Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Homemade Baby Food Tips & Tricks....and Why I Decided Against Baby Led Weaning

I have been meaning to write this post forever. Seriously....forever. And one of the reasons is because I wish I had read a post like this when I was beginning to make decisions about starting solid foods with my son. Just when I had gotten the hang of nursing and realized how crazy easy it was to just have to worry about milk, then things had to change! Wait a, I have to nurse AND feed him food? Where is this food going to come from? Where is all this extra TIME going to come from? It already takes me 30 minutes to nurse. And now I have to spend more time feeding him FOOD?? Geez almighty! And I would rather not feed my baby that stuff in a jar from the store if I can help it. It felt like solid food was just one extra thing to extra thing to think about. I wasn't ready for this!  
Around 5 months when I finally accepted that I couldn't just nurse Harrison for the rest of his life, and I began to research a little about starting solids, I had 100% decided on two things:  1) I was waiting until at least 6 months to introduce solids, at the recommendation of the AAP, WHO, and other health organizations….. and 2) I was going to do "Baby Led Weaning."  A year prior, I had never heard of BLW (Baby Led Weaning). One of my friends introduced it to me, and I thought it sounded so easy! Wait…....what?? You just give baby everything you eat….from Day 1?? No buying baby food?? No pureeing stuff? And baby feeds himself so you don't have to? Sweet! Count me in!! Little did I know, the actual logistics of this would not be nearly as appealing as it sounded.
Harrison sitting in his high chair for the first time....practice makes perfect!
  When 6 months arrived, I was so excited! I knew I was going to start with avocados. A bunch of moms on the Baby Led Weaning Facebook group I had joined recommended that, and it seemed to work well for them. And I knew avocados had so many healthy fats in them….brain food for my growing boy! Some pediatricians still recommend doing rice cereal as baby's first food, but new research seems to refute that. Rice cereal really does not have much nutritional value and is mostly just junk carbohydrates, so I made the decision that starting with veggies and fruits would be best for us. I had gotten the high chair set up a few days prior and started letting Harrison sit in it to get used to it. I had my bib ready. I had my organic avocados sliced up. No spoon needed…..he was going to feed himself! This was going to be awesome!  I got my camera ready to snap the priceless picture of Harrison’s utter delight as he munched on those yummy avocados. (Can you say...classic First Time Mom here?? Haha.) I put him in his high chair, got his bib on, and put the slices down in front of him. I was beside myself with excitement. He looked at them. Then he reached out and smashed them. He squeezed them between his fingers. This wasn’t going quite like I had planned. Maybe he needed some guidance…  I picked up a slice of avocado and put it in his mouth. The look on his face was priceless alright! It was one of utter disgust. He spit it right out. 
Harrison's first solid food....avocado.  He was not a fan.
I tried again. This time he started gagging on the piece I gave him so I had to quickly sweep it out of his mouth. In slight frustration and a little bit of fear of a repeat gagging/choking episode, I grabbed a spoon and mashed the remaining mess of an avocado up in a bowl and fed Harrison a little bit on one of his baby spoons. He actually kept some in his mouth, but the look on his face was just terrible. It was literally like he was saying, “Mom…..why are you doing this to me????”  I decided we had had enough solids for one day, so I cleaned up Harrison’s avocado covered face and nursed him. He was much happier with a boob than the avocado.
Mom......what IS this stuff???
Am I supposed to like this?

