably wishful thinking. But reasons #1 and #2 are solid. Perhaps I had freaked out for no reason. Bug ate a very decent dinner — and he was his usual giggly, active self all night until bedtime. But it’s really scary to hear that your child declines to eat for a six-hour stretch and the diaper rash was vicious, so I’m giving myself a break for overreacting.

Has your babe ever refused to eat? What were the circumstances, and what did you do to end the hunger strike?

The Best Fall Fruits & Veggies for Your Babe & How to Prepare Them

Rich in fiber and packed with vitamin C, fresh apples make wholesome applesauce that’s an ideal first first. Diced apples are a delicious and popular finger food for toddlers, who can dip the fruit in hummus or peanut butter.

Dazzle your babe with the season’s freshest fruits and veggies. They’re colorful, filled with vitamins and minerals, and fun to eat. Here’s what to buy and serve right now — plus directions for pureeing, mashing, or serving as finger food.

APPLES

Puree: Wash, peel, and dice apples. Cook for 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Puree for a smooth texture. Add a dash of cinnamon, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mash: Follow cooking and freezing steps above but instead of pureeing, mash the fruit with a potato masher. Or dice and serve as finger food. Add a dash of cinnamon, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mix with: Sweet potato, red cabbage, butternut squash, pumpkin, pear, peach, plum, banana, beef, chicken

PUMPKINS

Puree: Cut pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and save for roasting or discard.  Brush each half with olive oil and place skin-side down in a baking dish. To keep the flesh of the pumpkin moist, add a half-inch of water before baking. Bake at 450 degrees F until pumpkin is tender (about 45 minutes). Puree in a food processor or blender until you reach desire texture. Add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon, if you wish.

Mash: Follow cooking and freezing steps above but instead of pureeing, mash the veggie with a potato masher. Or dice and serve as finger food. Add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mix it with: Apple, chicken, pear, chicken, beef, lentils

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Puree: Scoop flesh out of a roasted squash. Discard the skin. Puree squash flesh in a food processor. Add water until you reach a smooth consistency. For extra creaminess add a splash of pre-mixed formula, breast milk, milk, or plain yogurt. Add a dash of nutmeg, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mash: Follow cooking and freezing steps above but instead of pureeing, mash the veggie with a potato masher. Or dice and serve as finger food. Add a dash of nutmeg, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mix with: Apple, chicken, beef, peach, pear, carrot, lentils

SWEET POTATOES

Puree: Wash, peel, and dice sweet potato/potato. Cook until tender (about 15 minutes). Puree and add cooking liquid as needed until you reach desired consistency. Add a dash of cinnamon, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Smash: Follow cooking and freezing steps above but instead of pureeing, mash the veggie with a potato masher. Or dice and serve as finger food. Add a dash of cinnamon, if you wish. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mix with: Peach, apricot, apple, raisins, peas, carrot, lentils, chicken, beef

BROCCOLI

Puree: Wash broccoli and remove stems. Cook until tender (about 15 minutes). Puree broccoli in a food processor or blender, adding cooking liquid as needed until you reach desired consistency.

Dice: To serve as finger food, follow the cooking instructions above and then chop into tiny pieces.

Serve with: Sweet potato, raisins, apple, asparagus

CAULIFLOWER

Puree: Wash cauliflower and remove stems. Cook until tender (about 15 minutes). Puree cauliflower in a food processor or blender, adding cooking liquid as needed until you reach desired consistency. For extra creaminess add a splash of pre-mixed formula, breast milk, milk, or plain yogurt. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Smash: Follow cooking and freezing steps above but instead of pureeing, mash the veggie with a potato masher. Or dice and serve as finger food. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Mix with: Butternut squash, peas, carrot, green beans, apple

GRAPES

Dice: Skip this fruit for babies — it’s best for kids over age 1 because of the skin. Dice into fourths before serving. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Serve with: Banana, apple, chicken, beef

What’s your babe’s fave summer fruit? How do you like to prepare it?

NOTE: Pediatricians have different opinions about when babies should try specific fruits and vegetables. Consult your pediatrician before starting your babe on a new fruit or veggie.

 

“Cheese or Nothing At All, Mommy!”

mac

After rejecting a healthy meal of fruits, veggies, and lentils, Mason savors organic mac ‘n’ cheese made with brown rice pasta.

