Cooking For Kat: Breaking the Baby Food Rules

Yesterday, the time I would have taken up with writing, I was in the kitchen, busily whipping up a whopping large amount of baby foods for Kat. Our supply of little frozen cubes of baby meals had dwindled down to nearly nothing (we were down to two cubes of dal and one of blueberry puree), so it was time to spend an afternoon bustling and cooking down fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices into purees that Kat can have for her breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Ever since we got the green light from her pediatrician to start her on three solid meals a day, we have been sitting her down, often while we ourselves are having a meal, and feeding her some of her own pureed foods, especially prepared for her by her doting mother, using fresh or frozen organic ingredients, local if possible. Most of these foods were made according to the rules of homemade baby food (I bet you didn’t know that there were rules, but there are) and with the exception of the coconut milk curry and dal, contained little in the way of spices or seasoning.

However, with each passing day, Kat grows more interested in what Zak, Morganna and myself eat and less in what is before her on the table. Which means that one of the other of us has slipped her a taste of our own food, well mashed or minced, to find that she likes nearly everything except bland food.

This has slowly led me to one-by-one, ditch the rules of homemade baby food and go with what Kat likes. within reason.

One of the first rules of homemade baby food and one of the first ones to go is the injunction not to feed babies highly spiced or seasoned food.

Unfortunately, Kat -loves- highly seasoned food, so much that she ended up eating the chili Morganna, Zak and I were eating for dinner last night, though I did run an immersion blender through it first. What was in my chili? Three kinds of beans, beef, tomatoes, corn, onions, garlic, pepper and spices, including some chili powder. The entire time I was cooking it, she was looking on, and wiggling in her highchair, begging to taste everything that went in it. We sat down to eat and she begged for food. So, I gave her a tiny taste off of my spoon, and she reached for more.

So, I pureed some and gave it to her. And she was so thrilled with it.

I ended up freezing some of it to feed her later. Most authors recommend that if you feed a baby food from your own dinner, you take theirs out before you add any seasoning or even salt to the food, and grind it up. Well, yeah. Um, that is not really happening here.

And the foods I am supposed to avoid feeding her. I am not doing so well with those. The list of foods to avoid are any raw vegetables or fruits (bananas are apparently an exception to this injunction against raw fruits) , and highly allergenic foods such as seafood, egg whites, wheat, uncultured dairy, citrus, wheat, honey, chocolate, strawberries, (berries of any kind other than blueberries and cranberries, actually are forbidden) tree nuts and peanuts. Oh, and root and leafy vegetables that contain high levels of nitrites, such as kale, collards, spinach, chard, broccoli, beets and turnips.

I’ve been giving her small bits of raw tomato for a month now. And guacamole is of course, uncooked–and it has lime juice in it. And I gave her a taste of strawberries two weeks ago, and she hasn’t reacted badly. We were eating them raw, her father and I, and she begged so piteously. She also likes honeydew melon, which of course, I did not cook. And, I have given her spinach, which she loves, and chard and broccoli, though not in large quantities.

I asked Kat’s pediatrician about these issues, and she said that so long as she is showing no sign of allergies, not to worry, and to completely not worry about the nitrites issue since I am feeding Kat organic vegetables. The only foods which I am still to consider forbidden are uncultured dairy, tree and peanuts, seafood, and egg whites. I still won’t give her chocolate, since I was allergic to it in childhood. I give her cheeses, but none of them that have mold or are from raw milk–I am allergic to moldy cheeses myself.

And I do avoid honey, and in fact, most sweeteners other than fruit puree or juice. (And she still will not drink fruit juices. She hates them, and will drink water instead.)

She has even had wheat, in the form of my simple summer pasta, which she insisted upon eating with us, even though it was quite spicy and had citrus in it. (We all assumed that the flavors would be too strong–but we were wrong. She loved it.)

Oh, and she had a morsel of freshly baked whole wheat bread with a tiny bit of butter on it. And–surprise–she was quite fond of that as well.

So, I am trying to be a good mother.

And I am, in most ways a very good mother. As much as she wants it and begs for it, I won’t give her coffee, nor cookies, nor ice cream, though frozen yogurt is a treat now and again. I am certainly feeding Kat a varied diet of all fresh, whole foods, along with breast milk produced by my varied, whole food diet.

She is healthy and growing well, and is now working hard at learning to walk. Her little legs are very strong and sturdy, and I think that if there were problems with her nutrition, she wouldn’t have the strength that she has.

