Friday, July 15, 2011

The Rainbow Connection: A Nutritional Color Chart

source: Learning ZoneXPress
A few years ago the CDC thought of a new tactic to encourage all of us to eat more fruits and vegetables.  The old “5 a day” apparently wasn’t enough, so they came up with a colorful new campaign of “eating your colors” to get more of a variety in our consumption of fruits and vegetables.  Generally-speaking, the brighter, more vibrant the fruit or vegetable shade, the more nutritious it is.  It’s funny because when Elias starts turning a yellowish-orange hue, I know he’s had too many foods loaded with Carotenoids and we need to switch it up with a different-colored fruit or vegetable.  No, that’s not a myth, kids can turn orange a lot quicker than adults if they eat a lot of orange/red/yellow fruits and vegetables in close succession! 

As tempting as it is to give baby what he/she favors the most so he/she will eat, it’s healthier and safer to give a variety. Period.  “Too much of a good thing” really does exist, even with the most nutritious of foods. Had too many dark green vegetables?  Your baby might become constipated from the great dose of iron, especially if your baby drinks formula.  Too many carrots or other foods containing vitamin A?  Your baby may turn harmlessly orange, but too much vitamin A can cause developmental problems in children and liver problems in children and adults alike (just like all of the problems caused the acne drug Accutane or “isotrenoin,” a derivative of vitamin A).  Too many nitrates from certain vegetables can cause anemia (see article) However, don’t get scared to death.  As long as your child maintains a healthy diet with a wide range of foods you won’t experience these problems.

So what about this color chart?
Since color isn’t always an indication of nutrition, the color chart is not intended to be seen as the only nutrients your child needs, but it is a great tool to make produce shopping easier if you’re not sure what to get.  Some days the produce section seems daunting, especially if I feel like we’ve tried everything, so a color chart has been especially helpful:

Why? Foods are red from the pigment called “lycopene,” a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers and in some studies have diminished the effects of prostate cancer, even if the person already has it.
Food sources: strawberries, raspberries, beets, cherries, cranberries, tomatoes (when cooked have the highest amount of Lycopene!) red grapes, red apples, watermelon, red pears (with skin), blood oranges, red bell peppers, pomegranates.
Why? Green fruits and vegetables contain lutein (a vital nutrient for ocular health) vitamin C, beta-carotene. 
Food sources: Green apple (with skin), green grapes, kiwi, avocado, green pears (with skin), honeydew melon, lettuce, limes, etc.
Dark Green
Why dark green? Dark green vegetables & “green leafies” possess the same nutrients as other green vegetables, but they are an even greater source for calcium and iron.
Food sources: Spinach and baby spinach, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, green bell peppers, asparagus, arugula or “rocket,” green beans. 
Yellow & Orange
Why? Yellow and orange fruits/vegetables contain Carotenoids, substances that include alpha-carotene and the better-known beta-carotene which, when metabolized, turns to vitamin A. They also contain vitamin C, and Lycopene, but in lower doses than in red fruits/vegetables.
Food sources: Winter squashes (butternut, acorn, pumpkin) oranges, mangoes, peaches, nectarines, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow summer squash, yellow watermelon, pineapples, carrots, cantaloupe, yellow bell peppers, apricots, golden raisins, yellow pears (with skin.)
Blue & Purple
Why? Blue and purple fruits/vegetables contain lutein, vitamin C.  They also contain flavonoids, a polyphenol (antioxidant) that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may also prevent certain kinds of cancers.
Food sources: Concord grapes, blackberries, blueberries, plums, grapes, pomegranates, raisins, prunes, red grapes, purple figs, purple potatoes, blue corn, purple cabbage, Belgian endive, eggplant.

Since there is such a wide array of fruits and vegetables in this world, I can't imagine any chart being all-inclusive, but I did try to make this as varied as possible.  These are all items I usually come across at the local supermarkets or farmers' markets.  Speaking of which, since it's the summertime, take a look at your local farmers' markets!  Organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables lovingly grown on a small scale and sometimes less expensive than the produce at the grocery store.  Even if you're paying a few cents more, remember these fruits and veggies traveled a lot less to make it to your table!  Most produce found at large chain stores was manufactured, not grown.  They were bred and altered so they could withstand the long trip to the store in one piece.  Don't even get me started on store-bought tomatoes!

