Getting Started With Solid Food
It's Sunday morning and Ben has just left for Hong Kong. He crept out of our bedroom at 4am leaving Joan and I to snuggle for a couple more hours before we too crept out of the bedroom and turned on the lights. I'm not sure how I feel about it being dark when I wake. I think I like it, because at that time of morning it's only a short while before the room wakes with a magical, lovely kind of light - not too bright and not too sharp. Speaking of sharp, I most certainly do not feel like all cylinders are firing at the moment. I'm sure all new parents can relate to the way that being woken multiple times overnight for months on end, for boob and cuddles and comfort, has left me rather forgetful and, on occasion, not all that sharp. Side note: how long can I call myself a "new parent?". My mumma friends get it, they feel similarly, which is reassuring. We are all so very happy to sit around drinking coffee while our bubbas play, and so very happy to have conversations cut short because a baby is putting something precarious in their mouth and/or we forgot the point of our story. However here on my blog, I fancy being a bit more articulate. I have stories to tell, experiences to share, and I don't want them to get lost in the deep chasm that is my mind at present. And so I'm forcing myself to sit down and write. Today I want to share how Ben and I introduced Joan to solid food. We're a little over two months into this eating business, which makes me no expert, and despite being a Dietitian I am also a first-time parent who is most certainly winging it a lot of the time. Plus, Joan is a really good eater at the moment, meaning she eats most things easily, which makes my job super easy and fun. However I've received a number of emails asking what we feed Joan, and though I wrote a little in my previous post, it's a big topic and there's more to cover, so I'm sitting down and getting it all out. Joan is having her morning nap, Ben is away, headed into wonton noodle soup bliss, and I've got myself a fresh cup of coffee (aka, my sharp juice)... Let's do this.
Feeding your baby is an exciting and daunting task. Even if you insist you'll be super laid back about it all and "just feed your baby what we eat", there's stuff to think about. From the convenience of breastfeeding, all of a sudden you've got to consider texture and food safety, and then there's the clean up! Because if you do Baby Led Weaning and let your bubba go free range, ooooooh you have to be prepared because food will be EVERYWHERE. Cleaning mess isn't such a big deal, but you have to do this while your baby is possibly fussing and trying to squirm out of their high chair because they're done and they want to move because THEY NEVER STOP MOVING because the world is wonderful and they have to explore and practice their skills and "WHY AM I STILL SITTING DOWN MUM, I'M DOOONNNNNNNNNE?!". Even if you're bottle feeding and are hence kinda used to doing a bit of meal prep via sterilising bottles and heating milk, it can still be a shock how much more you have to do once your little person starts eating little person portions. Here are my experiences and thoughts on the whole process, hopefully laid out in an orderly, flowing fashion, however as I mentioned at the top of this post, it ain't all there and I may end up just throwing a bunch of info at you. I hope that's ok. At any rate, when your baby starts eating food you'll have to get used to things being thrown at you. Meatballs and such...
First up, I encourage everyone to do a first aid course. I've mentioned this in previous posts, but getting up to date on first aid and what to do if a baby is choking gave us huge peace of mind when starting solid foods. The recommendations change frequently, so it's good to do a refresher course (and have grandparents do it too!) even if you've learnt in the past. We did this course and left feeling reassured and ready, and also surprised as to some recommendations. For example, if a baby is choking your instinct may be to put your fingers in their mouth to get the food out but that can be super dangerous - big whacks on their back is where it's at! But there's far more to it than that, so sign up to a class and learn from professionals.
WHAT (AND WHEN) WILL I FEED MY BABY?
If you're wanting to do Baby Led Weaning (BLW), like Ben and I, then you will need to decide ahead of time because this involves waiting until your bub is 6 months old and can developmentally handle solid food. Many people do not wait until 6 months, starting around 4 months, and will go the pureed route because that's what babies can handle at that age. Joan was the last baby in our mother's group to have solid food, with most starting between 4 and 5 months, and we waited for a number of reasons. A couple of years ago I was at a Dietitian conference and heard about Baby Led Weaning. They mentioned preliminary findings which indicated babies who were introduced solid foods via the BLW methods had a greater acceptance of a wider range of foods later on in life. I was impressed! I then heard of friends feeding their babies whatever they were eating, and to me that seemed so much easier and more appealing than cooking and freezing separate food for a baby.