And she has started to take the spoon from me to feed herself. With the spoon, not her hands.

I was thinking that perhaps I was too permissive in giving her tastes of nearly everything, but now that I look at her and hear from her doctor, I think we are doing fine. I mean, when her grandparents visited a few weeks ago, part of their main entertainment was watching all of the foods that Kat would eat with glee and great gusto.

It is nice to watch a baby grow up on a whole foods diet, healthy and happy, and see that there is nothing kooky or weird about feeding a child real food after all.


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  1. Okay, so these “rules” say not to feed kids spicy stuff. So what about in countries where that is the norm? I don’t think they have special diets for the kids, just perhaps slightly restricted ones to start with. Maybe one of your overseas readers can speak up on that one. I had lots of spicy foods when I was younger from a doting Sicilian grandmother. We know who badly that stunted my growth (for those who do not know me I am 6ft 5in). They said garlic was bad for little kids then as well as red meat. Doctors seem to float with food fads worse than a lot of cooking shows.

    I think you are doing right, use some common sense and let the kid have at it!

    Comment by Bryian — June 28, 2007 #

  2. Oh Barbara – just look at that beautiful little face…she is thriving and loving every minute of it. All that love and good food is obviously doing something right.

    Comment by Maureen — June 28, 2007 #

  3. […] West Nile Virus Link to Article allergies Cooking For Kat: Breaking the Baby Food Rules » Posted at Tigers & Strawberries on Thursday, June 28, 2007 Yesterday, the time I would have taken up with writing, I was in the kitchen, busily whipping up a whopping large amount of baby foods for Kat. Our supply of little frozen cubes of baby meals had dwindled down to nearly nothing (we were down to two cubes of dal and one of blueberry puree) View Entire Article » […]

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  4. barbara, your little one is a ray of sunshine, and she seems to have no problem communicating what she likes and what she doesn’t like.

    good for her and good for you.

    Comment by bee — June 29, 2007 #

  5. Hmmm, I wouldn’t worry too much! You’re certainly careful in where your ingredients COME from, which I think is more important than anything! My own daughter was eating all sorts of “forbidden” things by ten or eleven months – eggs, jalapeno poppers, any and every kind of fruit and vegetable, and pretty much anything else she could snatch off our plates. If memory serves, she started on sushi – the real thing, not CA Rolls – at around eighteen months, when she had enough teeth to mash the fish up, and hasn’t stopped since. The local sushi chefs toss pieces of fish to her over the counter like dolphin trainers at Sea World (she’s now almost 5). And she eats tomatoes by the pound, so much that I have fourteen tomato plants growing this year, as last year we couldn’t keep up with “just” six.

    Is she healthy? You betcha. She did have a brief egg allergy – when we switched her from our backyard-raised organic eggs to storebought (yikes) – but has outgrown it. She’s normal or above normal in all academic measures and is active, muscular, etc. And oh yeah – eats like a champ. Not too into “kid food”, but candy… well, ha, she IS a kid.

    Anyhow, I ramble, as I always do (which is why I rarely comment) – but what I’m trying to get at is, I think you’re doing a WONDERFUL thing by letting Kat follow her instincts and taste buds. So many of “the rules” are disaster-scenario-based, made up by folks who see only the failures and the horror stories. You’re clearly a terrific mom 🙂 And look at her glowing little face!!!

    Comment by Stacey — June 29, 2007 #

  6. You should be one happy mother for yr little ‘un is not a picky eater (much to the envy of other mothers ;))

    Comment by Suganya — June 29, 2007 #

  7. Most spices are not common allergens. In fact, I’m not quite sure why they treat fruits and vegetables so cautiously. Most of *them* aren’t common allergens either. You’ll hear about the odd kid who gets hives from strawberries, but they’re pretty uncommon.

    It is pretty common for a person with a peanut allergy to react to many legumes, but Kat’s already eating those. So it’s unlikely that she’s got a severe peanut allergy :).

    It just seems odd to me that so many safe foods are treated with such suspicion… the “safe” list reads a lot like the safe menu lists for turn of last century WASPs. Nothing that could be construed as foreign. Keep the food bland and English. And well, most babies start out very curious about food. Seems silly to waste it on Great-Grandmother Smith’s idea of a “proper company meal”.

    Oh. And once she can walk, guard the garden. She’ll figure out how to pick things very quickly.

