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