Category Archives: Homemade Baby Food

Cooking with Very Small Children: Baby Bird’s Applesauce

No, the title does not refer to cooking up children for dinner. I’ll try some adventurous food, but I’m no cannibal. I’m talking about how wonderful it is to have children, even infants, helping in the kitchen. You’ve heard of farm to table, but how about tree to highchair? In one of my proudest parenting moments, my 11-month-old helped pick apples from a tree and made them into applesauce.

Baby Bird sorts her apples

We like to involve her in cooking, showing her the whole foods and every step of the process. It makes her more excited to eat the food. And we love to show her plants growing, so that she knows tomatoes come from a plant, carrots from the ground, as well as eggs from chickens. It was a wonderful experience to take her to a local orchard last fall for apple picking. Babies at this age love putting things in bowls and bags (and taking them out again.)

Baby Bird loves to help cook

When letting babies and toddlers help in the kitchen there are plenty of chores that do not involve heat or sharp knives. Since moving things from one container to another is a fun game at this stage, have little one (from 9 months on) move the apple pieces from the cutting board or a bowl into a (room temperature) pot. The pieces were too large for swallowing, in case she wanted to chew on or taste one. Mine also liked to move scraps and peel into the compost container. After 12-15 months, toddlers love to stir things, too. At 18 months, Little Bird loves to help scramble her eggs. We put a heavy bowl on the kitchen floor, let her watch us crack the eggs and she “stir, stir, stirs”!

Homemade applesauce

Baby Bird’s First Applesauce Recipe

  • apples, peeled, cored and cut in chunks
  • a few splashes of apple juice or water
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon grains of paradise
  • (optional) 1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the apples in a medium sized pot. Add enough juice or water to cover up the apples 1/3 to 1/2 the way up. No sugar is needed, as apples are naturally sweet, but if you prefer the sauce to be sweeter, choose apple juice over water. Add  the grains of paradise and salt to taste. Bring the apples up to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and start to fall apart. Mash with a fork or the back of a spoon for a slightly chunky sauce.

Notes:

Grains of Paradise are a pepper-like spice. They have less bite than black pepper and are absolutely wonderful with apples (as well as on eggs, in guacamole, and almost anywhere you would use pepper.) After trying them, I no longer like cinnamon in my apple pie or applesauce, but feel free to substitute. We keep ours in an extra pepper mill and grind as needed.

Baby Bird enjoyed her first adventure apple picking, apple bagging, sorting, eating and cooking!


Our “Baby-Centered” Approach to Introducing Solids

When our Little Bird was 4-months-old, her pediatrician (who we weren’t really crazy about already) told us that she was ready for us to start introducing solids. I was surprised, since I had heard in breastfeeding support groups to wait until 6 months. In research afterwards, the current consensus in the medical community does seem to recommend 6 months. The doctor also told us to start with rice cereal, and I had already decided NOT to start with a “white” processed food. To make it worse, she suggested sneaking a little rice cereal into her bottle, which just seemed dishonest.

Introducing Solids

We ended up switching doctors for other reasons and although I didn’t follow her advice, the visit did prompt me to start researching all about introducing solids. My previous experience feeding babies was limited to one very messy afternoon of spoonfeeding my niece, over 8 years ago, from a jar. Most of it went all over her and the kitchen and she let very little of it in her mouth. Cute, as the auntie that got to leave afterwards, but less fun day in and out. (And as it turned out she never enjoyed “baby food” –even the organic baby food her mom got her from Whole Foods– and she quickly switched to small chunks of her favorite foods.)

Here is what I knew I wanted when introducing solids:

  • To use organic, pesticide-free and non-GMO food as much as possible.
  • To use vegetables from our garden as much as possible, as well as eggs from our chickens.
  • To make as much as possible myself from scratch, time permitting.
  • To have my daughter enjoy eating, vs. forcing anything on her.
  • To follow in my mom’s footsteps, who brought a small food mill to restaurants, and fed us whatever our parents were eating.

Here is what the internet told me:

  • I could prioritize baby and our breastfeeding relationship by introducing solids according to Baby Led Weaning, where she was only given large pieces of food, and if she couldn’t chew it, oh well, she didn’t need it…
  • To make my own baby food, I should make a large batch and freeze it in small, individual servings and defrost for each of her meals.

