June 17, 2021

On beginning solid foods.

Did you know that purees are largely an invention of the formula companies?
(And no, this post really isn’t a pro-breastfeeding post, but it is a pro-baby post! :-))

In the early twentieth century, as many of our grandparents and great-grandparents trusted the advances of science above almost anything else, including what had been done for centuries, formula was seen as superior to breastfeeding, and became the standard of infant feeding.  However, that formula was nutritionally void, and babies needed to get nutrients elsewhere.  So, babies were given solids earlier and earlier.  (My husband talked to a long-practicing nurse recently who showed him an old document where they recommended certain foods at 4 weeks!  I about died. Those poor babies!)

But, with infants under 6 months of age, they can’t chew, they can’t sit up, and everything must be pretty much liquid, or at least with no texture.  As one author notes, with the strong tongue thrust reflex still very much active, “In order to “feed” very young babies, they must in fact be tricked. The food must be liquefied because they cannot chew.  They must be spoonfed to get past the tongue reflex, circumventing an important safety mechanism (though in most cases, you still have to push the same spoonful back in several times before it stays).  And it must be bland, tasteless, indistinguishable from their accustomed milk, or else they will reject it.” (Heather Dunham on EcoChildsPlay).  And so, purees came into play.  (And I could get into how this played right into the greedy manufacturer’s hands, with “booby-trapping breastfeeding mothers, who must then turn to formula, and then must turn to early solids, but I won’t. ;-))  This method of feeding babies also takes any control away from the babies themselves, as whoever is feeding them tries to get that next bite in… or the whole jar.

Thankfully, it’s no longer the early twentieth century, and formula is much more nutritionally complete.  And, we know now that babies have something called a “virgin gut”, where anything other than breastmilk before about six months of age can pass through the not completely ready lining of the gut, and cause allergies, etc.  Even though formula can introduce issues, it is still better to give prior to six months than solids.So, what happens at six months?  Unlike that baby who must be tricked, a six-month-old is able (or almost able) to sit up on their own, to chew, and to reach for and put food in their own mouth.  Hold them too close to your plate, and you might just find your pita bread stolen right under your nose.  Not that I speak from experience or anything…In fact, research is now showing that purees are not needed.  Yep, that’s what I said.  Instead, by waiting until baby is able to sit on their own, and simply begins to feed themselves, they are indicating that they are ready for solids, which coincides with the virgin gut closing and being ready for solids.  Further, research is showing that babies fed in this way are healthier down the road, with a lower BMI, and a healthier attitude towards food, showing in toddlers that aren’t quite as picky (possibly because food isn’t seen as the control battleground and because they have been exposed to so many different foods), and later in life.

So, wait, I just give my six-month-old a cheeseburger?
Well…you could.  And frankly, you might not have to give it…they might just take it!  ;-)In all seriousness, there are many ways of doing what is commonly called “baby-led-weaning” (where weaning refers the UK definition of weaning, which is to add anything to milk, instead of to cut back on milk), or baby-led solids.  One common approach is to start with soft “sticks” or “fingers” of roasted vegetables, like squash or broccoli.  Other first foods include avocado (full of awesome fats that baby needs!) or banana split longways. Our baby’s first food (at a few days before 8 months, 6 months adjusted) was a piece of pita at our favorite Mediteranean restaurant, and his second was gnawing on a whole apple, after we took one bite to break the skin.  Always adventurous, he has always been willing to at least taste whatever we eat, and now won’t let us eat without wanting some.  (This is one side effect, it often causes parents to really analyze their own diets!)  Where we have friends who comments that their children will only eat pasta or hot dogs or what have you, and they were amazed to see our little guy eating Pakistani food before a year old, and loving it!  Many parents who practice this method of feeding find that their children are less picky as toddlers (recognizing that all toddlers do have picky phases, of course).

In short, you can start with softer foods to let baby get used to how food works in their mouths or you can simply begin giving pieces of your own dinner, or some combination of the two.

How will I know when they are ready? 
Being able to sit up by themselves is a very important milestone, as it helps prevent choking.  Reaching for food and actually putting it in their mouth (and not just wanting to mimic what you are doing) is another.  These often happen around six months, and help indicate that baby is ready and that the virgin gut is ready.  If baby seems ready at 4.5 or 5 months, one helpful technique to get them to wait is to sit them at the table and give them utensils (baby-sized or a real spoon) to play with, as they often just want to mimic, and it is often mistaken for wanting food.  Some babies may be ready a week or two before six months, and others, well, they may be perfectly content and fine with their milk until 8, 9, 10 months!

