Ruminations on all things baby food

A little change of pace here today...

My friend Lindsay asked me if I had any tips about starting solid foods with baby. I sent her a ridiculously long response, and then thought - maybe other people would find some of this information/advice useful or interesting. Who knows!

Ruminations on starting solid foods with baby

Rice cereal and Banana: Beware the Poo-Poo Dur (French for Hard Poopy)

Most people start with mushed up Bananas (or banana baby food) and rice cereal. They have lots of good nutrients and kids love the sweet taste. Edie loved them both. TOO much - she ended up really constipated. Turns out those two traditional first-foods often make babies constipated - so if you do start with those, be sure to have other things in the mix, too - and to make sure she's getting plenty of fluids (breastmilk or formula... but also watering down the foods that you serve).

Alternative to rice cereal (thanks to my sisters-in-law for this one!): Baby oatmeal. (Gerber offers an organic variety that's very affordable) We have switched to baby oatmeal instead of rice cereal. it's iron fortified and a lot less likely to get her digestive system all stuck.

Other famous first foods: sweet potato and avocado. Both nutrient rich, and very smooth in terms of texture. I think it's hard to find avocado baby food, so I'd recommend buying some really ripe avocados on your own and mushing them (which is pretty darned easy since you don't have to cook it or anything).

One note on bananas and avocados: with both bananas and avocado, if you mush them up on your own and place them an airtight container, chances are, the next morning you'll still find a layer of brown on the top from oxidation. Just scrape off the top layer and you're good to go.

Homemade babyfood: Great. But don't kill yourself, mama!

With Baxter, Mike and I cooked all our own organic vegetables that we pureed and froze in ice cube trays. Our freezer was filled with like 15 bags of colored cubes of pureed peas, sweet potatoes, squash, ... you name it. Now, I look back and wonder why I killed myself over it. When time allowed it, I certainly enjoyed the process and felt good about doing this for my baby. Plus, it was very economical. However, when the stock ran low, I felt so stressed about having to find an afternoon to dedicate to making new baby food that I was consumed by it. The reality is, they sell organic baby food that isn't all that expensive... and this time around, with Edie, I'm embracing the convenience of the ready-made foods. And you know what? She certainly doesn't care!

"Super Baby Food" by Ruth Yaron: a homemade baby food resource. Great info on prepping every kind of food. But beware: she's INTENSE. she's like "make your own millet" intense. She's also very fearful of all things electronic/chemical/hot etc. Like, "stay away from the microwave/blender to avoid getting radiation"... Yeah. I'm serious. Use it as a resource. Not a bible.

If you love making your own babyfood, and you have the time, GREAT! If not, throw that mommy guilt in the trash can and grab yourself a jar of babyfood off the pantry shelf.

All that being said, based on convenience and cost, here are a couple of foods that you might consider prepping yourself:

Bananas ---because you don't cook them. You just let them get really ripe, and mash them up with some water to thin them out.

Avocado -- as I mentioned above. Let them get soft and scoop out the innards. Be sure to thin it out with water.

Sweet potatoes --- A little more work, but worth making your own simply for the savings. Buy 2 or three sweet potatoes, poke holes in them with a fork and throw them in the microwave for 3-5 minutes (depending on the size). Don't boil them, cause they lose all the vitamins in the water. When they're done, scrape the insides out into a blender, add warm water and blend to the desired consistency. Then pour it into ice cube trays and freeze them. the next day, pop your sweet potato cubes out into a large ziploc bag with the date and keep it in the freezer. It'll last you WEEKS...

Another hint: Applesauce. To save cash and time, you can buy organic applesauce in a big jar - like the kind grown ups would eat. Gerber's babyfood applesauce is definitely pureed a lot more than the regular stuff, but you can always thin the regular stuff out with water and mix it with oatmeal or rice cereal. Example: Wild Harvest Organics (at Acme) 24 oz jar for $3.00.

Other good starters to offer in the first couple of months of solids: peaches, pears, peas, green beans, carrots

Proteins: Dairy, Meat, and Soy

Over the following few months, based on conversations with your pediatrician, you can start yogurt, cottage cheese, and meats, too. I personally find meat baby food somewhat revolting. It smells like sh*t. It smells even MORE like sh*t after the baby's body processes it and it ends up in their diaper. Another, less vile, protein option is tofu. Yes, tofu. Silken tofu is so nice and soft you can mix it with anything. You can also do slightly soft cubed tofu that babies love to play with as they get little pieces into their mouths. Baxter loved it (except for that day we swore to all our doubting friends that he loved tofu. In front of an audience, after 3 spoon fulls he spit it up all over the table).

Keeping track:

When you first start out, you might want to keep a log of when you introduce what foods, and leave 3 days in between each new food. This is particularly important if food allergies run in the family or if you have any reason to fear she might have certain sensitivities. But, don't do what we did with Baxter. I just came across Bax's food log in which we wrote down what Bax ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner every meal for 4 months. What a headcase. No wonder I was stressed out.