Baby's First Taste on BabyBirdsFarm

Here is what I did that worked for us:

  • I didn’t stress!
  • We let her “eat” when we ate.
  • I followed my baby’s behavioral cues of when she was ready to start “experimenting” with solids. (For example, showing interest in our food: Baby Bird at 4 months once grabbed a handful of spicy tahini sauce from my beef shwarma, stuck it in her mouth, and said “mmmmmmm.”)
  • We did end up offering food at 5 months, but we defined “eating” in the first few months as anything from merely tasting to just playing with food.
  • From day one we involved her in the process of cooking and preparing food. It makes her more excited about the finished product. (See my post on Baby’s first Applesauce for a “tree to highchair” recipe.)
  • The first month or so, we only offered food once a week. For example, if we were eating avocado, she got to try some. After 6 months, we offered food once or twice a day.
  • I decided to go with intuition and common sense when deciding when, how and what to introduce, but I did boost my confidence on the order for introducing solids by reading a few good baby food books, such as this one from Sage Spoonfuls.
  • We kept a list on the fridge of all the foods she had tried and tolerated, introduced only one food at a time, and then waited a few days before introducing another.
  • I usually mixed breastmilk into her purees.

Baby Bird's First Puree: Avocado and Breastmilk, mashed with a spoon

  • I didn’t stress about whether or not it was strict “baby led weaning”, which I found restrictive, and offered a mix of purees and whole, soft foods, such as bananas, avocado, pears.
  • I didn’t buy a fancy baby food maker, but used the magic bullet we already owned. It was the perfect size for her meals.
  • I did end up buying a simple food mill, like this one, for about $12. It worked well for rice and meat. (I also purchased the small storage containers from Sage Spoonfuls.)
  • I tasted EVERYTHING I gave her. I figured if I didn’t like it, why should she? For the record, neither of us liked powdered, reconstituted rice cereal. Yuck.
  • I never ended up freezing much food for her ahead of time. Like the point above, fresh food just tastes better. Instead, I gave her some of whatever I cooked for us. Sometimes I reserved some for her before adding salt or ingredients she hadn’t had yet.
  • Up until 9 months, I made sure that all her caregivers understood that introducing solids was to be treated as a fun activity or an extra treat, and that her “job” was to still to consume breastmilk.

Resources:

Here are some of my recipes for Homemade Baby Food and Recipes for the Whole Family.

Although strict Baby Led Weaning was not practical for us, I really wanted to like it and I still admire some of the philosophy and believe it is worth reading up on. We ended up doing a combination of BLW and purees. Every baby is different so see what works for yours! Try this article for a good balanced view.

I only recently stumbled upon an article on the Montessori approach to weaning and found it resonated with me.

And here are two overviews for introducing solids from Kelly Mom and Dr. Sears.

Updates:

I’m honored to have since joined a taping of the Boob Group podcast as a panelist for an episode on “Breastfeeding and Introducing Solids.” The episode is now available to listen and download here. I am a big fan of the podcast, hosted by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC, and owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Center (also check out her awesome blog.) The episode features expert Barbara Robertson, IBCLC, Director of The Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, and Director of Professional Development for the United States Lactation Consultation Association. She had a lot of great, evidence-based information. I won’t provide spoilers, but one tip I got that I will do differently with baby #2 is to start proteins and good fats early. With baby bird #1, I focused on vegetables, fruits and a few whole grains in months 6-8. I’ve since learned babies really benefit from easily digestible proteins (lamb, liver, etc) and fats such as coconut oil and olive oil. There was a lot more great info, so be sure to check it out!

Disclaimers:

I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. Please consider the opinions of your own healthcare practitioners and your own child’s unique needs when introducing solids. I’m just a mom who put a lot of thought and research into it, and found a simple approach that worked for my child. She happens to be a great eater, but who’s knows how much all of the above contributed. Please remember that every baby is unpredictably different. If I leave you with any message, it’s that there is no WRONG approach. You may find a few ideas that work for your family–or not. Just like with all of parenting, there are so many different ways of doing things. Go with what works for you, whether it’s strict BLW or strictly from a pouch, or all of the above like us.

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Baby’s First Seder Plate

Last year at Passover our Baby Bird was just starting to eat solids. She loved eating with us and participating in meals. So I wanted to be sure to include her in our seder. She pretty much only ate purées at the time, except for some naturally creamy foods, like avocado and banana, and had just started egg yolks. Here is what I came up with for her:

Ideas for Baby's First Seder on BabyBirdsFarm

  • Lamb Shank → Stuffed Lambie AND Yam (Yam is also an option for Vegetarian adults.)
  • Parsley → Avocado (Still represents the green freshness of spring)
  • Egg → Hardboiled Egg (But for her I chose one of the small eggs laid by our Ameraucana instead of a larger egg)
  • Charoset → Applesauce (Could also do an applesauce and date puree)
  • Horseradish → A puree using beets, as a beet-colored horseradish is fairly common)
  • Matzo → Rice cereal (As I recall it was mixed into the purée)

For comparison, here was the adult seder plate:

seder2

The mango you ask? Well, I didn’t have any oranges.