We spent yesterday with a one-year-old so picky we almost didn’t recognize him. It began at breakfast. I had prepared some of his faves — veggie-cheese omelet, toast with blackberry jam, cantaloupe, and red grapes — but Bug wanted no part of any of it. Fearing that he’d starve, I mixed Greek yogurt with fresh peach puree, another fave, and offered it to Bug. He took a spoonful and then spit it all out. What was going on here? Finally, I sprinkled organic cheddar cheese on brown rice bread and toasted it. Mason snapped out of his funk when I served the cheese toast and dug in. I tried once again to interest him in eggs or fruit or yogurt. No luck.

At lunch, Bug was so disinterested in his cooked organic carrots, steamed edamame and peas, juicy red grapes, and lentils that he didn’t even bother playing with his food. Feeling antsy because he ate so little for breakfast — He’s going to get even skinnier! — I offered him organic macaroni-and-cheese made with brown rice pasta. With a shriek of delight he squished the pasta noodles in his hand, flashed us a beatific smile, and jammed it all into his mouth. Chris cracked up but I was finding it hard to be amused by Bug at this point. If Mason were able to talk in sentences, I imagined him issuing this ultimatum: “Cheese or nothing at all, Mommy!” It’s normal for one-year-olds to be picky, but is it normal for them to be this picky?

I was dreading dinner but hoping  cheesy veggies and grilled organic beef burger would be impossible for him to resist. He ate a few bites of burger and then picked up a piece of carrot. Yes! Then he licked the cheese from it, removed it from his mouth, dangled his arm over the side of the high chair, and dropped it on the floor with a gleeful squeal. Not part of my plan. He took a swig of milk and then buried his face in his arm and whimpered. Apparently only cheese-covered bread or pasta would do. I appeased Bug with a few macaroni noodles and then coaxed him into eating a few more bites of burger as well as Greek yogurt mixed with fresh strawberry-banana puree. Not the ideal dinner but at least we got beyond cheese and carbs. Here’s to hoping my adventurous little eater returns soon!

Is your babe obsessed with cheese or something else? If so, what do you do to get him/her to eat a healthy, well-rounded meal?

11 Things I Can’t Believe Mason Enjoys Eating


His smile was cute but Mason’s behavior was not at dinner on Tuesday. He rejected most of his meal, played with his sippy cup instead of drinking from it, and put his feet up on his high chair tray (gross!).

I’m thrilled that my 12-month-old has such an eclectic palate, but that doesn’t mean mealtime is always easy for us. In fact we’ve had several finicky and frustrating mealtimes at our house lately (see exhibit A above). Take Tuesday. I picked Bug up from daycare and his teacher told me had been a champion eater all day — oatmeal, various fresh fruits, lasagna, whole-grain muffin. I was psyched, I get so excited when he eats well. Then we got home and I offered him six different finger foods he’s loved in the past, in the spirit of Dr. Sears’ advice, and he spit every option out. He even rejected yogurt with fresh peach puree, one of his faves. What did he finally eat? Plain macaroni noodles by the fistful. So. Annoying. All of this is normal, according to Sears, since kids tend to get picky once they turn a year old. But it’s still frustrating.

When things get tough —  like dinnertime every night so far this week  — I can take comfort in all the times that he’s eaten things we swore he’d never like. Here are the foods that I’m amazed he enjoys so much. What about you? Is there anything that your babe likes that you can’t believe he/she enjoys so much?

1. Lobster Ravioli. This one made me nervous (What if he has a shellfish allergy?!), but Chris gave Bug his first taste of shellfish with winning results.

2. Gazpacho. We let him try this bold summer soup because he kept sticking his fingers in Chris’ bowl. Mason has enjoyed it ever since, including at his birthday dinner.

3. Garam Masala. My friend Jeanne convinced me that my then-nine-month-old would probably like her curried lentils, which feature a tiny pinch of this strong Indian spice. She was right.

4. Broccoli. My first experience with babies and broccoli was traumatic, but fortunately my kid likes his “trees.”

5. Vanilla milkshake. Only a dad would dare give a shake to a one-year-old, but Bug tried a few drops of this rich and creamy treat at a Washington, DC, diner and loved it.

6. Green beans. Mix this healthy veggie with Greek yogurt and fresh pear puree and you have Bug at the first spoonful.

7. Feta cheese. It was love at first bite and now Mason enjoys this tangy cheese tossed with orzo and spinach.

8. Edamame. I didn’t even know what it was until I was until college, but Bug eats the protein-rich bean several times a week.

9. Kalamata olives.  Tangy and delish, Bug can’t get enough of the stuff.

10. Peas. Green veggies are usually a tougher sell than yellow ones — they’re not as sweet  — but if you mix peas with Greek yogurt and curry powder, Mason can’t resist them.