As a result, when going into this solid food stuff I had in my mind that we would do Baby Led Weaning, and sure enough, when Joan was 4 months old, I did NOT feel ready to deal with food. We had just come out of the extreme sleep deprived stage and rather than food I fancied introducing other things, like washing my hair again. Food was not an exciting prospect for me and Joan did not seem remotely interested in anything other than the boob, so we happily waited. Also, in the back of my mind I didn't think her system was quite ready to handle food. She just seemed so tiny! This is me putting my mum hat on, not my Dietitian hat, because new research is always happening and the recommendations on this have been changing, therefore I cannot comment on when actually is best to introduce food to your baby from a physiological standpoint. I suggest you see your peadiatrician and/or peadiatric dietitian for advice on that. All I know is that at 4 months we felt more than ever that we wanted to wait. It wasn't until Joan was around 5 months old that I began to feel excited about seeing our little lady eat food, and I could tell that she would soon be ready so I borrowed Gill Rapely's books from the library and looked at instagram pictures tagged with the #babyledweaning hashtag. At 6 months we dove in.
Having said all of this, you need to be flexible with your plan (kinda like birth plans, I guess). You may be ready to launch into solid foods at 6 months but your baby might care less and keep you waiting until 8 months before they show any interest. And they may love and insist on self-feeding or they may want your help. They may adore finger food or they may not. And you kinda have to roll with it and do what feels right for you as a family. As I'll talk more on below, we did a mix of mashed and finger foods for the initial period. The mashed carrots and avocado were never completely smooth purees, but I wasn't interested in getting it silky smooth - that would take forever as I don't have a bullet mixer thingy, and I didn't want Joan to think that she didn't need to learn how to chew. And this worked well for all of us, with Joan learning how to eat tricky textures alongside easy ones. In my limited experience, I'd suggest that if your baby is not into the finger foods and prefers purees, serve them food they prefer and can manage so that eating remains an enjoyable experience alongside very small amounts of finger foods (when they're developmentally ready), so that they can practice and have fun with it. It takes the pressure off and eventually, even if you feel like you're wasting the finger food when they don't eat it, they will have a go and figure it all out. It can take repeated, repeated, repeated (x 10!) exposure before kids try new foods, so don't necessarily think that they don't like something and never will. As always, trust your gut and if you're unsure, see a peadiatric dietitian for guidance and reassurance.
I'm not going to talk about what to do if you have a family history of food allergies or substitutions - again, I advise you to see a paediatric dietitian for a consultation on this topic. However, knowing if you have a family history of food allergies can affect how laid back you are when it comes to introducing foods. We didn't stick to introducing one food at a time, rather we served avocado for a couple of days, then broccoli, then carrots the next day, followed by steak and zucchini one night. And then when Joan started eating dishes like braised beef cheek, she was eating onion, garlic and tomato for the first time all at once. We don't have a history of food allergies, so we decided rather than going through each food and waiting four days to see if Joan has a reaction (as is often recommended), we'd bet on the odds that she would be ok with most things and if she did have a reaction, we would back track and figure it out. Having said this, with both egg and peanut butter we made sure to introduce them individually over four days (introducing no other new food at that time), as those are more common and serious allergens. We also made sure to do this before 8 months, as is the current recommendation. But again, more on that below.
We kinda skipped this part. I mean, we had a high chair (as I mentioned in this post we had a Childcare one but then splurged on a Stokke and are thrilled with it), but beyond that we didn't have anything like eating smocks or kiddy plates or any clue how to handle meal times. We just winged it. Joan ate her first food without a bib (beside tiny ones that didn't do much) and continued to do so for a week. "Babies don't need much stuff, they'll just eat with us", we thought. Suckers. I mean, that's true, but I've found that being laid back with meal times just leaves you with more laundry and clean up to do later on. Don't be like us. Get ready!
The first Saturday after she started eating, Ben and I went to Baby Bunting and bought a few mini plates and bibs with pouches that catch food (SO necessary when doing finger foods - we find these work really well vs thinner ones). Eating smocks are great too! Anything to prevent scrubbing food stains out of clothes is a good idea, though those smocks are too big for Joan so I'd love to find another brand. A friend tipped me off that Target sell floor mats that you put under their eating space to make clean up better. We also learnt to have a wash cloth at the ready, as well as a little bowl of water to do a quick, initial clean off of her hands/arms and face (so that you don't get food on your clothes when picking bubba out of the high chair) before heading to the bathroom sink. We're still on the hunt for plates and bowls that grip to the table and don't slide everywhere, as well as a nice, easy to clean placemat that doesn't smell like cheap rubber. Do any of you folks have some recommendations?
