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Feeding Your Baby or Toddler

Each child will respond to tastes and textures differently and at different times. Some 6-month-olds will only want perfectly smooth, textureless foods for months and months while others will want to jump immediately into more adventurous textures. While it's important to constantly try new things, don't push new textures on your child if she is not ready. I've read in many books that it can take up to 10 attempts for a child to warm up to a new dish.

Your child's palate will also constantly grow and change. She will probably like sweet fruits and bland cereals first and then progress to salty, savory, and possibly spicy foods next. Try new tastes as often as possible. If your child shows an interest in your food, give her a taste (keep potential allergies in mind, of course). Remember that even the simplest dishes must taste good. So green beans may not be the most exciting dish, but make them as delicious as possible by using the freshest produce and adding just a little butter or spice to make them appetizing. Particularly complex or sophisticated foods ("stinky" cheeses, smoked foods, etc.) can wait.

Allergies and Other Issues to Discuss with Your Pediatrician
Like most parents, I spend an inordinate amount of time swapping stories and tips about child-raising with other parents. This invaluable support can make all the difference between feeling helpless and feeling confident. Take all these pieces of advice, recipes, and anecdotes with a grain of salt and always refer to your pediatrician for questions regarding your child's health. If your doctor cannot answer questions for you over the phone or if you feel uncomfortable asking what you may feel are stupid questions, then think about interviewing some other practices that can give you this very necessary level of service.

One of the great concerns facing parents is food allergies. While some studies report that a very small percentage of children have food allergies, there is that small group that will react severely, if not fatally, to some foods. It's not an issue to be taken lightly nor on your own. I often hear, "Little Mike (or whoever) started eating peanut butter when he was 9 months old and he's fine, so maybe my child should try some." That may be the case for someone else, but may not be for your child. Ask your doctor when it's safe to introduce particularly allergenic foods. These include:

  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Strawberries
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Wheat

Most of all, don't be shy or embarrassed about letting friends, child care providers, and even well-intentioned family know that your child is not ready to try foods or is allergic. And make certain your child begins to learn this as well. Your 1 1/2-year-old is too young to know what an allergy is, but she will certainly feel a great sense of tragedy if she cannot partake in birthday cake or punch because of an allergy. Be sensitive to this — bring a very special treat for her if you're going to a party where allergenic foods might be served. Always give your child an alternative rather than just saying no.

How Much To Eat?
How much to feed a child seems to stump a lot of parents. The prospect of feeding too little seems negligent and too much is perhaps too indulgent. Some child-care reference books outline how many ounces of meat, dairy, vegetables, etc., to feed your child in a given day. I find those suggestions to be really unhelpful as I don't weigh Alexei's meals on a food scale. The best person to tell you how much you should feed your child is your child. Keep in mind that we are talking about nutritious foods and not treats or snacks. Those foods should be kept to a minimum.

Consider the amounts of food you eat. You might be satisfied with a salad for lunch one day, but the next crave an enormous steak sandwich. Our appetites are decided not just by our age, but by how active we are and also by how appetizing we find a particular dish. A good rule of thumb is to offer small portions and then offer seconds. I usually put no more than 1/2 cup of any one food on Alexei's plate. For dinner, for example, he starts with 1/2 cup of risotto or 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes and 1/2 cup of meat loaf. Your child may find a large amount of food unappetizing or get bored while eating it. And when he is done, let him be done. I always ask at least twice if Alexei would like some more of this or more of that, but I don't beg or scold. If he hasn't had enough to eat and is hungry later, I do offer some of the same food, i.e., no holding out for treats.

Here is what we strive for on a daily basis, though we certainly leave a lot of room for interpretation.