11. Pesto. It looks years for me to acquire a taste for this pungent sauce but Bug loved it when he tried it on chicken and pasta at daycare last week.

Is it Wrong to Raise Babies as Vegans?

Alicia Silverstone is raising her three-month-old baby, Bear Blu, on a strictly vegan diet — no meat, fish, dairy, or honey, according to a report in today’s Huffington Post. Silverstone’s not the only one, notes author Katherine Bindley, who quotes several moms whose children follow vegan diets. Despite the health benefits that some experts say come with a vegan diet, including lower rates of heart disease and obesity, others think the diet is too risky for kids because it can lead to numerous vitamin deficiencies if done incorrectly.

My take is that babies and toddlers should be introduced to as many diverse, healthy foods as possible. They need the vitamins and nutrients, and they need to learn about food and eating healthfully. (I follow a gluten-free diet but I’d never impose a gluten-free diet on Mason just because it’s the way that I choose to eat.) If they wish to follow a special diet later in life, when they’re old enough to make those choices and understand the consequences, then we as parents should help guide their decisions. What do you think? Would you put your babe or toddler on a vegan diet? Or, if your babe is already on a vegan diet, what are the advantages from your POV?

Picky Eater Solution #1: A Yummy Finger Food Spread

crankys2Mason and Zann, at Cranky’s in Long Island City, NY, playing with toys and spoons while they wait for their lunch.

Mason and I had a pool and lunch date today with my friend Diane and her 15-month-old son Zann. The pool was gorgeous — it’s situated outdoors, on the ninth floor of Diane’s apartment building, and it offers a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Most of our neighbors are out of town for the holiday weekend so the place was virtually empty. Mason usually cries when I take him into the pool but today there were no tears. He loved being in the water and he giggled his way through “Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall” (baby sits on the wall, we sing, and then baby “falls” into mommy’s arms in the waters). Today was Zann’s first time in the pool and he seemed to enjoy it, too, once he got used to the water. Before long, the boys were sitting in the shallow end together, splashing each other and us. After an hour or so we dried them off and headed out for lunch.

At Cranky’s, a cozy local coffee shop, we situated the boys next to each other in high chairs and gave them each their own disposable place mat (best invention ever). They snacked on organic apple puffs while we looked at the menu. Diane was part of the email chain last week, in which a group of local moms and I discussed our 1-year-olds’ annoying eating habits, so we decided to try out Dr. Sear’s advice and create a well-rounded buffet of finger foods for them. They drank whole milk and split an omelet filled with tomatoes, spinach, turkey sausage, and cheddar cheese with a side of whole wheat toast. They also shared a bowl of sliced fresh bananas, oranges, red grapes, blueberries, and cantaloupe. When the food arrived, we cut everything up into small pieces, gave them each a little bit of everything, and then let them pick and choose what they wanted to eat.

pool2Mason, drying off at the pool. His skull-and-crossbones rash guard kept him from getting a sunburn on his tummy.

Turns out, serving 1-year-olds an assortment of finger foods (rather than two or three at a time) really works. Mason binged on the toast a bit, which Dr. Sears says is normal, but overall the boys ate well and were well-occupied. Both Diane and I  felt good knowing they were getting such a nutritious lunch. We also enjoyed our meals and we had a blast watching the boys enjoy all the different flavors and textures (we got so caught up in how cute they were that I forgot to take a photo of their buffet to share with you! Apologies, next time for sure….) This finger food strategy worked so well for us that it’s going to be a model for how Mason eats in the months to come. Stay tuned as we report back on the combos of finger foods that work for us — and please share your babe’s faves with us!

Why Your 1-Year-Old is Suddenly a Picky Eater

dinner2Yesterday, Mason happily ate cooked apple chunks, as well as steamed edamame and carrot from his lentils. This morning he was picky and peckish.

I have a tight group of mom friends in my neighborhood. (I’ll call them the LIC Mamas here since we all live in Long Island City, NY.) We met during the postpartum period through mommy-baby yoga and a Sunday morning coffee group, and our babes are roughly the same age. I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without their support and advice. Yesterday, one of them emailed the rest of us in a panic. She and her family are on vacation, miles from a real grocery store, and her 11-month-old daughter was suddenly refusing to eat her typical faves. “She pretty much wants to eat cheese all day,” our friend wrote. “Thoughts? I’m ready to call the pediatrician.”