Lastly it's a good idea to get ready in the sense of being aware of the difference between gagging and choking. Your baby will gag, and it will freak you out, but try to not worry. Try as hard as you can to not jump/yell/startle/freak them out, as you don't want them to associate eating with fear. Stay calm and let them do what they need to - gag and bring up what they cannot swallow and learn to not stick too much in their mouth, or learn what they can and cannot handle at the moment, texture wise. Hopefully they go back for more and keep practicing. Oh, and always supervise them, just in case. The BLW books talk about this in more detail, and also if you do a first aid course you'll know what choking looks like. I was convinced that Joan was choking the first time she had a bad gag, but seconds after she brought her food up she was back eating broccoli and I realised that no, she hadn't choked and she was totally fine. The first big gag always scares you, though.
GO FOR IT
When your baby seems ready, dive in! At around six months, Joan could sit up reasonably well and was, we felt, ready for food. I wanted to start a couple of weeks before then, purely because I was excited! Joan was at an age where she was starting to interact with things in a deeper, more thoughtful way. I'd watch her explore the room and play with her toys, engaging, reacting and having fun, and I couldn't wait to see her engage with food. We did give her some avocado one time at about 5.5 months, however because she had some eczema crop up, we waited until that cleared before launching into food, which made it pretty much 6 months on the dot. At this stage, Joan would watch Ben and I eating very intently and would grab at out food, wanting to see what all the fuss was about. And while this isn't necessarily a sign that they're ready (babies will grab at whatever you're playing with), we both felt it was time to see how she'd go. I'll explain where we started below, but first a few more notes...
TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed Joan for a long time, ideally until she was at least one and hopefully beyond. Breastmilk is such a super food, I want to milk it for as long as she wants it. With this in mind, the tiny bits of solid food she was about to start eating once she turned at 6 months would, nutritionally speaking, not come close to the milk. To me, this took the pressure off and reinforced the "Food before one is just for fun!" saying I heard from a friend (how great is that?!). I felt like this was a time to make eating a pleasurable, adventurous and rewarding experience. I also want to make the most of her willingness to accept and try a huge range of foods before she gets a bit older and will possibly start doing all that toddler stuff (playing around with control and using the ever popular word, "No!"). Our goal at this time is simple, we are aiming to introduce Joan to an array of textures and flavours so that she can learn how to eat and hopefully develop an adventurous palate. That's our mission statement.
My speech pathologist friend, Katy, gave me some advice which was during the first 4-6 weeks, when easing into solid foods, don't worry about serving three meals a day, stick with just one. That's what we did and are even still doing on many days, as breastmilk is her main nutrient source and food is just for fun. Joan will eat three meals perhaps a third of the time, usually on weekends, but often we're out and busy and it just doesn't happen. And a "meal" may just be yoghurt with a drizzle of tahini, or half a banana. As I said above, I am not wanting to wean Joan from the breast completely anytime soon, so I don't feel rushed to start a routine of meals and snacks and make sure they're balanced, nutritionally. That really takes the pressure off. In the future, when she's weaning from breastfeeding (and when I hopefully have more kids) I expect I'll have to be a whole lot more organised with meal prep (especially if I'm wanting to continue making most of the food myself), but that's a while off. If we are out at a cafe and I am wanting her to eat because it's easier (and fun!) to have her in a high chair, I'll bring some leftover, cold, cooked vegetables, a banana or maybe some avocado (when they don't cost $75 each, that is). I don't buy those kiddy pre-packaged foods because A) they're expensive and most of it is just marketing (though some are pretty clever), and B) because they're often full of crap. A banana is a banana and that's all bubba needs right now. In fact, that's all she needs in the future, too. Also, as appealing as a squeezy tube of food is (they do look kinda fun), I prefer to save money by serving up yoghurt from a big tub into a little container and taking it with me. With a big wash cloth, of course. It's messier but it's cheaper and the most nutritious stuff doesn't often come in those tubes. Plus I'm already creating a shitload of waste by using disposable nappies, I don't fancy buying more packaging. I am not perfect, I am wasteful in other areas of my life (those nappies and we have a Nespresso machine, to name a couple that haunt me), it's just that food is my thing...