    Comment by Emily Cartier — June 29, 2007 #

  8. I agree completely with the other posters!
    Babies ate mashed-up adult food for millennia and survived. I can see the strictures against moldiness and unpasteurized, but nixing fruit seems odd.
    My theory is that part of the increase in allergies comes from eating globally rather than locally–peanuts are native to South America after all.

    Comment by wwjudith — June 29, 2007 #

  9. […] Cooking For Kat: Breaking the Baby <b>Food</b> Rules […]

    Pingback by Food And Drink Facts » Of course, sugar is a food, as it is burned in the body for fuel — June 29, 2007 #

  10. Poor Barb,
    The way you worry about feeding her the right food, itself shows how good mother you are. But don’t take yourself on a guilt trip. I have a two year old, and he wanted everything what we ate whe he was 9-10 months old. So I would dilute the stuff with mild dal or yogurt and he would chow down happily.
    The other thing I wanted your baby to have is boiled spinach and cottage cheese. Put equal parts of boiled spinach and cottage cheese in a processor and process till smooth.
    I am sure your baby will love it. Not only it’s healthy, its loaded with iron, calcium, protein and lot of other stuff and your baby won’t have any problem pooping. Cottage cheese is a great help with poop problems.

    Comment by Pintoo — June 29, 2007 #

  11. Someone I know recently said that she had to learn (through experience) to parent the child she had, not the theoretical one in the books.

    She is obviously a healthy, engaged baby. And your pediatrician sounds like a peach!

    (I think she’s going to come out with some interesting requests when she starts talking. Laurie Colwin’s daughter had some gems.)

    Comment by Charlotte — June 29, 2007 #

  12. I think too often people pay more attention to the guides [keyword] then to their child.

    My son has been eating some crazy stuff for a long time. Of course we kept him away from known allergens but he’s been eating spicy foods and a variety of fruits and vegetables for quite some time, he’s 20 months.

    Today he eats onions by the slice and goes for his vegetables before anything else. He’s an excellent eater and perhaps it is partially genetic but I also think it’s from allowing them to explore flavorful foods from an early age.

    Comment by Moderndayhermit — June 29, 2007 #

  13. Hi Barbara. I think people are waking up to the fact that the bland baby food is not necessarily healthy way to eat for babies. Also, I remember reading an article in nytimes recently about it (but can’t find it now) and here is another one. I have also personally come across a baby of an Indian relative in US who refuses to touché spiced up (but not spicy) Indian food after the regimen of bland baby food.

    Comment by sp — June 29, 2007 #

  14. I’ve just had dinner with young family relatives who won’t eat anything that isn’t canned tuna, pitted tomatoes, or french fries. I say, feed the kid whatever she’s willing to experiment with, and then she won’t turn into one of those “enfants terribles” that only eat “kids’ meals” at restaurants.

    Comment by Hadar — June 29, 2007 #

  15. Hey, Bry! Does this mean that if I keep feeding Kat lots of garlic and spicy foods, she will grow to be 6’5″? While I always wanted to be about 6’2″ (and ended up about 5’6″–on a good day, dammit), 6’5″ might be a bit much for a red-headed woman. Mayhaps I should have named her Sonja? 😉

    And let’s hear it for Sicilian Grandmas! YAY!

    Thanks, Maureen and Bee–I really enjoy sharing flavors with her and getting her to try new things. It is fun to watch the expressions on her face as she tastes something for the first time.

    Stacy–“like the dolphin trainers at Sea World!” That is awesome! Just bloody awesome!

    I was a tomato eater as a kid, too. I was also allergic to them for a short time in adolescence and early adulthood. They don’t do a thing to me now, though.

    I still eat tons of tomatoes in the season, every year.

    Suganya–I was that kid as a kid whom other mother’s were jealous of. Because I ate all vegetables, joyfully and with glee, if not cooked, then raw.

    Or both.

    Emily-I agree with you. I think that the spices issue has to do with the “digestibility” of spices. Garlic and onions both can cause gas because of their sulfur content is high. But, really, if they are well cooked, they don’t cause that much of a problem for most people–Kat included.

    So I don’t worry too much. I just keep cooking, and giving tastes. And Kat keeps liking them. Indian food, Middle Eastern food, Chinese, Mexican, Italian–she likes them all.

    It makes me incredibly happy.

    Pintoo–thank you for the idea on the spinach mixed with cottage cheese. Kat likes spinach a lot, and I just gave her some cottage cheese, and she liked it pretty well. I might add a bit of garlic to the mixture, because she is so fond of it as well, and it has antibacterial properties.

