It's Easy Being a Green Mama

Cooking for Your Baby Part 2: The Basics

I learned a lot about feeding children from Bread and Jam for Frances.  If you’re not familiar with this classic, it was written in a time before organic yogurt melts and worrying about egg whites, but also before high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.  The sack lunches these fictional kids from the 60s eat make them seem like gourmands compared to kids today.  In the story, Frances only wants to eat bread and jam, but she learns to love a variety of foods.  “I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,'” she said. ‘”And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread. I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery. And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries. And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.”  By the end of the story, she’s enjoying all these wonderful meals, not just eating her favorite treat.

Frances has learned the secret to a happy and healthy life: everything in moderation.  Don’t skip your favorite foods, just include them with all these other foods.  And you don’t see Frances eating French fries or a Happy Meal.  For babies, getting them to eat healthy food should be a piece of cake.  When you first introduce food, give them something delicious and jam packed with nutrients, and build from there.  As a green mama, it seems hard to feed your family in a healthy way and still stick to a budget.  The key is to make it yourself.  To make first foods, it is so simple.  Make a big batch using a food processor, and store it in your freezer.

To make a wonderful first food,  sweet potatoes, peel a sweet potato, then steam it in a steamer basket over boiling water until it’s tender.  Next, Process it until smooth.  Finally, divide it up into a bpa-free ice cube tray and store it in your freezer.  Thaw them as needed.  For avocado it’s even easier: mash a ripe avocado.  Most early foods follow these steps.  And if you’re on the go, get yourself some small jars and a cooler, and bring it with you.  When you make it yourself, you know that no preservatives went in it.  When you start researching, you may find out how laden with extras your baby’s prepared food is.  If money is no object, you can buy organic baby food and most of it is preservative free.  But your organic baby food still has a shelf life of 3 years, meaning that it has been heated to an extreme degree.  Some people believe this means that many of the nutrients have been lost in the process.  I prefer not to have to worry about it.  I don’t mind spending a few minutes pureeing some bananas so that I know she’s eating only what I intend and nothing more.

It can be frustrating when I lovingly make her food and she rejects it without really trying it.  As a green mama, I hate wasting food, and I want my daughter to have a healthy attitude towards eating.  I follow the lesson of  Bread and Jam for Frances and keep offering it. In the beginning, eating is more of a learning experience than about nutrition.    Sometimes, the sensory experience of eating can be overwhelming; new textures, smells, and colors can be a lot to handle.  Follow their cues.  If they’re not ready, take a step back and wait.  Sometimes you may have a precocious eater who’s ready to move on to more complex foods, and that’s ok, too.  Just make sure you supervise your child at all times.  My daughter really didn’t eat baby food for very long before she was eating table food.  It may have been because she got her teeth so early or because she wanted what her parents had.
Which leads me to another very important point, perhaps the most important of all: be a good example.  Model the behavior you want your child to have.  This is so important in just about every facet of your role as a parent.  If you want your child to be green, you have to be green.  If you want your child to eat healthy, non-processed food, then you eat it, too.

Don’t wait for your child to be old enough to understand reason to start explaining why they need to eat an apple instead of a cookie.  It’s much harder to get them started on healthy habits then.  Get them full on the good stuff, and then give them a treat if they still have room.  For snacks, give them fruit or veggies.  Always have something healthy on hand, wherever you go.  If Frances can learn to love to eat good food, so can anyone.

Cooking for your Baby; Part 1. Learning the Hard Way

There’s a lot of pressure on parents and caretakers to properly feed infants.  Besides the fact that their brains and bodies are growing rapidly, they are forming lifelong tastes for food.  Like most parents, I wanted my daughter to enjoy eating, and learn to love healthy food.  I also want her to be open to trying new things.  I have learned that the hard way that the  experience of eating is not just about food, but also about textures.

Offering solids to an infant is fraught with peril.  When to offer, what to offer, how much, how frequently-there’s so much to take in.  And the answers to these questions is different for each child.

Introducing new foods has definitely not gone according to my plan.  As hard as it is, I’m glad I learned early on.  I had this idea, that I would introduce foods on a schedule, and that it would be predictable.  We started off so well.   She loved everything she tried, and would eat things like crazy.  My husband and I would make big batches of baby food, so we always had enough.  Then we hit a snag, when at seven months, my precious girl would not touch any solids at all.  It was back to square one.

I got creative.  I learned to be flexible.  I have learned a lot of tricks, which I would love to share someday.  One of the most important lessons for new parents to remember is what works for my child might not work for yours.   They’re individuals; mine is independent, stubborn, and sensitive.  Wonder where she got those traits from?

Throughout this process, I’ve been cooking for her.  It takes a few extra minutes, compared to buying ready-made food, but it’s so worth it.  I have control over what she’s eating, and I can ensure that what she’s getting is exactly what I’ve intended.   It seems like the next logical step, after breastfeeding.  I want to continue to offer her the best nutrition possible, and nothing more.  Plus, there’s the cost.  Buying organic jars of baby food is much more expensive than doing it yourself.  And it’s incredibly easy to make most purees.  My biggest example of this is yogurt intended for very young children.  Most of it is fruit flavored.  I would love it if the ingredients were yogurt and fruit, but there’s always “natural flavoring”.  So I buy plain yogurt and add my own fruit.   It really ends up being a heck of a lot cheaper too, and so easy.

I don’t like to eat natural or artificial flavors, so I try not to feed them to my rapidly growing child.  This is such a crucial time in her development.  Even before I became a mother, I had become something of a food nut.  I didn’t start out this way.  When I was a child, I pictured myself eating ice cream and french fries for three meals a day, with candy for snacks.  When I was in college, I ate the worst junk food in the world.  I have nothing to say for myself, except that I am reformed.  As I got out on my own, I gradually shifted away from processed food.  Today,  I follow Michael Pollan’s food rules for the most part, which means I eat a mostly vegetarian diet.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am constantly eating, and that I love to eat.  I really enjoy fresh, whole foods, and I am able to do it on a budget.

The hard part of eating well is making the time to do it, but I make it a priority.  Often, when my daughter is napping, I’m prepping food.  I spend Sundays making large batches of things for later on.  I also take her with me to farmers’ markets and produce stands.   Children learn by example, and I want her to eat real food. Part of eating well is being connected to your food; knowing where it comes from.   I can spend years talking about eating real food.  I just want to emphasize how important real food is to our lives.  Everyone needs to eat, no matter what your occupation or passion in life is.   Why not fill those meals up with healthy food?   I find that making food yourself, from whole ingredients, pretty much takes care of the healthy part.  You won’t need to worry about calories, cholesterol, or fat, if you make it yourself.  It’s true, just because you made the chocolate eclairs from 100% fair trade organic cacao doesn’t make it good for you.  But it takes quite a long time to make that eclair, so it’s a big treat.  And this green mama believes firmly in the motto, everything in moderation.

Green mamas definitely want to feed their families well.  We need to get our babies started on the right path, and that means, if it all possible, cooking from scratch.  And if you make it yourself, it’s so much easier to do it cheaply.  It’s especially easy in the beginning, and so next time, I’ll talk about first foods.