Once again, I apologize for the large gap in between articles.  My son is very mobile right now, we've moved, and I've also fallen ill recently and I'm keeping my fingers crossed I get better soon!  It's no biggie, I just mentioned it for a few extra prayers here and there :)  I'm already working on my next article: the FIRST BIRTHDAY CAKE!  Can you believe my son is almost a year old???  It's going to be wheat and egg free.  Don't forget to share!
-Elias's mommy

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Semi-Homemade (Vegetable Stew, 8+ months)

So why “semi-homemade?”  A dear friend of mine was recently grappling with the issue of using jarred baby food and I wanted to calm her fears by letting her know it’s okay to do sometimes.  She’s a good momma with real concerns about what her daughter eats :)  She was looking for fresh peas so she could make homemade pea baby food since her little girl had already tried sweet potatoes.  As you may remember from an older post ("The Gregor Mendel Special: Peas!") peas are a great first food for babies.  However, peas aren’t always in season so there may be times in the year where you can’t access fresh peas.  Peas are usually in season around June through the beginning of September, depending on your climate.  She looked through all of the frozen peas, but even the organic varieties contained salt and of course salt is a big no-no when it comes to feeding babies.  Babies do not need extra salt or sugar added to any of their meals.  Not only will it give them a taste for unhealthy foods, it can put undue strain on their tiny kidneys :(

When is jarred food okay?
First of all, feeding your child jarred baby food is not a decision that’s going to damn you straight to hell.  It’s just like breastfeeding: it’s healthier for your child, but it’s a choice and as mothers we have the right to make our own decisions on how our children are raised.   With that being said, if you decide to feed your child homemade food there are some instances where it is perfectly acceptable to use jarred food once-in-a-while.  When my friend could not find any suitable alternatives to fresh peas, she asked if I had any advice on trying something else.  I know she wants to make all of her daughter’s food so I didn’t want to disappoint her, but when peas aren’t in season the best option is honestly organic, jarred baby food as opposed to frozen peas.  Why?  When baby food is jarred by the manufacturer it is picked at just the right time and it is flash-steamed –steaming at a high temperature for a short period of time—to lock in vital nutrients and packaged as quickly as possible.  Jarred baby food has no preservatives, no additives, just the vegetable/fruit and maybe some water.  However, frozen peas can contain all of the above as well as copious amounts of salt.

Organic is what I would always choose when it comes to jarred baby foods.  Used to you could only find organic baby foods from small, independently-owned producers that not all stores carried, but nowadays even the big companies like Gerber are getting in on the action.  Organic baby foods are easily-accessible at any grocery store.  Organic baby foods are grown without the use of potentially-harmful pesticides, genetic engineering, or artificial fertilizers.  I will still always advise using organic produce as much as possible.

So the moral of this post?  If you have to use jarred baby food because something isn’t in season, you lose power, or you’re just extremely busy, don’t sweat it.  If I’ve ever had to use it I’ve usually just loaded it down with a bunch of fresh ingredients.  Sometimes if a recipe is particularly watery I’ll add jarred peas to thicken it up, much like I did in this recipe :)  When I threw this together I didn’t do really any measuring, so it was a little of this, a little of that.  You can always make a recipe your own by adding or subtracting ingredients to your taste!

“Vegetable Stew” (8+ months, stage 3)
½ jar organic pea puree
½ tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup cup brown rice, cooked
¼ cup baby spinach, chopped
¼ cup cubed carrot, well-cooked *mushy*
    A few snips of fresh parsley (optional)

You can microwave this recipe!!!  Mix together all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and cook for 1 minute, stir, then cook an additional 30 seconds.  The heating is mostly just to wilt the spinach and optional parsley.  If you’re not comfortable with feeding baby whole rice just yet, place the cooked rice in the food processor and pulse a few times to break it down a little before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.  BE SURE TO COOL THE FOOD BEFORE FEEDING IT TO BABY.

Nutritional perks: Brown rice provides an excellent amount of whole grain and easily-digestible protein; carrots supply vitamin A in the form of beta carotene; tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, contain Lycopene, a carotenoid with no vitamin A properties but it is a powerful antioxidant that has been considered a potential agent for the prevention of certain cancers (more on Lycopene in the next article!) baby spinach is a great source of iron as well as fiber; peas round out the mix with a good carbohydrate punch from its natural sugars and starch.

So if you’re ever beating yourself up for not making every single meal totally from scratch, remember: it is OK.  Your baby won’t love you any less :)  I do know it takes a bit of the fun out of feeding your baby something you made lovingly just for him/her, but at least you’re taking the time to do it in the first place!  Believe me, I struggled with this idea for a long, long time.  Adding fresh ingredients to pre-made baby food made it a lot easier for me.  Expect a more detailed blog about Lycopene, and the red fruits/vegetables that contain it, in the near future!  Happy eating!

-Elias’s mommy

Friday, April 29, 2011

Breast Milk Ice Cream & Other Healthy Baby Desserts!