    I have been using yogurt to “tone down” some of our spicier foods for her. Or refried beans–they do a good job of it, too.

    She really loves my masoor dal tarka. Which reminds me that I should make another batch of it for us soon.

    Charlotte–I would not be surprised if she didn’t have interesting requests soon. And yes, I love our new pediatrician. The old one, who luckily moved away, thank the gods, was a very old school–“don’t let her eat any solids until she is at least sixteen pounds and then only rice cereal, bananas and other such goo” type of doctor.

    Her current pediatrician said, “I think she eats more different types of food than I do. That’s great.”

    Moderndayhermit–I am so glad to hear from other parents whose kids eat what the parents eat. With the whole culture of “kid’s food” being so prevalent, it is hard to imagine feeding a kid real food without being considered a freak.

    Onions by the slice–good for him–onions are very healthy.

    Comment by Barbara — June 29, 2007 #

  16. SP–I was posting while you were, so I missed you and Hadar, too.

    That is sad about the baby of Indian relatives in the US not eating Indian food. Now, I suspect that as the little one gets older, he or she will be more likely to eat Indian foods, but it may be that she or he will prefer American kid foods because that is what other kids eat.

    Sad. That makes me so sad.

    Hadar–when I was a kid, kids who only ate “kid foods” and were picky and obnoxious about it irked me. Even when I was little, I could see that the situation was caused by the parents, and it bugged me.

    Sometimes I think that parents on purpose or inadvertantly transfer their own food issues on to their kids. This is not always true, but sometimes, it is.

    Comment by Barbara — June 29, 2007 #

  17. LOL! Great-Grandma raised 12 out of 12 children to adulthood on raw -hot from the cow- milk, sauerkraut, pork, and produce from the garden. Grandma is now an active 92 and credits her diet with her health.
    I think our over-processed society and poor diet is the source of most allergies.
    My kids got anything they wanted to try with the exception of nuts (more for the choking hazard than allergy worries)and honey – and I’m dubious about that restriction.

    BTW, I LOVE this line;
    “The local sushi chefs toss pieces of fish to her over the counter like dolphin trainers at Sea World.” I actually laugher hard enough to make my kids come check on me.

    Comment by Maven — June 29, 2007 #

  18. Sounds to me like you’re doing it all RIGHT, Barbara. As long as Kat is eating good food and enjoying it, it’s RIGHT.

    I don’t have kids myself, but watching two friends and their different approaches to feeding their offspring makes me think that the bulk of the “rules” are overkill. My “nephews,” brought up on the “rules,” tend to be more picky eaters, though they’re pretty good about eating veggies and fruits. My new “niece,” on the other hand (who’s about to turn one), is interested in all kinds of food and just nibbles it up… loves fresh melon and my homemade wheat French bread with equal passion and looks like a little bird begging to be fed.

    I have to wonder why we as a nation allowed doctors to take away the fun of introducing good food to children… and I applaud you (and those of you who commented along the same lines) for reclaiming the joy of food for your own family.

    Comment by Baklava Queen — June 30, 2007 #

  19. My children are a lot older but they basically went from breast milk to our table food. We would give them whatever we were eating – mushed. You can use a food mill or grater. If they wanted it, we gave it to them. We were eating healthy unprocessed food so we didn’t see any issue with giving them a taste of our food, especially if they want it. The first time I tried to give my son commercial baby food (we were on a trip) he cried!

    We didn’t avoid foods – not even peanut butter. But we didn’t know anything about allergies and we had no family history of allergies. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of raising a healthy baby.

    Comment by BC — June 30, 2007 #

  20. My children are a lot older but they basically went from breast milk to our table food. We would give them whatever we were eating – mushed. You can use a food mill or grater. If they wanted it, we gave it to them. We were eating healthy unprocessed food so we didn’t see any issue with giving them a taste of our food, especially if they want it. The first time I tried to give my son commercial baby food (we were on a trip) he cried!

    We didn’t avoid foods – not even peanut butter. But we didn’t know anything about allergies and we had no family history of allergies. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of raising a healthy baby.

    Comment by BC — June 30, 2007 #

  21. Barbara, I think you’re doing Kat a HUGE favor by starting her on a varied, whole foods diet from the very beginning. My feeling is that kids who have that advantage are so much less likely to suffer from junk food addictions and veggie-phobia later in life.