  The next day I decided to try again. We tried the avocado slices again, and he once again played with them, smashed them, etc. But no luck with actually eating anything.....that is....until I mixed some breastmilk with it and fed it to him with a spoon. 
I made a discouraged post in my “Babyled Weaning for Beginners” Facebook group. Everyone commented and said it was totally normal and that it is good for them to “explore” with their food. They said it was all about the experience and that many BLW babies don’t get a whole lot of food in the beginning. They just play and explore.  Now, you might think that this reassurance made me feel better about the fact that my 6 month old was smashing $2 organic avocados all over his face and high chair, but it didn’t….at all.  So you mean to tell me that I am supposed to continue buying expensive organic produce for my child to “explore”....aka throw on the floor?? Ummmmm….how about no!?!  As I saw more posts from other mommies in this group with pictures of their babies covered from head to toe in spaghetti and other foods, I had a few thoughts..... A) Some of these mammas have way more time on their hands than I do (or more patience??), since they are the ones who have to clean up the spaghetti covered baby, the spaghetti stained high chair, and mop the floor full of spaghetti remnants.... or B) Some of these mammas must have more extra money on hand than I do (since they can obviously afford to spend $$ on expensive organic produce that never even contributes to actual nutrition, since it ends up all over baby’s face, hands, and the floor….). I also decided that Baby Led Weaning was not for me…..or at least not now.  Honestly, once I thought more about it, it didn't make sense from a parenting standpoint least not to me. I tend to follow the parenting rule, "Begin as you mean to go...." when it comes to most things, and it seemed like food should be no exemption. I obviously do not want Harrison thinking that it is ok to throw food on the floor and smash it all over himself later down the road, so why would I let him do that now? If he was obviously not coordinated enough yet to feed himself in an orderly manner, then I would be happy to feed him until his motor skills were more developed.  
I kind of felt let down.... I had been led to believe it all just came "naturally" by some the BLW moms. So many moms talked about how their babies just started reaching for food and putting it into their mouths starting as early as 4 and 5 months old. And I guess if that was the case, this BLW thing would be working out better for me and for Harrison. But my baby was doing no such thing and seemed totally confused and frustrated. I started to consider just doing purees, but that made me feel somehow inadequate (I know it's dumb...but as a FTM you second guess everything!) because on my BLW sites and groups, moms always talked about not feeding their babies those "yucky purees" and "mush" like they were somehow disgusting and not fit for human consumption. But then I thought about it further. What was applesauce?? Mashed potatoes? Smoothies?? Grown adults eat pureed foods all the time. Why wouldn't I be open to giving them to my baby?
I posted again in my BLW Facebook group again asking if any moms did a combination of BLW and purees, and I got lots of feedback from moms saying that they actually preferred a combination, and that many did both. I got a lot of comments back from other moms just like me who were getting frustrated too and also didn't think that it seemed as easy as it was made out to be. That made me feel so much better. I wasn't alone! My baby wasn't a freak of nature. Haha.  I had a little hope that maybe I could start with purees and then transition to BLW later on.  I vowed to continue to let Harrison practice feeding himself, but in the meantime, I was going to try baby food. I really wanted to make my own, but it seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t even know where to start, so in the meantime (while I taught myself how to make homemade baby food), I went out and bought some pouches of organic baby food. I knew I wanted Harrison to eat vegetables (since my hubby is a crazy picky eater and I was afraid Harrison may inherit the veggie hating gene), so I made sure not to buy too many types with fruits. I figured if all he knew was veggies, he wouldn't know what he was missing. The next day I opened one, squeezed some onto a spoon, and fed it to him. He lapped it up like a puppy dog. He loved it! He couldn't get enough. Solid food success!! I tried several of the baby food pouches over the next week and I didn't find a single one he didn't like. Spinach and pear, sweet potato and carrots, broccoli and apple…..he ate it all. (And just in case you're, I didn't follow the "only introduce one food every 3-4 days just in case there is a food allergy" rule. We have no history of food allergies and I was impatient. Harrison is alive and all is well.) But at $1.25 or more per pouch, I could see how this was going to get expensive.
Harrison after giving him a baby food puree pouch!
I did a little more research on making homemade baby food and found lots of different methods to the madness. Some moms swore by one of those fancy baby food cookers and many used special baby food storage containers. I, myself, had registered for a fancy baby food storage system, but once I saw the ice cube tray method, I quickly realized how nonsensical the other stuff was from both a time management aspect, a financial aspect, and a space saving aspect.  I decided the ice cube tray method was the most practical, so I went out and bought about 12 ice cube trays. I also made a list of different foods I wanted to cook first - sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, apples, avocado, banana, etc.  I bought a bunch of stuff and brought it home.  My next step was figuring out what in the world to do with all this produce. The website Wholesome Baby Food (link at the bottom of this post) was especially helpful.  It gave a great list of different foods to try at different ages, and gave great instructions on how to cook the various foods. It also allowed you to search by the fruit or vegetable you were wondering about and gave you lists of recipes, food preparation tips, what types of vitamins and minerals are provided by that food, and also gave you guidance on whether or not to buy organic.  
After I cooked all the veggies and fruits (some in the oven, and some in the microwave), I pureed them in my Ninja Blender.  I added water to them, but you can also add breastmilk.  I didn’t really measure either….I just added water until it got to the consistency that I wanted. I spooned out the food into the ice cube trays, froze them, popped out those little cubes, and put into labeled freezer bags! Voila!  Bon appetit baby!!
Here is the first spread of produce I made into babyfood!
  (And for those of you who are wondering, I didn't just "give up" on BLW after two tries. I continued to let Harrison practice feeding himself and he was somewhat successful at times, but he still seemed completely uninterested overall and he barely ate anything when I did let him feed himself. However, he loved eating from a spoon, and I felt much more confident that he was getting proper nutrients from food that way, so that's what we did. So to you BLW mammas reading this post, no judgment here. I am glad it worked out for you. It just wasn't the best decision for us.)