Yes, it’s a cheap title to lure people in considering all of the insanity surrounding breast milk ice cream.  Honestly, I see no problem with it.  I do think it’s kind of strange there are women out there who are producing breast milk for adults to consume instead of donating it, but hey, it’s your breast milk, use it as you choose.  I just know it must take a rather large quantity (or just a large “tity” yuk yuk yuk) and it almost seems wasteful to make it for some English pub.  THAT’S JUST ME.  So read the article and you’ll get to the breast milk ice cream recipe!
I’ve always dreaded the thought of what’s going to happen when Elias has his first birthday party or when he goes to what seems like one party a week when he gets older.  What will he eat?  Can I allow him to have one piece of birthday cake?  What if that gives him too much of a sweet tooth?  Will he want to eat healthy foods anymore??  Obviously these are things brought on by super-paranoia of a mother who doesn’t want her child to end up a “junk food junkie,” but there are some times when those sometimes-irrational fears can be put to good use.

Here are a few desserts I came up with that aren’t just limited to a giant slice of not-so-healthy carrot cake:

Monster Pudding (6 months-whenever!)
1 ripe avocado
½ ripe banana
Tiny bit of citrus juice (to prevent browning)
           1 T heavy cream (optional and for children over 1 year)

Place avocado, banana, small bit of juice and optional cream into food processor.  Blend until smooth, refrigerate if desired, and serve in decorative cups.  I call it “monster pudding” because it has a lovely green hue that kids love.  You can even call it “dragon pudding,” whatever you like!  Garnish with fruit if desired, but only for kids able to eat that fruit safely.  Recipe makes 2 generous servings. Nutritional perks: A huge load of potassium, vitamin E, and healthy monounsaturated fats as well as essential amino acids.  For an even bigger nutritional boost –this may not be desired by all—throw in a few baby spinach leaves.  They’ll appear to be tiny green flecks in the “pudding.”  My son has never objected.

Faux-Nanna Pudding (8 months-whenever!)
1 ripe banana
½ package “yo baby” plain yogurt
½ crushed organic graham cracker
    (the other ½ used on top as garnish)
1 T heavy cream (optional and for children over 1 year)
Place banana, yogurt, and fine-crushed cracker in food processor and blend until smooth.  For a thicker texture be sure to drain off any excess liquid from the yogurt before placing it in the processor.  You can even substitute the graham cracker for oatmeal cereal if desired.  Recipe makes 1-2 generous servings.  Nutritional perks: Lots of potassium, protein, fiber, and low in fat.  The culture in the yogurt is also great for regulating the digestive system.  Yogurt always makes my little man’s tummy happy!

Mango/Peach “Sorbet” (6 months-whenever!)
¼ cup frozen mangoes, slightly thawed
¼ cup frozen peaches, slightly thawed
4 T apple juice or other sweet juice

Place fruit and juice in food processor and puree until smooth.  If you’d like to make it more like a “sherbet” you can add a couple of tablespoons of breast milk or formula –but not if you’re feeding someone else’s kid, obviously!  In the case of other children eating the “sherbet,” try adding 1 T heavy cream.  If a firmer product is desired, thaw for a shorter amount of time.  Recipe makes about two ¼ cup servings.  Nutritional perks: Vitamin A from beta carotene, alpha carotene, vitamin C, fiber, and no fat! (in the “sorbet” form)

Sweet Potato “Cheesecake” (8 months-whenever!)
1 small sweet potato, baked & pureed (or ½ can plain pumpkin puree)
1 egg yolk (no egg whites until after 12 months!)
2T YoBaby Plain Yogurt
2T crushed melba toasts or graham crackers

Blend together puree, egg yolk, and yogurt then set aside.  Take a small ramekin or mini springform pan and “grease” it with a tiny bit of olive oil or parchment paper (to get it out later).  Use unsalted melted butter to moisten crushed crackers just enough to where it feels like damp sand, then press mixture into bottom of the baking dish and bake at 350F for 10 minutes.  Once cooled, add in puree mixture and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture isn’t “jiggly” anymore –it should look like a finished pumpkin pie!  The reason I call this “cheesecake” is because of the cracker crust and the YoBaby yogurt tastes faintly like cream cheese.  This makes 1 generous serving. Nutritional perks: Vitamin A from beta carotene and other carotenoids, fiber, protein, and low in fat!