Will they start eating full meals at once?
No.  A few might just start eating like crazy, but the beauty of baby-led is that it is just that, baby-led.  For parents, it really helps to have a mindset of trusting that your baby knows what they need, when they need it.  And so if milk is what your baby needs until they are 9 months old, and they they start eating like they’ve been eating all their lives (haha), then that is what they needed.  One key principle of BLW is to give baby a milk feed before each meal through the first year, as that is to be their primary nutrition for at least that long.  In the breastfeeding community, a common mantra is “food before one is just for fun”, as breastmilk is providing all the nutrition they need, and offering food is simply for them to explore the textures and tastes, how it feels and squishes, and learn how to move food around in their mouths, chew, etc.   At sixteen months, our son, still breastfed, has days where he eats quite a bit, and other days where he just doesn’t.  We trust him to know what he needs (and know that growth slows drastically after the first year), and trust that breastmilk fills in any gaps in what he eats nicely.
Many start with giving just one meal a day, often when the parents have the most time, and build up to more meals as baby seems to want more.  Some parents only give solids while baby is home with them for awhile.  Many daycare providers are understanding of the principles, and resources are available to help educate them if needed.  (Just leave a comment reminding me, if I forget to link that!)

I know exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months, but my baby is fomula-fed.  Is it really enough for the first six month?  Can I do this as well?
Yes, your baby can start solids this way as well! One author points out that regardless of what milk they get, your baby is still a human baby, and learning about food (to chew, about how the mouth handles food, etc.) is exactly the same!  And the bottom line is, regardless of the milk they drink, research is showing that babies do not need solids until they can feed themselves.

But don’t they need rice cereal?
In a word, ABSOLUTELY NOT!!   I was leery, started researching, and it turns out that not only does it have NO nutritional value, but it converts to pretty much pure sugar (glucose) in the body!  Why would I feed my baby that?  And why would I feed them something that tastes like wallpaper paste AND isn’t good for them? One researcher argues that this popular beginning food is the leading reason for the childhood obesity epidemic.  Click here to check out the White-Out campaign for succinct, easy to share information on why it’s a great idea to say no to rice cereal.

My baby has no teeth.  I have to feed purees. 🙁
Um, has your baby ever bitten on your finger (or your nipple!) with those toothless-gums?!  Did you feel how hard they were?  Actually, they can gum LOTS!  With just a few teeth, our little guy was gumming and loving steak, and a friend’s baby was eating whole meals with NO teeth!

What about choking?
As baby’s learn to eat food, they will gag.  But gagging isn’t choking.  Instead, it’s a beneficial process that teaches them how to handle food and is there to protect them from foreign intruding bodies.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, check out this page for great info on choking.  🙂

In conclusion…
I plan to write more on this, so what would you like to know? 

For our family, this made so much rational sense!  We try to eat largely organic and unprocessed, especially when at home, and we want our son to have a healthy relationship with food.  Armed with this, we realized that his body is built to handle food in pretty much the same way ours can, and that he did not need purees.  While I won’t say it’s not messy, ha, it has been SO much simpler!  No pureeing, no freezing, no trying to shove a spoon in a reluctant baby’s mouth, just cooking healthy food that benefits all of us.

Several very helpful resources:
Baby Essentials That Aren’t: Baby Food from  Eco Child’s Play:  This is one of the most easy-to-understand but thorough write-ups I’ve seen!
Forget the Mush – Baby-led weaning puts the joy back into mealtimes by Gil Rapley:  Written by the foremost author on the topic, this gives the general principles of BLW and what they research is saying about it, such as helping to ward off obesity.
Note:  Rapley is from the UK, and some terminology may be different.  Health visitors, for example. I’ve gathered that they instead of seeing a doctor every few months, there are intermediaries that come to your house.
Baby-Led Weaning.  The original page.  Great summary on the homepage, and helpful getting started page.  Quite a bit of slightly head-scratching British phrasing though. 🙂
Medical News: Baby’s First Foods Should be Finger Foods.  More powerful reasons from scientific research.
On baby-led weaning for the formula-fed baby.  Not so scientific, but an interesting point.

Life Update

I’ve been trying to work on my photography and develop my photography site, so I haven’t taken too much time to write.

But, I do have several recipe posts ready to go, just need to add the pics from iPhoto! And some friends and I have had some great conversations lately on Facebook, on several interesting topics, such as what “spoiling” a child is and how to guide a child to do chores and generally be a responsible person. I’m hoping to bring those thoughts and more here, and keep the conversation going!

On a slightly lighter note, we’ve also been discussing the journey toward eating more healthily (which can take many forms it seems), and the journey toward organic eating.
On that note, I’m working on a post about steps to start eating organic. Any particular questions or tips you think I should cover?

On the home front, little dude is not walking yet, but he is eating more, and yesterday he said “bye-bye” AND waved at the same time, both of which were firsts! Silly boy, you can do one at a time, we’ll still be totally impressed! 🙂

Weekly Kitchen Goal: Research making kefir

Hmm, this is a favorite of the little guy, and of mine too. I hear friends talk of making it, time to see how, and why, I might do that!

Weekly Kitchen Goal: Clean and season cast iron

Kitchen goal of the week:  Figure out how to clean and season the new-to-me Le Creuset grill pan I snagged at a garage sale for $10!
It’s the enamel part of it that has me a little confused, as normal cleaning methods for used cast iron seem too harsh.
Anyone have any ideas?