When: In terms of age, the docs keep changing their minds. 5-6 months, I guess. When baxter was a baby they said wait until 6 months. With Edie, the doc wanted us to try before 5 months. Also, docs keep changing their minds with regards to when to introduce meats and dairy. When bax was a baby, they said yogurt at 6 months and no meats until 9-12 months. Edie's ped says no yogurt til 9 months and start meats NOW (6 months). I figure, if they keep changing their damn minds about it, we have some flexibility with this stuff.

What time of day should we start? When baby is happy! About an hour after a bottle, so baby isn't starving or full. not when they're exhausted either. Morning is often a good time, assuming you've got at least 2 hours in between when baby wakes and when she goes down for morning nap.

Our schedule with Edie (now 6.5 months) is based on the daycare schedule and it works well for her:

5:30 - 7 am: wake and nurse/bottle
7:15: solids for breakfast
9-10 nap
10:30 bottle
11:30 solids for lunch
12:30 - 2 nap
2:00: bottle
4:00: small bottle
5:00: solids for dinner
6:00: bedtime ritual and bottle

Avoiding the power struggle:

Ok, so - How and how much? When introducing foods, its super-tempting to think you have to get the baby to actually "EAT" the food. But that's not the goal (I'm talking to myself here, too. That's NOT the goal, Danna!). The goal is socializing the baby into the ritual of eating and creating a positive experience surrounding food. This involves having a set place where she'll eat, and (like the bedtime ritual) giving cues to baby that it's that time. Usually getting her in the high chair is a pretty solid indicator. The first few times, just offering a teeny bit on a soft baby spoon and putting it to her lips is sufficient. She'll probably stick her tongue out, make a funny face and and get the taste... but because of the sucking reflex, most of the food will come right back out of her mouth!

With Edie, when we tried to offer more, she wasn't having it. That lasted about 2 weeks or so. The key here is to not get discouraged. If she's not into it, just set it aside. Don't think of it as a failure. This was really hard for me. I kept thinking: she needs to EAT the damn food! PJ was way better about saying, "OK. All done." as soon as she started fussing. After a couple of weeks, she definitely started digging it! She got the hang of it and really seems to enjoy the process now.

Meal time as "talk time": Baby Sign Language

Ok, and... starting solids is a wonderful opportunity to do some basic sign language with baby to enhance communication and minimize frustration. This is a whole other conversation, I realize. However, it is such a joy to equip the baby with the ability to communicate without them having to cry or throw a fit. Right now, at meals I sign (and say) "more?" "all done" and "Milk" (which is the sign/word we use for bottle). Sometimes I swear that when she's starting to fuss and I say and do "all done," she immediately chills out and gets happy since she knows that i GET it. If you're interested in doing this, consider the book/dvd "Sign with your baby".

And here's a great video that captures in a 3 minute nutshell why signing is so great - particularly in the context of mealtime. And, this baby is not a freak of nature. Seriously. Baxter was signing and saying words by 12-15 months: (mama, dada, cat, more, all done, change (as in diaper change), plane, jump, touch, no, please, sleep, thank you). I think the signs encouraged early language acquisition. He got hooked on having the ability to tell us stuff and make his wishes known. So, he didn't sign much or for too long - it was sort of a quick springboard to transition to verbal language. Check out this baby:

As you can see, I love thinking about this stuff....

Most of all - and I have to remind myself of this all the time - have FUN with it! remember, if she's not having it at ALL --- wait a few days and try again. We tried with Bax at 5 months... every 3 or 4 days and he hated it... I thought he'd never eat solids. Then, at 6.6 months he finally decided he was ready... and it became super fun!


Simba, Mufasa, and the Mike Angel

[Mike Angel: Made by Sandra Austin Dec 1999]

So, PJ and I had been having some trouble with Baxter of late... talking back, not listening, like he was distancing himself or something - Using a weird cartoon voice, turning all limp when we'd hug him. I was racking my brain trying to figure out what was going on.

PJ and I had been to our parent-teacher conference with his kindergarten teacher 2 weeks ago, and I think it fed into a bad spiral we were already having with Bax. Basically, she said he can't stay in his seat. He interrupts her, corrects her, and has a hard time accepting responsibility for his actions.

I think PJ and I were broken hearted, but instead of going home and snuggling the snarkiness out of Baxter, we became determined to nip this in the bud. So we started coming down hard... on everything. But after a week, it was clear that this was not the right way. Baxter was shutting down - and disconnecting from us.

So, after long conversations with my parents and PJ's parents, we launched a new parenting campaign last week. Love, affection, gentle instruction and correction. A calmer energy in the house... less stress and more kindness. Less rushing and more breathing.

And you know what? Baxter made his return to us.