Breast Milk "Ice Cream" (No ice cream freezer required!)
Sounds nutty, but think about it: do you let your kid drink cow’s milk yet? Maybe not.  Do you want your child to enjoy ice cream like the rest of the world?  Yes!  It’s not that crazy.  May be a lot less fatty and be a little icier, but come on, it’s MILK.  How many other ice creams would you actually feel good about giving your child?  So it may not have the same exact nutritional contents as milk straight from the breast, but at least it’s not made from suckling an entirely different species.  Also, “ice cream” is in quotations because ice cream can’t legally be called “ice cream” unless it has a certain amount of butterfat and since there is no butterfat in breast milk, it’s faux.  We can call it “frozen mother-dairy dessert.”  So here goes:

1 cup (8oz) breast milk (I’d love to have that much just lying around!)
½-1 T raw sugar
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
3 cups ice
¼ cup rock salt (or kosher salt if you absolutely have to)

Mix together milk, sugar, and vanilla, place in a quart-sized ziptop baggie and make sure it is closed securely.  Fill a gallon-sized ziptop bag with the rock salt and ice.  Next place milk-filled bag inside the ice-filled bag and shake/massage the bags until a soft-serve “ice cream” is made.  It’s just like the “ice cream” you made back in elementary school!  It really only takes about 5-10 minutes to make this ice cream and the recipe can certainly be doubled if you’ve got a LOT of breast milk to spare.  However, all super low fat dairy recipes will freeze nearly rock-solid if you put them back in the freezer because of their high water content.  Nutritional perks: It’s your BREAST MILK.  Nothing more nutritious than that!  It’s made to suit your baby perfectly.  Can you imagine a better way to cool down a fussy child in the summertime??  In my experience, my son doesn’t like cold things, but once your child is older I’m sure he/she will enjoy this treat :)

That headline is a little misleading because I plan to do another article on the same subject because I’ve still got more ideas in the ‘ol noodle!  I just thought it would be a painfully-long blog if I put all of them in one post.  So be sure to keep your eyes open for more recipes in the next few days!  I have been a lot busier these days so I apologize for the long waits.  In fact, I have to move again.  This will be the second time in just under 3 months!  With a child who will be 8 months old May 2nd, it’s quite a feat to finish important tasks, to say the least.  I love writing for people who are actually interested so I promise I’ll try my best not to let you all down.  Happy eating, as always!
-Elias’s mommy

JA handful of chopped baby spinach can pretty much be added to anything and still be undetected by your child’s palette. 
=NEVER feed someone else’s child your breast milk-laden goodies (I never thought I’d have to say that!)
<ALWAYS talk to parents before parties to see if any of the children attending have food allergies or are fed a special diet so they aren’t alienated from the rest of the group. 
=NEVER sweeten with honey until child is older than 12 months to prevent possible botulism poisoning. 
=DO NOT feed egg whites until after 12 months of age unless recommended by your pediatrician.  By all means, have fun!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Raspberry Puree, I think I loooooove her.

*originally written 2/27/2011*
While doing our usual browse through the supermarket produce section, my baby son and I decided to grab a pint of raspberries.  Well, I decided to pick them out, he decided to grab on to the pint and try to put it in his mouth!  Either way we got some raspberries because I am still slowly, but surely, introducing him to fruits.  Now raspberries are tricky because they have an abundance of seeds and they’re not super-sweet, especially if you have the displeasure of not growing them on your own!  Of course I don’t have a raspberry plant, but I trusted that this generously-priced pint of berries would be good.  They were, but they were still a bit tart.  This is a common occurrence with a lot of berries so they tend to play second fiddle to sweeter fruits in baby food recipes to offset their tart flavor.  Most babies don’t do well with acidic or bitter tastes; it’s because we are programmed to enjoy sweet things like breast milk as infants.  I’m pretty sure you’ll never find a totally raspberry or strawberry baby food, so I combined it with the sweetest fruit I could think of: BANANAS.  Once I added that my son loved his “banana-berry” baby food :D  You can take a look at my entry about bananas here:

Nutritional Perks
I actually found a neat website that gave me nutrition facts on a lot of different serving sizes for raspberries, so the nutrition facts given here are for just ¼ cup of raspberries.  That was really helpful because that’s really all I use in my banana-berry recipe!  In a ¼ cup of raspberries there are only 16 calories, 0 grams of fat, but the big perk is 13% of an adult’s daily intake for vitamin C, so raspberries, according to the USDA’s laws of food-labeling, would be considered an “excellent” source of vitamin C.  You can read more about the importance of vitamin C in one of my previous blogs,


Frozen vs. Fresh/Organic vs. Non-Organic
I’m not going to pretend that raspberries are inexpensive because they’re not.  Raspberries are difficult to harvest, difficult to get at their peak ripeness, and even more difficult to ship them unscathed, so the price reflects all the hard work.  Period.  If raspberries are just too expensive to stomach, I am not above using frozen.  In fact, the frozen kind actually process better because they will be partially-mushy once thawed in the refrigerator because of all the ice crystals that pierced the fruit!  Obviously fresh will always be better because you never know exactly how long those raspberries have been frozen, but I live on a budget and I won’t tell you to never buy frozen.  In the produce section “organic” means that the fruit or vegetable has not been genetically modified, no chemicals have been used in the fertilizer, and no pesticides were used on the fruit.  There is a list of the top fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides and raspberries are on that list.  If you’re concerned about your child imbibing pesticides or preservatives, buy organic.  You can attempt to wash the raspberries by soaking them in cold water with a little vinegar added, but if you’re still worried, buying USDA certified organic is the way to go.  “Locally-grown” does not mean “organic.”  That sounds like a big “DUH” but I always assume local farmers don’t use additives.