Since my first attempt at homemade baby food, I have made many batches, and throughout the whole process, I have learned/realized a few things that I feel are worth sharing:

  1. If you are feeing overwhelmed by making your own baby food and think you don't have the time, you just need to calm it down. You have the do. When you think about all the time you save by not having to prepare individual meals each day for baby, it is well worth a chunk of time one day every 3-4 weeks. I would do things over the course of a day on a Saturday or Sunday to make it more manageable. Like while Harrison was taking his morning nap, I would chop veggies and cook them. Then during his afternoon nap, I would puree and pour into ice cube trays. Then that night after he went to bed, I would pop all the frozen cubes out of the trays, put into bags, and label. And then I was done.....for like a MONTH! Seriously, it doesn't take that long. And it saves money! Who doesn't love saving money?!
  2. I am SUPER glad that I didn’t spend money for one of those baby food maker machines. First off, they are not that big. Blenders and food processors have much larger capacities.  Doing huge batches in the Ninja blender allowed me to make a LOT of food at one time.  The larger the batches you make, the more cubes you are able to get out of a batch….and the LESS often you have to make baby food. Score! Some mammas swear by their Beaba baby food maker, etc. but if you don't want to fork out the extra money for a special appliance, don't. It's totally not necessary.
  3. The ice cube trays are THE way to go as far as storage is concerned. Just freeze the food, pop them out of the trays, put the cubes in Ziploc freezer bags, and label them.  I had originally purchased this set of plastic tupperware container cubes that were designed to store baby food, but they held a lot larger portion of food than an ice cube, and they took up a lot more room than an ice cube.  So, if you choose to freeze food in tupperware containers, it will take up a ton more room in your freezer. And because the serving sizes are so much larger, if you defrost/heat up a container, and your baby doesn't eat all of it, it won't stay good for that long. Some people also make baby food and store the portions in plastic tupperware in the refrigerator. That is fine and dandy....if you want to have to make baby food every single week. But ain’t nobody got time for that! Freezing baby food means it will stay fresh and ready to go for months. Also, by storing baby food in the plastic tupperware containers, you would have to heat up the food in the plastic containers.  I’m not a fan of heating food in plastic containers just because of the chemicals that get leached into your food. And also, because they hold so much more food, it takes way longer to heat them up. By doing the ice cube portions, I can put the food straight into a glass bowl and heat them up in no time!  The smaller the portion, the faster it heats up!  And when you have a hungry baby, time is of the essence.  
  4. Overall, making single ingredient foods is definitely smarter than mixing ingredients.  By making single ingredient foods and and freezing them in small portions, it makes it so easy to mix and match foods and do different combinations.  One day you can grab two cubes of corn, and two cubes of carrots and mix them. The next day, you may want to do 1 cube of corn and 3 sweet potatoes.  Apples and broccoli one day, broccoli and carrots the next.  You can be much more versatile with your meals when you don’t pre-mix foods.  Later on, I found that some foods could not be made single ingredient….like kale, for instance. It just doesn't work.... So I mixed kale with peas. Some fruits were the same way. Like one fruit was too watery alone, but mixed with another fruit it tasted better, etc.  But most foods are better off alone.  
  5. Big batches are so much better!  The first time I made baby food, I didn’t make a ton...because I was a little scared and unsure of how it would all work out.  And I only had food for about two weeks.  The next time, I went for it!  I bought lots of each ingredient and made huge batches.  My freezer was slap full of baby food, but I also didn’t have to worry about food for over a month! It was fantastic!!