Oranges?? Why would there be an orange on a seder plate?

Being a good feminist I always put an orange on my seder plate! The urban legend goes that an old, conservative rabbi once said that “a woman belongs on the bimah [the podium from where the rabbi leads the congregation] like an orange belongs on a seder plate.” Another meaning is that by eating an orange and spitting out the seeds, all of the participants are rejecting homophobia.

I also make sure to have my prettiest crystal filled with a glass of water for Miriam (Moses’ brother who followed him down the river to protect him).

Anyway, these are just my ideas and opinions. I believe that a seder should be a ritualized tradition, but that it is an organic and changeable one. We find our own meanings, as we create and define them for our families.

And just for fun, here is a link to the full episode of the Rugrats Passover.

Anasazi Bean Burgers

My mom was visiting last weekend. We had a nice visit and she checked out this blog. She let me know that I am again taking after my great-grandmother, Alpha, who wrote an article on Victory Gardens during World War II. I have always felt an affinity for this ancestor despite never meeting. Alpha (her father planned on working through the Greek alphabet except she was an only child) was an artist who studied under John Sloan. She was also a Long Island socialite who threw legendary Prohibition Era parties, attended by artists like author Thorton Wilder, who was supposedly in love with her. Before our urban farm days, I was known to host a party or two.

Anasazi Bean Burger from BabyBirdsFarm.com

So I am all the more happy to carry on the tradition of championing Victory Gardens today. As much as we love fresh salads, tomatoes, and herbs like basil and mint, “salad” type items are actually not the best way to maximize a home garden. To really get the benefit of a “victory garden” try to plant calorie dense items, like potatoes, sweet potatoes and beans. Beans are an amazing source of protein, fiber and nutrients and my favorites by far are Anasazi Beans. The are a slightly sweet Heirloom bean, pretty and speckled maroon and white. If I were to describe the taste, I’d describe it as how the most awesome pinto bean should taste. They cook much faster than other dried beans (they don’t need to presoak) and don’t have as much of the compounds found in other beans that can cause gas.

Plus, there is the legend of the beans…. Botanists may dispute the factual basis, but the story is that a dusty, sealed crock was found by archeologists in the ancient ruins of the Anasazi Indians, and lo and behold, the beans were viable and reintroduced to our diets. I have fond memories of exploring Mesa Verde and the dwellings of “the Ancient Ones,” carved into the stone, with my family as a child.

You can find Anasazis in the bulk section of a lot of grocery stores now, as well as online. Papa Bird has been growing them the last few years. One of the things I find “magical” about a bean is that it contains its future in itself. The bean is simply the seed. You can sprout and plant the beans from the grocery isle if you like. (I think we started from a bag I bought at the farmer’s market.) We try to remember to reserve a few from each harvest to plant the following year.

Anasazi Bean Burger Recipe

My husband usually feels more satisfied with a little meat in a meal, but he makes an exception for Anasazi Bean Burgers. They are my favorite veggie burger and I hope you enjoy. From Moon Time/The Elk Restaurant.

Servings: 4 burgers

  • 1 cup dried Anasazi beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • Approximately 1 cup dried bread crumbs

Step 1
Distinctive-looking Anasazi beans have a unique, slightly nutty flavor and firm texture. Cook the beans in plenty of water for about an hour until soft but not mushy.

Step 2
Coarsely chop the drained and cooled beans. You can use a food processor, using only a couple of pulses, but I never have. Mash them with a fork, or a mashed potato masher, or break up the beans using your hands. Add the sauteed veggies to the chopped beans and then add the egg, seasonings and bread crumbs.

Step 3
After forming the patties (I usually do 4 large patties, but have also made sliders), saute them in oil until they’re golden, about 3 minutes on each side over medium high heat. I find starting the patties in a cold pan gets a nice crust. Add a slice of cheddar and finish the bean burger in a 400° oven for 2 or 3 minutes. Serve on a bun with typical burger “fixings” (i.e. tomato, lettuce, pickle, avocado, mustard, ketchup, siracha, etc.)