Call raspberries the “Gladys Knight” of the fruit world because they’re full of PIPS!  Yeah, that was a pretty bad joke, but raspberries have little, hard seeds called “pips” (not kidding) that are totally-indigestible –as most seeds are—and aren’t very fun to try and pick out.  When I make raspberry puree I use a sieve to remove all of the seeds.  Instead of paying in upwards of $50 for a French “chinois” (a cone shaped strainer) I just buy a cup-sized “tea strainer” for the job.  It fits right over the mouth of most cups, it’s as easily stored as a whisk, and it’s really inexpensive!  They are usually found in the section of the store with all the wooden cooking spoons and whatnot.  I get a lot of use out of that little guy so I don’t feel quite as bad for going through the “gadget” section of Walmart and picking up nearly everything in sight :D  So when you’re done processing the raspberries you just push the puree through the strainer with the back of a spoon & voila!  Perfectly processed produce!  Raspberry puree is pretty runny, but that’s another reason it combines well with other fruits.

Elias didn't take well to raspberries at first so I assumed he didn't like it, but I learned that it can take as many as 8-12 times before a baby accepts a "new" food.  He likes them now!

Banana-berry puree.  Hooray!
1 half ripe banana
2 T raspberry puree (1/4 cup raspberries pureed in processor and pushed through a sieve to remove seeds)

Place ingredients in food processor and pulse to desired consistency.  For an older child, like my son who is 7-1/2 months now, you can just mash the bananas and raspberry puree in a bowl and proceed to feed it as is.  This is intended to be 1 serving of banana-berry puree.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Elias & the Average-Sized Peach

So today when browsing the produce section for new “specimens” I saw some gorgeous peaches and knew right away this was the fruit for us.  Elias has never tried peaches before & I didn’t want him to be like his father & hate peaches.  I honestly have no idea why, but Drew hates all “stone fruits,” not just peaches.  “Stone fruits” of course being any fruit with a super-hard central pit like plums, peaches, nectarines, etc.  Elias just turned 6 months old today so I thought it would be good to start slowly introducing him to fruits.  You have to be careful with peaches because when they’re not ripe they can be rather tart & of course you do not need to add sugar, salt, or seasonings to baby’s food.   It’s not the end of the world if they’re a little bit tart, but it won’t be as easy to get your baby to eat it.  Peaches can be given as early as 4 months, but if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, I don’t think any fruit should be “first foods” because it is better to get babies used to non-sweet foods like vegetables so they don’t refuse them later on.  This was recommended by our pediatrician, Dr. Rennan Quijano who is like the “baby whisperer.”  We absolutely love him!

Fuzzy Fruit Facts:
Varieties of peaches include cling peaches and freeform peaches.  The difference between the two is that cling peaches will “cling” to the inner stone, whereas freeform peaches readily separate from the peach flesh when twisted like an avocado.  The most common grocery variety is the cling peach.  Cling peaches can be found in both white and yellow varieties.  White peaches are considered sweeter and less acidic than yellow peaches, but both make great baby food.  All parts of the peach are edible except for its inner pit which contains hydrocyanic acid, a solution of hydrogen cyanide, which is extremely poisonous.   The signs of peach pit poisoning are overstimulation, gasping, etc.  BIG, FAT HOWEVER: you won’t be poisoning your child unless you let her eat a peach pit, and if you know anyone who can eat a peach pit, I’d like to see that.  Wait, no I wouldn’t, that would be bad.  Don’t listen to morons uninformed people who say peaches are unsafe to eat.  The benefits far outweigh the risks.  I tend to scrape out the flesh surrounding the pit anyway because it’s slightly bitter, so that will eliminate any possibility of harming your kid.

Did you know the only difference between peaches and nectarines is that nectarines tend to be slightly smaller when ripe and more fragrant?  The obvious difference is that nectarines don’t sport the same fuzzy skin as peaches & they have a little more red on their skin, but that’s it!  So consider this a blog on nectarines as well.  Peaches are great source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and have a considerable amount of fiber.  One medium peach packs over 10% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults!  Peaches are also a great “poop food” and are right up there with prunes when it comes to easing constipation.  That’s a good thing because not a lot of babies like the strong flavor of prunes.