As we made these subtle changes, I began thinking about all of this in light of a conversation with UD's own guru of mindfulness, Scott Caplan, about Baxter's emotional intelligence, and my role in fostering an emotionally healthy child. Scott suggested I take a look at a book by John Gottman "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child." I peeked at a quiz in the beginning of the book.

Do you treat your child's anger like it's a problem?
Do you allow your child to see you experience sadness?

...it took like 3o seconds for me to realize... in my quest to create a happy and "normal" life for Baxter, starting in 2006... I might have inadvertently stunted his emotional development. I never let him see me cry. I still tend to come down hard when baxter freaks out about stuff in a way i deem "age inappropriate". To avoid freaking Baxter out, I tend to speak of Mike in light happy terms. I never let him witness my grief.

I think when he was little this approach made some sense. But, as he's getting older and wiser, maybe it's time to reconsider how to talk about these things. Well, on Saturday, the opportunity presented itself.

While trimming our tree on Saturday afternoon, I came many beautiful decorations which were Mike's before we were even a couple. One of them was the "Mike Angel," a gift from our friend Sandra from 1999. The "Mike Angel" was a hilariously funny addition to our tree for years. She made it out of a styrofoam ball and orange yarn and it really looks just like Mike Young.

So, Saturday, Baxter found it and said, "What's this?" And I said, "Do you think it looks like anyone?" and he said, "Daddy Mike?" I told Bax all about it and how much we loved it and used to have it on our tree when we lived in Philly.

"Can we put it on top of our tree? Please?"

I decided this was an opportunity to be honest with Bax about my feelings. I told him that if he wanted, he could take the angel and put it up in his room, but I would prefer to not have it atop our main tree because seeing it made me feel very sad. I told him I miss Daddy Mike, especially around the holidays and when I see the angel I'm reminded of how much I miss him - so if he wanted it in his room, that would be ok.

"Are you going to not want to come into my room then?"

"Of course I will! I don't mind seeing it, but I don't think I want it right in the middle of the family room all the time, you know?"

He brought it upstairs, and came right down. "I put it next to my bed so I can pray to it." (an interesting comment from a son whose parents don't really talk about "praying".).

In the morning on Sunday, I went in to snuggle with Bax. He pointed to the angel. "Do you want to say a prayer to Daddy Mike?"

"Ok, but I do talk to him all the time. Even when I'm not looking at the Daddy Mike Angel."

"What do you say? What do you pray for?"

"I pray that he's happy."

"Me too. Do you pray that he likes PJ? Cause he never met him."

"I guess so. I'm sure he would like PJ."

"But do you pray that he's not like....[Baxter makes a funny growling face] 'GRRRR... I wanna be Baxter's Daddy. I don't want PJ to be Baxter's Daddy.'"

..."sort of, yeah." The fact that in Bax's mind, Mike would be jealous of Peej not for his marriage to me, but because of the opportunity to be with Bax... is so perfect. "I pray that he's up there [I point at the sky] looking down on you and keeping you safe and protected."

Now, before I say what Baxter said next, let me just say that Baxter has been fascinated with the movie "the Lion King" for years. I have refrained from buying it for fear that the plot about Simba's father Mufasa, dying, is too close to home for Bax. But whenever he's at Michelle's house, he asks to watch it. He wants to fall asleep to it. He talks about the film all the time. Instead of picking up on the cue that perhaps this film is helping Bax work through some things, I have continued to try to shield him from the "dead father" plot altogether, not allowing the movie into our house.

So, after I told bax that I often pray for Mike to look down on Baxter, Baxter sits down next to me on his bed and touches my knee.

"But he's not up there!" he says quietly, but wide-eyed.

"He's not?"

"NOoooo." whispering, "he's in here," he says smiling and pointing to his chest. "You know in Lion King, when Simba looks at his reflection in the water? Remember how he sees Mufasa? It's not his imagination, Mom. Mufasa is inside him. Like Daddy Mike is inside me.... " now Baxter is speaking quicky - like's he's on a roll and has been eager to get all this out. "Remember when I used to go to Tae Kwon Do?'' He asks. (We stopped classes in July, so this is not a recent memory). "Daddy Mike was inside me, helping me. Remember how you were surprised that I could do all those push-ups? Daddy Mike helped me do them."

All this time, all this stuff has been rattling around inside my son. We've been so busy with the baby - so busy just trying to keep the house running, trying to make sure that Baxter likes his new little sister... And in my attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow, by being strict and a task-master, somewhere, I lost sight of my role. Thank gosh he's young and nimble. Thank gosh PJ and I realized that we need to step back and rethink our approach.

And thank God we have that Mike Angel... That hilarious Mike Angel. To give me the opportunity to be honest and vulnerable with Baxter, and to help give him the opportunity to share all the complicated things going on inside his head.

We have a wonderful and amazing little boy.