Thursday, February 10, 2011

Queen of Quinoas *8+ months*

Whole grain Quinoa, uncooked
With the boom in high-protein carbohydrates & whole grains in recent years, you may have already heard a lot about Quinoa.  I was pleasantly surprised when I read that babies can enjoy this super-healthful grain as well.  The Quinoa we’re used to seeing in supermarkets are small, almost spherical grains usually in the health food section of the store.  If you can’t find it at your local Piggly Wiggly, you can surely find it at specialty stores or larger organic chains such as Whole Foods & Wild Oats.  For babies, quinoa should be ground either with a food processor, coffee grinder, or purchased as “flour” to create the smooth texture of cereal.

Quinoa is a great alternative to rice & oatmeal cereals because it is cooked by similar methods & can be easily adapted to those recipes.  It can be served savory, sweet, or plain, depending on how your child likes it.  Quinoa for babies & toddlers is usually served like a breakfast cereal with fruit, a little raw sugar, & whole milk.  When the child is over a year old it is permissible to add honey for sweetening.  Quinoa lends itself well to sweet flavors because it has a nutty, hearty flavor like really substantial oatmeal.  Quinoa is not recommended for children under 8 months of age because of its high protein content; your child may not be able to digest it very easily.  If in doubt, always talk to your child’s pediatrician!

Nutritional perks:  Due to its minimal processing, Quinoa is exceptionally nutritious.  It is teeming with fiber, protein, calcium, potassium & folic acid [see Eggplants blog] just to name a few key nutrients.  With its super-high protein content, it’s a great meat substitute for raising the vegan baby (raising vegans article coming soon!)  Quinoa is also great for children who don’t tolerate GLUTEN very well.  Quinoa is 100% gluten-free & can substitute for wheat ingredients. The Quinoa "flour" is used as a substitute for wheat flour in baking, though the high amount of protein produces a heavier texture to some baked goods.

What’s all this gluten-free talk??
You may have noticed a lot more “gluten-free” products in your supermarket.  They’ve been available for a long time in organic food stores, but with their growing popularity you can find them as easily as going into your local Walmart.  The gluten-free movement was started with more awareness of the autoimmune disorder Celiac Disease.  One stand-out problem with this disorder is the person’s inability to digest wheat or any kind of wheat products because of the wheat protein “gluten.”  Gluten is what makes bread dough stretchy but firm & keeps cakes from falling apart.  The reaction by the intestines when exposed to gluten ranges from diarrhea to severe inflammation & pain.  Prolonged exposure to indigestible proteins causes the villi in the intestines to atrophy, which greatly affects the absorption of vitamins & minerals since that is the role of villi in the intestinal tract.  The only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.  Celiac Disease is not the same as a wheat allergy, though of course children with a wheat allergy can benefit greatly from the introduction of Quinoa in their diet.

Popular brand of organic,
wheat-alternative grains.
Though Celiac Disease is a big part of the gluten-free market, parents are advised not to give their child any wheat products until they reach 1 year of age to due to the occurrence of allergic reactions to wheat.  Foods that pose a big risk for an allergic reaction are generally not recommended for younger children because what would be considered even a “mild” reaction to us may be a much more severe reaction for them. Quinoa is considered mostly non-allergenic so it is ideal for most children with food sensitivity.  Gluten is also difficult for younger children to digest, which results mostly in gas, fussiness, & tummy aches :( 

Let’s make it, shall we?
I’m going to be honest, once again, this is not the quickest food in the world.  The higher the protein in grains or pasta, the longer they take to cook.  However, since the Quinoa will be ground either by you or pre-ground at purchase the time will be cut down considerably :)  Should you choose to feed your child the whole grain, just follow the directions on the package & make sure your child is ready to have chewy foods.  The Quinoa pearls may be small, but a mouthful of Quinoa could spell disaster to a child who is unable to chew hearty foods properly.

Quinoa Baby Cereal
¼ cup ground Quinoa
2 cups water

Bring water to a boil on the stovetop, slowly whisk in Quinoa powder & continuously whisk while pouring to avoid lumps.  Turn down to lowest setting & cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Whisk intermittently.  You can always add more water if you think the mixture is getting too thick.  That’s all she wrote!

Again, you can add fruits, sweeteners, or serve plain.  I’d suggest serving plain first so you don’t have to add sweeteners over & over again to get your little one to eat something.  Some suggest toasting the quinoa before grinding or before cooking because it is supposed to make the grain easier to digest, but that (oftentimes unnecessary) step is up to you.  Enjoy!  And remember, it’s “Keen-wah” if you have trouble finding it in the store :)  Happy eating!

-Elias’s mommy

Sources: What to Expect: The First Year book by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, & Sandee Hathaway, B.S.N.;;  

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