Coming soon…

Over the next few weeks, here are the posts I’m hoping to get up! This will help keep me on track, and I’ll provide links once the posts are up!

-a list of our favorite recipes, including links to ones that haven’t been majorly modified
-why we avoid Nestle products (at least some of the reasons why!)
-Several favorite recipes
-And more!

A brownie update

So I’m up to three brownie fails now!  At least the last batch was edible, but it’s edible as something like lava cake or even fudge!  Oy!

This recipe was carob specific, so I’m thinking the problem may be the egg substitute.  We’re thinking eggs aren’t the culprit for our poor little guy’s allergy woes, so hopefully I can try the real thing soon!

What’s that? Another brownie fail?

And here is brownie fail number two…


And this is AFTER they baked for 20 minutes longer than the recipe called for. Methinks there is an issue with melting carob chips en masse. Sigh.

Brownie FAIL.

So I tried to make brownies tonight.

And I suppose “try” isn’t the right word. I made them all right. They just STUNK!

A few critical details…

  • I’m allergic to chocolate.  Therefore, these were made out of carob.
  • (Related to the first point, this does mean that I haven’t had a real brownie in, oh, 16 years.  And it’s been a good 5 since I’ve had a carob brownie, which were store-bought.)
  • I thought I’d try the whole black bean brownie craze I’d heard so much about.  I love black beans, so what could go wrong?
  • I’m trying not use eggs, in an attempt to solve my poor little guy’s eczema.  So these were vegan, using banana in place of eggs.

I kid you not, for quite a while it seemed like none of those factors were going to be an issue!  No, it seemed like the death knell for these brownies was that the recipe inexplicably called for cinnamon.  And not just a little bit, but a whole tablespoon!  Don’t know why that didn’t strike me as much too much.

But, alas, when they came out of the oven, after baking them for a good 10-15 minutes longer than the recipe said, they weren’t brownie-like at all, just completely gooey. Gee, with mashed bananas and beans, should I really have expected NOT gooey?!  Oh yeah, and they tasted strongly of cinnamon!

No yummy carob dessert for me tonight. (Well, except for the several handfuls of carbob chips I ate after the brownie debacle!)

Do you have a STELLAR homemade brownie recipe?  Preferably more fudge-y than cakey? Lay it on me!  🙂


Garlic Chicken and Potatoes

I originally stumbled upon this recipe when I was in the mood for chicken thighs, and needed a new way to bake them.  It has quickly become one of our favorite recipes, and not only is it easy to double (or triple!) for large groups, it is VERY easy to make as organic and natural as you want:  only four ingredients, and they can all be found easily in organic forms:  butter, garlic, Yukon Gold potatoes, and and free-range chicken!


Garlic Chicken and Potatoes
Serves 6?
(Modified from this recipe)

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1-2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into inch cubes  (if they are small potatoes, simply quarter them)
  • 2 heads of garlic, separated into individual cloves, some cloves peeled, some not
  • Approx. 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (this equates to two packages at our local stores)

Preheat oven to 400.  Put stick of butter in glass 9 x 13 baking dish and place in oven to melt while oven preheats.  (But be careful, as the butter can burn quickly, it doesn’t take the full preheating time!)
Once the butter is melted, begin placing potatoes and chicken in the dish, stirring/flipping to coat as much as possible in butter.  As you load the dish, sprinkle in garlic cloves throughout, making sure some get in the butter to help infuse it.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until chicken is done, basting three times.  (As the dish can get too full at the beginning to really coat everything, especially the potatoes, I find it helpful to do the first basting after about 10 minutes, to get some butter on the potatoes and keep them from getting too dry.)

Helpful Notes:
This can easily be doubled, using a roasting pan.  (Not a roaster, which was what I got when I asked to borrow my mom’s roaster one day, ha. My dad showed up with this HUGE electric roaster.  Whoops!)
Even though this only has four ingredients, allow plenty of prep time!  I always forget how long it takes to peel the garlic and peel and cut up potatoes, especially when doubling or tripling this.
Make sure to allow more than an hour between when you stick it in the oven and when you need to serve dinner, as the three bastings add up.
This is not a great dish to make with a fussy newborn who may need you at any moment, or with said newborn in a wrap on you, what with periodically having to lift a rather heavy HOT dish.  Just sayin’.

Gadgets that make this recipe easier:

  • Glass baster!  It hit me that I was not at all comfortable using a plastic baster for boiling liquid, so I searched for a glass one, and this was what I found. It’s great!
  • Pampered Chef Garlic Peeler.  Can be really helpful, but can also crush some cloves, which was not what you are going for in this particular recipe.

What recipes are you looking for?

As I’ve moved towards cooking more naturally and from scratch, it’s been surprisingly challenging finding substitutes for some things.  Like cream of chicken soup in the little red and white can.

In that case, I won that battle.  And I’ll share that one ASAP.  In the meantime, as I plan this blog…

But what recipes are you looking for?  What have you had trouble finding in just the right form?