  6. Making your own baby food and freezing it makes meal planning for your little one a no brainer, and your baby is much more likely to eat GOOD and HEALTHY food, even when you are not. With Baby Led Weaning, baby is eating what you eat.  So, what if you decide it is pizza night?? I’m all about letting my baby try new things, but I would much rather him eat healthy nutritious food, even when I have a pizza craving.  I didn’t want him eating pizza just because I was.  So having ready to go frozen food at a hand’s reach meant I could prepare him a quick meal while we enjoyed pizza.  What if you decide not to cook one night and go out for sushi?  Are you going to feed your 6 month old sushi?  Probably not.  It only took me 2 minutes to whip out some baby food cubes, heat up in a container, and take with us to a restaurant. My hubby also works shift work, so on nights he works, I don’t cook!  I certainly wasn’t going to start cooking a meal just so I could have food to feed my baby. So on nights daddy was working, I could just eat a bowl of cereal or make a sandwich and not have to worry about not having food for my son. Another thing to think about is the eating habits of your family. If your family eats a lot of different kinds of foods, then having baby eat what you eat may truly give them a wide repertoire of foods. But if you have a hubby or other kiddos who are super picky and you tend to fix "picky eater" type foods, then baby is missing out on opportunities to try many new foods. My husband doesn't eat onions, peppers, salad, etc... so I would never fix that for a meal for us. But I didn't want to pigeonhole Harrison into the same eating habits by not offering those foods to him. Who knows? He may love those things (and as it turns out...he does!).  It just made baby’s meals sooooo much less stressful and allowed me to introduce lots of different foods regardless of the eating habits of the rest of the family.  And I always knew I had food on hand and that it could be ready in minutes with no planning or prep work involved.
  7. If your baby has already gotten lots of little chompers by 6 months, things may be different for you. But let's face it, eating normal adult food is hard without teeth.....yet another reason BLW is just not practical for many babies. Yes, gums are powerful and are capable of chewing food, but it is still not as easy as having teeth. If you and your family are eating steak and salad, are you really going to give your baby a hunk of steak to eat if they don't have any teeth?? It takes ME forever to chew up a piece of steak, and I have lots of teeth to grind and tear the food. Babies don't. Of course things like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, bread, etc are not that hard to eat without teeth, but the vast majority of those softer "easy to eat" meals are slap full of carbs. I didn't want to result to eating a bunch of carbohydrate loaded meals just so Harrison could have some. I would way rather him learn to eat fruits, veggies, and healthy meats.... and the vast majority of those items are next to impossible to eat without teeth, unless they are pureed of course, hence the baby food.
  8. It is much easier to mix food cubes together than feed them separately. I started out doing 3 cubes of food for each meal for Harrison. Some times I would do 3 cubes of the same food, and other times I would do 2 cubes of one food and 1 cube of another. But even if I did two different foods, I still put them in the same bowl. It's just easier. Carrots and corn, broccoli and apples, etc. It is all mixing together in baby's tummy anyway, I say! Later, Harrison worked up to 4 cubes per meal, but I continued to do things the same way. All the cubes went together in the same bowl!
  9. The ice cube food system is super easy for daycare purposes too. All I did for daycare meals was put 4 cubes in a snack sized Ziploc bag for each meal and label it. Then I put all the tiny snack sized Ziploc bags in a big freezer bag. I sent the freezer bag full of food to daycare on Monday and my daycare provider kept it in the freezer all week. When it was time for a meal, she just took a bag out of the freezer, popped it in the microwave, and fed him. And I only had to prepare meals for him ONCE A WEEK! Whoo hoo!!
  10. Now that Harrison (currently 11 months) is almost totally out of the baby food stage and is feeding himself more, I often wish I could go BACK to the baby food. It is SO much faster!! Once again....I personally do not understand why parents are so pumped about their baby feeding themselves. It is messy and takes forever. I could feed Harrison his entire meal in a matter of minutes from his bowl of baby food, but letting him feed himself makes things so much slower. Not to mention, you have to watch them like a hawk because they can get choked up on pieces of food if they don't chew it well. It's semi stressful. Seriously, moms...embrace the baby food stage!! :)