    Breakfast
    1 cup diluted fresh orange juice
    1 small banana
    1 cup low-sugar cereal with 1/2 cup whole milk
    and/or 2 slices raisin bread toast
    and/or 2 slices French toast
    Morning snack
    Low-sodium or homemade crackers
    1/2 cup raisins
    1/2 cup water or whole milk
    Lunch
    1 peanut butter and jam sandwich on whole wheat bread
    or 1 toasted cheese sandwich (also on whole wheat bread)
    1 small piece fresh fruit or 1/2 cup applesauce
    1 cup diluted fresh orange juice or water
    Midafternoon snack
    Low-sodium or homemade crackers
    1/2 cup water or whole milk
    1/2 banana or apple
    Dinner
    1/2-1 cup of a main course like pasta, rice, meat, fish, etc.
    1 slice bread or homemade crackers
    1 cup whole milk
    1/2 cup applesauce or 1 small banana

Freezing and Storage
Doubling recipes is a great way to fill up your freezer or fridge with many weeks' worth of meals. Simply do a little math and use larger pots. Baked goods can be doubled in quantity, but you should still bake in the suggested-size pans, even if you need to bake in batches. Store enough food in your refrigerator in larger containers to feed to your child over a week's time. Simply spoon out portions as you need them. Freeze the rest as soon as the food is thoroughly cooled.

There are many ways to freeze food. It all depends on how you like to defrost and what you are freezing. Purees are best frozen in ice cube trays with a layer of plastic wrap on top to prevent frost from forming. When these cubes are set, remove them from the trays and store in large plastic bags or freezer-safe storage containers. Each cube is about 2 ounces of food, so this is a very convenient way to defrost very precise portions.

Soups, stews, and other dishes can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Or you can freeze them in freezer- and microwave-safe containers. I buy the small, disposable kind of containers that are inexpensive but can survive freezing, thawing, and the dishwasher for many months. I find this to be very convenient, especially using the 4-ounce or 8-ounce sizes.

You Are What You Eat, So Eat Organic!
I can't stress enough the importance of organically grown foods in our diets, especially for our children. We are, as the saying goes, what we eat, and conventionally grown produce and meats can contain antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

One of my ongoing goals is to eliminate all nonorganic foods from our diet, especially meat. Sanitation issues aside (and there are many of those), an average conventionally raised steer ingests a great deal of processed feed and chemicals before it is slaughtered. It is usually fed a corn-based feed that it is biologically not accustomed to digesting. So to counter this "indigestion" that makes it ill, the steer is given antibiotics. And then it is given hormones to make it grow faster and bigger. Then there are the pesticides in the feed and its environs. It doesn't matter if you eat a filet mignon at a steak house or a hot dog on a street corner — the basic source of most of the country's beef is largely the same.

I buy our beef from the cheerful cowboys at Prather Ranch. They have a completely organic ranch in Northern California where the steer are grass fed and carefully raised so as to never need antibiotics or hormones. Everything they eat and everything grown on the ranch is organic. Not only do I feel better eating such pure, wholesome beef, but it tastes so much better. It's the difference between a sweet-as-summer farmer's stand tomato and those tomatoes at the supermarket that taste like cardboard. Most of all, I feel very confident feeding their beef (and sometimes they have organic lamb and pork) to Alexei. He truly eats the best burger in the world!

Look for organic foods at your grocery store, and if the selection is slim, ask the store management to start stocking them. As we as a country eat healthier, the demand for organic and all-natural food will drive the food industry to provide these choices for us not only in health food stores, but also at conventional grocers. In addition to produce and meats, everything from soup to nuts is now available from organic food companies.

I also try to avoid hydrogenated fats in our diet. This is challenging since they are present in so many products, especially cookies, crackers, and chips. The good news is that many organic food producers are also avoiding these heart-damaging fats in their foods. Be sure to read labels-once you've read the list of ingredients on a box of organic chocolate chip cookies and compared it to a conventionally made brand, you'll never want to eat conventionally made processed food again.

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Reprinted from The Baby Bistro Cookbook: Healthy, Delicious Cuisine for Babies, Toddlers, and You by Joohee Muromcew. Copyright 2003 by Joohee Muromcew. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com.


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