When possible, do try to find organic peaches.  Peaches are #2 on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables that tend to contain the most pesticides.  With peaches being so sweet and tender, they are a magnet for fruit flies and other pests.  However, the pesticides only accumulate on the skin of the fruit and I definitely do not recommend peach skin at this age, even if processed very fine.  Even if you’re going to skin the fruit, you should always wash your produce.  I read in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine a recommendation on washing fruits by washing them in cool water with a small amount of any kind of vinegar.  This will remove waxes, loose dirt, and the acidity will kill many germs.  You can read more about the EWG “Dirty Dozen” list at

Pretty much everyone has heard the old “put a peach in a paper bag and it will ripen” tale, but the truth to the matter is that no fruit or vegetable becomes “ripe” as it sits.  Ripening is a process which takes place on the plant, not on your counter or in a bag.  Peaches become softer and taste sweeter when left to age, but their sugar content does not change as it would if it were left on the tree to ripen.  To find a ripe peach in your store, find one that feels heavy for its size, firm but yields when squeezed, no squishy spots, and easily enough it will smell like a peach! It’s not very hard to find a good peach in the stores these days and if you’re lucky enough to live near an orchard you can pick your own.  Blammo!  Fresh peaches :D  Keep your eyes open for new blogs where I’ll feature more on the ripening process in various fruits and vegetables!

2 fresh peaches, makes about 

Fresh peach puree.
1. To easily remove the peach skin, cut an “x” on both ends of the fruit then place in your steamer basket (or a pot with about an inch of water) cover with a lid and let steam until tender.  The more ripe the peach, the less time it will take. 
2. Plunge into cold water to halt cooking (overcooking can result in loss of vitamins and minerals) and the skin should come off easily.
3. Cut peach in half around the pit then scoop out the pit and as much of the surrounding, reddish flesh as possible.  Place in food processor and process to a smooth consistency.  You should not need to add extra water as peaches are naturally very juicy.  Let baby enjoy!

-Elias's Mommy

Elias trying peaches for the first time!  His faces are priceless!

Sources: peach nutrition facts; peaches, nectarines; Environmental Working Group official website; Age by age baby food feeding guidethis website

Friday, February 25, 2011

Asparagus: Spear Bliss *8+months*

Bunches at my store are usually much larger,
this is obviously just a decorative interpretation!
Asparagus is one of my absolute favorite vegetables, so naturally I wanted to experiment with an baby food recipe.  Not only is it delicious, it’s very versatile.  It can be as homey as an asparagus casserole, or as formal as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus antipasti.  I’m pretty sure my son won’t be eating those foods any time soon, but I do want him to appreciate the taste.  The more variety in a baby’s diet, the easier it will be to introduce new foods in the long run.  Though vegetables are great “first foods,” asparagus is not recommended under the age of 8 months.  If you've had asparagus before and gotten gas, you’ll understand why.  If your baby hasn't had a lot of digestive troubles in the past then asparagus will be easier for him/her to tolerate.  One thing alarming to some parents is that the color of baby’s urine and the smell –ew—can change after eating asparagus.  Some adults experience the same side effects from asparagus when eaten in abundance, but there’s nothing harmful about either the color or smell.

Ew, why?
Let’s get down to why asparagus causes those oh-so-lovely urinary results.  First of all, asparagus is part of the lily family which includes pungent when prepared plants like onions, scallions, and garlic.  Asparagus is different in that its volatile compounds aren’t triggered when cut like its smelly, lily brethren.  Their compounds are activated upon digestion.  Oddly enough genetics has something to do with the phenomenon of “asparagus pee.”  Some people have it; others have no idea what you’re talking about!  Only people with a certain gene –not yet isolated—produce a digestive enzyme capable of breaking down asparagus to all its stinky components.  One of those components is “methyl mercaptan” which is the same substance that gives skunk’s spray its protective, rotten-egg smell.  It is suggested that the methyl mercaptan goes through the kidneys and is later excreted as urinary waste.  So basically if you have this special gene you’ll have skunk pee when you eat a bunch of asparagus.  I find this stuff fascinating so pardon the “grossolgy-esque” pee explanation :)  It’s at least good to know you’ve not done anything to hurt your baby by giving her asparagus; it’s just a natural body reaction in some humans!

Expense & nutrition
If we all knew just how long it takes to successfully grow asparagus spears I don’t think we’d ever question the price of a bunch of asparagus ever again.  I used to groan when I’d get a $4 bunch of wonderfully-tender asparagus, but then I tried to grow my own asparagus plant and I couldn’t hack it. Within the first 6 months I dug it up.  Case closed.  It was later I found that an asparagus plant won’t yield any harvestable crops until at least three years into its growth (“Farm Town” lied to me. It doesn’t really take 12 hours!)  Odds are you’ll find them cheaper than I did because that was an example of the most I’ve ever paid.  The nutritional value is worth it, and whatever you don’t make into baby food you can enjoy yourself :D  Asparagus is an excellent source of B-vitamins, potassium, folic acid and vitamin C.  Even with their sometimes-woody texture, their protein content tops only about 2 grams per 5 stalks.