Here were my favorite foods to make for that 6-8 month age range and my tips for cooking and preparation:

Sweet Potatoes - put DIRECTLY onto the oven rack ( it.  I've cooked these like 5 different ways, and they turn out perfectly this way and the skin actually separates completely from the potato, making peeling a breeze. It makes it soooo much easier!)  and bake for 45 min to 1 hour at 400, or until a fork can easily be stuck into the side of the potato.  Peel skin off potatoes, but into blender or food processor, and blend until desired consistency. Add water or breastmilk if needed.

Carrots - Peel carrots with a vegetable peeler.  Cut into pieces about an inch long and put into a pot and boil.  When carrots can be easily pierced with a fork, they are done.  Put into blender or food processor and blend until desired consistency.  Add water or breastmilk as needed.  

Corn - You can use canned or frozen.  Buy organic!!  About 95% of the corn in the US is genetically modified.  I bought frozen organic corn, steamed in the microwave bag, and then put directly into the blender.  Corn is one food that is harder to get completely pureed, and I actually prefer it that way.  I always left a little bit of texture so Harrison could get used to different textures.

Peas - You can use canned or frozen.  I bought frozen organic peas, steamed in the microwave bags, and put into the blender.  Blend until desired consistency.  Add water of breastmilk if needed.  

Apples - Core and slice.  Peel if desired.  I left peelings on since they have lots of good nutrients.  Place into a baking dish and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, or until they are very soft when pierced with a fork.  Blend until desired consistency. Add water or breastmilk if needed.

Kale - Wash, break into pieces, and put into a pot with an inch or two of water.  Steam for several minutes until the kale wilts and is soft.  Blend together with another vegetable (I used peas) until desired consistency.  Add water or breastmilk if needed. 

Butternut Squash -  Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and place face down in a baking dish with about 1 inch of water.  Bake at 400 for about 45 minutes.  Scoop out flesh.  Blend until desired consistency. Add water or breastmilk if needed.  

Avocado & Banana - Slice avocados, remove seed, and scoop out flesh into blender. Place whole bananas into blender as well.  Blend until desired consistency. 

Peaches - Peel, remove seeds, and cut into slices.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until soft and slightly browned.  Blend until desired consistency.  Add breastmilk or water if needed. 

Broccoli - You can use fresh or frozen.  I bought frozen organic broccoli florets and steamed in the microwave bag. Blend until desired consistency.  Add breastmilk or water if needed.  

    Later on at about 7.5-8 months, I tried other more exotic vegetables and fruits.  I know I stated earlier that doing single ingredient foods works best, but for certain fruits, I found that combining them made things easier.  Some of Harrison's favorites were: 
   * Kiwi Papaya
   * Blueberry Pear
   * Banana Mango

  At 8 months, I also added in meats to Harrison's food repertoire.  I thought meats would be more complicated, but they really weren't.  I just cooked them, blended them, and stored them in ice cube trays in just the same way I did the fruits and veggies.  The meats did not get creamy like the veggies and fruits.  Once blended, they shredded into a powdery like substance.  But I liked that, because it added some exposure to new textures.  Instead of taking out 4 cubes of a fruit or veggie for each meal, from that point forward I did 3 cubes of veggies and 1 cube of meat for each meal.  I plopped all 4 cubes in a bowl and microwaved together.  

  Chicken - Rub boneless, skinless chicken breasts with some olive oil and season lightly with salt, pepper, etc.  Bake in the oven until done.  Add water or breastmilk and blend until powdery. 
   Beef - I bought stew beef already cut up into chunks at the grocery store.  Put beef chunks in a baking dish, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bake in the oven until tender.  Add water or breastmilk and blend until desired consistency.

  Pork - I am sure there are other ways to do this.... but I really liked cooking a Boston Butt in the crock pot.  I made pulled pork BBQ for dinner one night and just saved the leftovers.  Crock pot meats fork so easily and it basically just falls apart.  You barely even have to blend it.

    Well, I believe that does it for this post.  For all the mammas out there doing BLW and loving it, I am super glad it worked out for you!  I may try it again with Baby #2.  But for me, my baby, and our busy lifestyle, this was SO much easier and allowed me to introduce so many more types of foods to Harrison than he ever would have been exposed to just eating "what we eat." To this day, I have not found a single food this child won't eat, and I truly think it is because he had the opportunity to be exposed to so many different foods, flavors, and textures!   Happy Baby Food Making Mammas!!!

     So, now that you've got the basics down, are you ready for another amazing tip??!  So....after we got past the baby puree stage and I realized Harrison was ready to handle more pieces of food and got more skilled at feeding himself, I was lost again!  The baby food making and feeding was so easy...what was I to do now??! Now I needed actual meals ready to go 3 times a day, but it still had to be things that were smaller pieces that baby could handle with only a few teeth.  But then I thought to myself, "Why can't this same system work for non-pureed food?"  Well guess what?  It does!  Here is a sneak peek at what I do for meals now....   I just cook regular foods, cut them up into bite size pieces, and portion out in the ice cube trays to freeze.  So all I still have to do is take out a few cubes for a meal and microwave! Still SUPER easy! Complete post to come later.....