As it turned out, each one of us had experienced this phenomenon. One day our babes are eating every single thing we put in front of them, the next day they reject practically everything. Mason was a champion eater yesterday but he was peckish this morning. Despite a spread of cheese omelet, toast with blackberry jam, and fresh cantaloupe — all things he loves — he only wanted the cheese toast I was eating. Yesterday, on the other hand, he had a breakfast of crepes at home then went to daycare and devoured a second breakfast of eggs and melon and a lunch of pasta, pesto chicken, and fresh orange slices. He ate his new Sesame Street crackers on the subway on the way home and then he enjoyed veggie lentils, chunks of cooked apple, steamed edamame, and strawberry yogurt for dinner.

breakfast2Jazzed to be out of his high chair — and in daddy’s arms — this morning.

In addition to making us worry that they’re losing important nutrients, our toddlers’ finickiness can be downright annoying. As another LIC Mama wrote in our email exchange,  “Stuff he loved he now throws on the floor. He only seems to want purees after having completely rejected them for the last month.” What mom wants to spend hours making food for her babe only to have it thrown on the floor and devoured by the dog, stepped on and mashed into the carpet by a sibling, or unceremoniously tossed in the garbage?

Intrigued by our discussion, one of the LIC Mamas decided to get an expert’s take on our situation so she turned to Dr. Sears. Apparently, he’s been where we are. “When our first few children were toddlers, we dreaded dinnertime,” he says. “We would prepare all kinds of sensible meals composed of what we thought were healthy, appealing foods. Most of these offerings would end up splattering the high-chair tray and carpeting the floor.” He goes on to note that “Being a picky eater is part of what it means to be a toddler,” and he offers some very sensible strategies for getting them to eat a variety of healthful foods. I love his idea to make nibble trays with a range of finger foods, and I think dip is a great way dress up fresh veggies and fruits (just be ready for a mess!).

Have you experienced the same mealtime issues that we have? What are your go-to tricks for getting your toddlers to eat well?

Feeding Mason During Hurricane Madness

Mason’s Hurricane Irene eats: A mix of homemade food, crackers, puffs, and formula

Hurricane Irene is expected to hit New York City tonight. We’re not in a mandatory evacuation zone, we don’t live by the water, and our apartment building isn’t a highrise, so we’ve decided to ride out the storm at home instead of leaving town. Hopefully we don’t regret that decision. Chris taped up all the windows and brought our furniture in from our balcony. But before we hunkered down, I insisted on one last run to the grocery store. Although we stocked up on essentials yesterday, I needed to pick up a few extras — and I was desperate for one last excursion before hurricane-imposed house arrest in our 800-square-foot apartment. God help us if we have to stay indoors beyond Sunday. Mason will be crawling up the walls, and I’ll be ready to pull my hair out.

The store was packed. It’s in the part of our ‘hood that is a mandatory evacuation zone, but everyone there looked totally relaxed. “It’s like a block party in here,” a guy next to me in the pasta aisle remarked. He was right and I felt like staying there as long as possible. Mason and I cruised slowly up and down the aisles and picked up hummus, cut up veggies, crackers, jam, whatever caught my eye since I was suddenly starving. Chris rolled his eyes at my collection of “necessities,” he was on to my game. He tried to hustle me along, I stalled for as long as possible. While Chris stood in line to pay for the groceries, Mason and I hung outside. The sky was gray and angry-looking clouds were already gathering overhead but the air was warm and there was a lovely breeze. Mason giggled as a Doberman Pinscher named Max circled his owner’s legs and a few people stopped to chat with us. Babies are a great conversation starter.

Back home, I took in our stockpile of food. Mason’s set for days. Our freezer is stocked with two different kinds of homemade applesauce (regular and blueberry), as well as banana, strawberry, and peach purees for yogurt and oatmeal. I also have frozen portions of veggie lentils, chicken with brown rice and homemade tomato sauce, and cheesy veggies, not to mention five kinds of cut up frozen veggies.  Some of the food is thawing in the fridge; if the power goes out Mason can eat the thawed food right away and then the frozen stuff later. If there’s a lengthy power outage, Chris and I will resort to a diet of canned tuna, pickles, dried Italian sausage, beef jerky, bread, tortilla chips, bottled water, red wine, and dark chocolate. And we have lots and lots of candles, which could be romantic  — unless the storm turns into a rager.

Here’s to hoping Irene stays a category 1 storm and doesn’t pick up any more steam as she makes her way up the coast. Are you on the East Coast as well? If so, what foods did you stock up on for your family?

What Chris and I will eat if we lose power for a long time