Instead of sitting and snapping an entire bunch of asparagus, I just “Rachel Ray” cut them.  I first take one stalk and bend it to see where it snaps.  Asparagus will snap naturally where it is the tenderest.  Then I line it up with the rest of the stalks and cut them where that piece snapped.  Do not serve anyone uncut asparagus.  The ends are woodier than the rest of the stalk and they become even rougher when shipping dries them out.

Asparagus Puree
1 bunch green or white asparagus (yields about 1-½ cups puree)

Don't overcook & risk losing this beautiful color!
1.   Put about an inch of water in a high-sided skillet and bring to a simmer.  Place bunch of asparagus in water and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.  They will be less crisp than if you were planning on serving them whole.
2.  Place in food processor and blend until a paste is formed, use cooking water to loosen the puree to your desired consistency.  It is important to process well.  The fatter the spears mean the older the crop; the older the crop means a less tender spear.  Try to choose skinnier spears when possible.

Cooked asparagus is also great finger food for older children!  Just cut into bite-sized pieces, but remember to only feed finger foods when your child has mastered eating non-pureed food.  Enjoy!

-Elias’s mommy

P.s. If you have any left over or if baby doesn't like it, try making cream
of asparagus soup. Yummy!

Sources: How To Cook book by Raymond Sokolov ©1983; “methyl mercaptan”; “Asparagus Gene”; Baby Food stages

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mango: Don't Avoid the Carotenoid! *stage 2*

Ripe, medium-sized mango.

Mangoes are some of the easiest-to-find tropical fruits in the supermarket these days.  I always seem to get them confused with papayas, but maybe that’s just me.  I still have leftover “mush brain” syndrome from pregnancy so I get confused about a lot of things!  Mangoes are also a very “hit-or-miss” kind of fruit because when you get one that is ripe, it’s absolutely glorious in its sweetness, juiciness, & wonderful, peach-like texture.  If you happen to stumble across a not-so-ripe mango, boy are you in for it!  It’s the reason a lot of people are turned off by mangoes.  One bad experience with the chemically-aftertaste of an unripe mango & they never try them again.  I was one of those people!  An unripe mango is not unlike turpentine.  It has a very astringent, unpleasant taste that tends to linger on the palette.  It’s kind of amazing the difference ripeness makes in this situation!  So if you are on the hunt for a good mango, reach for one that is: heavy for its size, has a good amount of “give” when pressure is applied, and is free of blemishes or squishy spots.

While mangoes can be a “first food,” they aren’t recommended to be the first food.  Mangoes are more recommended for ages 8-10 months, but can be tolerated as early as 6 months of age.  It’s really all up to your baby!  If your baby enjoys mango puree at 6 months with no reactions, it’s perfectly fine.  By the time baby is past 8 months, you really don’t need to give a puree.  Ripe mangoes can be mashed as easily as canned cling peaches.

Don’t avoid the Carotenoids!
Mango boasts more Carotenoids than almost any other fruit.  Carotenoids, the colorful plant pigments some of which the body can turn into vitamin A, are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and act to enhance your immune response to infections.  You may have already heard of some Carotenoids like: Lycopene, Alpha-Carotene, Beta-Carotene, and Lutein.  Carotenoids can be found in orange-ish foods including carrots, mangoes, sweet potato, but also can be found in dark, green and leafy vegetables.  Generally speaking, more intensely-colored fruits or vegetables have the highest concentration of Carotenoids.  Scientists have even touted Carotenoids for the ability to shorten the time of the common cold. 

As with many tropical fruits, mangoes do pose a risk for a reaction.  These reactions are considered mild though & usually only affect the skin with a slight rash.  The reactions come mostly from the skin of the fruit rather than the “meat.”  If your child does have sensitivity, mangoes also can produce a small rash around the bottom after the mango passes through baby’s stool.  Luckily this isn’t severe either.  The only unsafe part of the mango to eat is the skin & the large, central pit –which I don’t think you would be feeding your child anyway!  It’s about as harmful as feeding your child an avocado pit.  I’m basically just going to say DON’T DO IT, but you all know that already.  I’d just be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about the skin or pit.


Use a serrated knife to cut into the fruit because a very ripe mango can collapse unless you have a massively sharp knife.  Find the pit & cut alongside it.  The pits are very large & you won’t really see it; it will look like you’ve left a lot of meat on it.  Since explaining how to easily cut a mango is difficult, feel free to refer to the video at the end of the article.  It's actually pretty neat!