Notes:

Although Anasazis don’t cause as much gas as other beans, it never hurts to add a little cumin, bay leaf and/or epazote to the cooking water. All three are classic flavorings for beans and are carminative, meaning they help reduce gas when cooked with beans. Never salt your water when cooking beans. Only add salt and acid (like tomatoes or vinegar) once they are fully cooked. Otherwise they will be tough and not cook properly.

Feel free to substitute another bean in this recipe if you can’t find Anasazis, but you will probably want to presoak them before cooking.

Tips for Cooking for Baby:

Reserve some of the “batter” with all the ingredients added, minus the egg. Blend or grind in a baby food mill. Add a little breastmilk, maybe some avocado. Delicious! Babies love the naturally sweet taste of beans and they are an excellent vegetarian source of protein.

For a baby that is ready for finger foods, cooked beans (e.g., Anasazi, black or pinto) and sautéed, diced veggies are excellent ways to practice pincher skills. If it is the first time, if your beans are still on the crunchy side, or if you are just paranoid, feel free to cut the beans in half or squeeze each one between your fingers to mush it a little and make it easier for baby to gum.

Updated 1.5.13 to add a photo of the burger. Originally posted 8.21.12. -Mama Bird

Baby Bird’s Banana Smash Cake: A Healthier Option for a First Birthday

The idea of a “smash cake” is getting more and more popular these days. It is generally a small cake given to a one-year-old at his or her party. Babies can dive into it and make a mess, while a larger cake is reserved for the rest of the party. Some parents also find this an opportunity to make baby’s cake more healthy. Since I attempted a tres leches cake for our baby’s first birthday party, I saw exactly how much sugar went into it and wanted to give her something a little healthier and developed this healthy banana smash cake.

banana smash cake: a healthy smash cake recipe for baby's first birthday

This banana smash cake will not be winning any beauty contests. If you would like to find a tutorial on decorating a gorgeous smash cake, try this one. However, I couldn’t find any decent, healthy recipes for cake for a one-year-old that looked like they tasted good. Our baby has had wheat and now whole eggs, so my main concern was reducing the sugar. Since she loves bananas, I decided to make something up, based on my banana bread and a basic banana cake. Feel free to substitute a gluten-free flour mix. You can also try using flax or chia seeds in place of the eggs.

It was also important to me to avoid any artificial dyes or coloring, as well as artificial ingredients in general. A lot of “frosting” is partially hydrogenated shortening plus sugar and food coloring. I tried whipping up a can of coconut milk, which was popular on pinterest, but frankly, it tasted like a can. I decided there was nothing wrong with a little bit of organic cream, especially since whole fat yogurt is one of her staples.


The most challenging part of making a mini cake is simply finding mini pans. Before you go out and buy something, look and see what you might have at home. I had oven safe ramekins that looked about the right size. I also had 4″ tart pans that I thought could make little “layers” for a two layer cake. After filling up the ramekin and pans, I had enough batter to fill up a pan of one dozen mini muffins. I figured Baby would be able to share the healthy treats with her baby friends. And with the mini muffins the three of us were able to sample the cake straight from the oven (it really was best warm).

banana smash cake: a healthy smash cake recipe for baby's first birthday

Baby Bird’s Banana Smash Cake Recipe

Baby Bird's Banana Smash Cake: A Healthier Option for a First Birthday
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
A healthy banana cake, low in sugar and free of artificial ingredients or coloring, ideal for a baby's first birthday.
Ingredients
  • 1¼ cup flour
  • 1½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup coconut oil (or butter)
  • ½ cup date sugar or sweetener of your choice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • ⅓ cup kefir, baby yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar or agave (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line bottom of ramekin with a cut out circle of parchment paper. Grease pans (4" ramekin or mini tart pans plus mini muffin pan.)
  2. Sift dry ingredients (the first four ingredients) together.
  3. In a mixer, cream the oil and sugar until fluffy. (Note: coconut oil does not get as fluffy as butter.) Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light. Gently stir in the bananas, alternating with the dry ingredients and the kefir or yogurt.
  4. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Mini muffins and mini tart pans: 12 minutes. Ramekin: 35-40 minutes.
  5. Let cool completely before frosting.
  6. To make the frosting: Whip cream, vanilla and sugar in a mixer with a wire attachment until stiff peaks form. Let baby taste from the bowl.
  7. Decorate the cake rustic style or smooth out and decorate with piping. Top with a candle and baby's favorite fruit.

 

Variation: One of Baby’s friends turned one this past weekend and her mom made an adorable caterpillar cake for her Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party. The head was the baby’s smash cake and the body was cupcakes for the rest of the party.

Update: Try Baby Bird’s Pumpkin Smash Cake for a gluten-free option!