    While I’m sure that the people who created those rules only had the best of intentions, I think the result is that a lot of parents are scared to feed their children anything but something bought from a grocery store shelf, packaged in a sealed jar. Considering the nature of health problems in America right now, I don’t think DIScouraging people from giving babies fresh foods is a very sound idea!

    Comment by SecretNatasha — June 30, 2007 #

  22. Speaking as the mother of a happy kim chee eater of 30 months and one day, yay for you all!

    Comment by Mary Ann Dimand — July 1, 2007 #

  23. I love that you feed Kat so much home made food. I did the same and fed my boys different foods early on. No problems whatsoever with allergies or anything. They have now grown up to be wonderful eaters, loving all sorts of vegetables and spices.

    Comment by Steamy Kitchen — July 1, 2007 #

  24. It’s interesting, I think the youngest kids actually tend to be the least picky. My parents said at one I loved salsa, whereas later on I avoided both spicy foods and raw tomatoes for many years. I was never forced to eat them, thank goodness, and eventually my taste buds matured again and I went back to that. Now I love food with lots of flavor and adore raw tomatoes.

    Kat looks so happy in every picture you post, and it’s obvious you are listening to her taste buds and your good sense. I think that’s bound to be the right approach in the long run.

    Comment by Alexis — July 2, 2007 #

  25. I also say to hell with the rules. My wife and I are feeding our twins zucchini, kale, spinach, apricots, raspberries (home grown offcourse) since they were 6-7 months old despite our pediatrician’s recommendations (she is close to 60 yrs old tho). they did nothing but thrive. They’re also now very interested in what we eat and are eager to taste it. We do keep them away from peanuts, moldy cheeses, egg whites and citrusy fruits for now. So just keep on feeding her with healthy homecooked meals

    Comment by argus — July 3, 2007 #

  26. You’re a pretty reasonable parent, Barbara, but also a lucky one. I have followed the rules pretty rigorously with my 11-month-old, not because of any family history of allergies, but because he has a really sensitive stomach. We had to medicate him for serious reflux long before we started solid food, and I was grateful that he took to the basic solids as well as he did. (We DID start him on avocado, which isn’t exactly basic, but you know what I mean.) If I hadn’t been cautious about what I fed him, I wouldn’t be able to be sure that sweet potato is the culprit in his awful gas (particularly the dry, Japanese variety!), that blueberries are too acidic for him, and that egg yolk upsets his stomach. Meanwhile, he has been living up the fruits of the season, from cherries to artichoke hearts, and he eats beans that I’m sure the average American adult has never heard of.

    By the way, I’ve never heard anybody suggest that avocado or melon should be cooked for babies– certainly avocado is in the same category with banana in that respect.

    Comment by mdvlist — July 5, 2007 #

  27. I think this is a sensible approach. Kat will probably be much healthier for it, and will definitely NOT be a picky eater.

    My niece got into the fennel seeds today. She’s about 15 months, and she loved them. Since it reminded me of your post about “Mordana” loving garlic, I tried her on a bit of that. I got a big “blech” on that, but the girl did love her fennel seeds. 🙂

    Comment by Amber — July 9, 2007 #

  28. Late again…

    Honey is a special case – it can carry a type of botulism that only babies are susceptible to; by the time they’re about a year old they’re safe from it. The digestive systems of babies under a year aren’t fully developed, which is why the really common allergens – egg whites, nuts, seafood and dairy – are bad ideas. They’re far more likely to trigger an allergy in a baby than a 2 year old.

    As for the “people used to do X and survived” argument … well, it is true that most of them survived. Many didn’t. Take a gander at infant mortality statistics before deciding whether to apply that reasoning to everything you hear now. Or research “failure to thrive” as a cause of infant death. It covered problems such as allergies to baby foods (such as moldy cheese and fresh milk) as well as intestinal problems, heart valve defects, and so on. It’s grim reading, let me tell you.

    I ignored a great deal of pregnancy and infant advice because no one could back it up with numbers. I loathe unfounded tales and baseless recommendations. (One stellar website noted there was no data saying such-and-such was dangerous but you should play it safe and avoid it anyway!) These particular issues – honey, infant allergies – are problems that are backed by experiment and study.

    Curiously, my Critter preferred jarred baby food to homemade (sob) but will try any sort of whole (non puree) food. She’s still a toddler, though: just because she liked it yesterday doesn’t mean she’ll like it today. I look forward to the time she can tell us what she wants rather than our putting six different things in front of her and seeing what she takes.

    Comment by Harry — October 11, 2007 #

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