Mango Puree
1 large, ripe mango
Mango fruit flipped after criss-cross cutting.

Prepare mango in the style you wish, place in processor & process until smooth.  You won’t need any additional liquid because ripe mangoes are very juicy.  1 large mango will yield about ¾ to 1 cup of puree.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

-Elias’s mommy

How to cut a mango: 

Sources: “Carotenoids”; “Carotenoids in Food”; What to Expect: The First Year book by Heidi Murkoff (baby food stages)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Squash Panache *stage 1*

Acorn Squash used in following recipe.
Squash is another favorite “first food” for many parents. What cracks me up is that the pre-made baby foods just simply say “squash,” and no other explanation!  What kind of squash??  I can rule out a few like spaghetti squash, yellow squash, or zucchini.  Are they butternut, acorn, or what??  I have no idea!  Well there are a lot of varieties but the most common for baby foods are squash of the winter variety, not summer.  What’s the difference?  Thankfully the differences are pretty substantial, so there’s not a lot of confusion as to what to buy!  Winter squashes have a hard outer “shell.”  The most popular winter squash is of course the pumpkin, but other varieties include acorn squash, butternut, & hubbard squash.  Summer squashes include the most easily-recognizable squash: the yellow squash.  That’s the easiest squash to find in stores & what most of us remember from childhood in gramma’s garden.  Summer squash also includes zucchini.  Winter squashes are better as “first foods” because their texture when cooked is less stringy than the summer squashes.  BIG HOWEVER: Spaghetti squash, as its name suggests, is very stringy when cooked.  It’s still pretty fibrous when pureed. 

So which ones would I recommend?  Acorn & butternut.  They’re the easiest to turn into mush & easiest on the tummy.  They have enough natural sweetness to suit a picky baby, but aren’t as sweet as fruit.  They’re also very nutritious!  As with all dense fruits & vegetables, they pack a good fiber punch.  High in potassium, calcium, & beta carotene, which, once metabolized in our bodies, is converted to vitamin A.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it can be found in fish oils, liver, egg yolk, & dairy products.  Beta carotone can be found in many fruits & vegetables including spinach, peaches, most notably carrots, and of course squash!  So if you see “high in beta carotene,” you’ll know it’s high in vitamin A.  Seems a little complicated, so try not to over think it like I have!  Vitamin A is absolutely necessary for normal growth, bone development, reproduction, and vision.  It is also used to maintain healthy skin & mucous membranes.  You may have heard of “retinoids” in popular cosmetics to prevent wrinkles, acne, & promote cell turnover, & that’s because vitamin A & closely-related molecules are “retinoids.”  The more you know!  
Vitamin A deficiency can cause lower resistance to infections, diarrhea, poor night vision or even blindness, weak bones & teeth, poor development in children, and eye inflammation.  It is rare in developed countries like the United States.
There is a chance of toxicity in vitamin A, but that’s in ridiculously high amounts (like in the popular acne medication isotrenoin, aka “Accutane.”  More information on vitamin overdose coming soon!) Vitamin A is stored in the liver, so it is not necessary to have it every single day to maintain a healthy body.  If you eat a varied, healthy diet you will surely have the correct amount :) 

So the squash I’ve used is acorn squash because it is very easy to find & with its compact size you aren’t obligated to make an enormous batch of squash that your child may not want!  I’ve never had a problem with Elias & squash, but I will never guarantee your baby will like the same things because all babies are different :)  Nevertheless, it’s a very mild-flavored vegetable & that appeals to most infants. There are several different ways to cook them, but this recipe will call for roasting.

One acorn squash, pureed with water added, yields about 2 cups baby food
1 acorn squash, free of blemishes, heavy for its size
Sheet pan with raised sides

1.  Cut acorn squash in half, removing all seeds with a spoon.
2.  Place halves face down on pan with about an inch of water in the pan.
3.  Bake at 375F for about an hour or until flesh is easily-pierced with a knife.
4.  Cool until you are able to handle the squash, and then scoop out “meat” with a spoon into food processor or food mill.  If there is any water left in the pan, don’t throw it out!  Use that water to thin the puree to desired consistency.  Any water used to cook vegetables will retain some of the nutrients of the vegetable it cooked.

End result after cooking & pureeing with water.
The most time-consuming part of making this squash is waiting for it to cook in the oven, but that’s an hour to set it & forget it!  If you’re 10 minutes late getting it out you won’t be punished with a burnt mass of squash stinking up your kitchen.  It’s not a temperamental vegetable!  Note: If you feed your baby too much squash or anything orange, your baby might turn orange.  No need to be alarmed!  If it does bother you, just try not to feed your baby orange foods repeatedly :)

-Elias’s mommy

A very satisfied little man!  Ate it all up!