BUYING FOOD FOR OUR FAMILY
I spoke a bit about what produce we buy in my last post, so I'll recap here only quickly. A couple of years ago I spent some time on Transition Farm and since then we've been purchasing a weekly veg box via their CSA program. Getting to know those who grow our vegetables has altered the way Ben and I purchase all of our food. We were always interested in eating well and favoured quality produce, it's just that now we take it one step further, committing to buying food from producers who employ sustainable and humane practices. This transition took time - trialling different brands, producers, shops and hunting around to find that balance of deliciousness, sustainability and affordability (as well as convenience), but we got there... and we both agree that the food we eat now tastes so much better than the conventionally produced food we used to buy. We still eat out and we are not always strict when it comes to food shopping (sometimes we buy regular "free range"chicken pieces instead of a whole, humanely-raised chook, I don't buy organic bananas or avocados and I often still buy big tubs of regular Greek yoghurt), but about 80-90% of the time we are buying in our ideal manner. Our veggies come from Transition Farm, we get meat from our new friends Colin and Sally (as I mentioned in this post), and we fork out the big bucks for humanely raised chicken and eggs and organic dairy at the shops (and rationing it all very intentionally). Shopping this way can cost more (well, the eggs, chicken and dairy do, the veg and meat don't), but we eat less of it, filling up on grains and legumes and nuts and such (try bulk wholefood stores for those goods!). At the moment, Joan isn't eating all that much and so our food bill isn't costing us a bucket. When I (hopefully) have three hungry kids to feed I may have to reconsider, however I hope this doesn't mean purchasing differently, rather serving filling, cheap food like lentils and rice. That is what my mum did. Shopping organically at the Supermarkets and some Grocers is mad expensive, in my opinion, so try the farm box/bulk wholefood route. If you're on the Mornington Peninsula I recommend Transition Farm, and for city/north folk, check out Rohan's shop. Beyond the cost issue, when you purchase produce this way you are supporting small-scale farmers who do really great things for the environment and helping them make a living. Google what is available in your area, visit farmers markets and ask questions, even put a call out on facebook asking for recommendations! As I said, it can take some time but hopefully once you dig around you can gradually find a set of producers that suit your lifestyle and your ideals. And if you want to go one better, grow your own produce!! Seriously, how more cost effective and convenient can you get? I've decided to outsource my growing, because even though I have room to grow and even though I spent time on a farm, I tend to kill most plants. However in the future when we have our own property and land that is more conducive to garden beds and a throng of children to force into labour, I might give it another go.
Lastly, I want to note that while I said I was being fussy with Joan eating a certain way, she has had food that isn't organic. When eating out and at loved ones' houses bubba has eaten meat, melon, pastry, casseroles, lentils and other stuff that I'm assuming wasn't organic, because the whole point of her eating during those moments was for love and sharing and social connectedness. That is a very important part of life. Joan is only 8 months old, however, so those occasions are pretty rare, but I wanted to make note of it because when people talk about feeding their families organic food, many assume it's an all or nothing thing (and that we are hippy nutcases who make our own nutmilk and sprout seeds and won't let our kids go on Easter egg hunts unless they are carob eggs). And that's just not the case. People may also assume that to be able to eat this way we have a lot of money. Again, that's not the case. In our home, we fill up on grains, legumes, seeds and whatever seasonal veg is in abundance, and ration our intake of the more expensive stuff. This new way of consumption, being ok with less and having more pantry dinners, has evened out our food bill quite seamlessly.
Alright, it's about time I actually share what we did when introducing Joan to solid foods...
WHAT WE DID
Avocado seemed like a friendly place to start, as it's soft but requires some chewing, so I served Joan a couple of strips one day (also, I was going through a bit avocado phase (though when am I not?) and thought it'd be neat to see my little person eat it too). I used a crinkle cutter to cut the pieces, however because it was slippery she couldn't grab it very well. What she did get a hold of, she smushed in her face and tasted in small amounts. The next day I mashed the avocado up and gave her a spoon. Bubba was very happy with this set up (and was surprisingly accurate with a spoon!) I loaded her spoon for her every now and then (which I'm sure is not totally BLW approved), however she mainly played with the avocado, painting her face and enjoying the mouth feel and eating very little.
Next up was broccoli, which I introduced a couple of days later. I cut the florets and made sure to steam them very well so the stalk was tender. The first time I gave it to her she wasn't very interested, having a little taste but then wanting to do something else. The second time she wasn't too interested again, however after watching Ben pick up some broccoli and eat it and suddenly she seemed to "get" it and copied him. Joan could grab the stalks easily, and had a super fun time with it. Bubs would put too much in her mouth and gag on occasion, however she kept going back for more, which is great. At one point Joan did a BIG gag, bringing quite a bit up, which scared me. Again, gagging is totally normal, but at that moment I resolved to feed her more challenging, solid textures only when Ben was home and save the mashed stuff like avocado for when Joan and I were alone. Joan was never deterred when gagging and to this day, broccoli remains a favourite.
Carrots and banana
With the carrots I cut them into fingers and steamed them well, making sure they were soft enough for her to gum. When I first offered them to her, one sweet and sunny Sunday morning, she cried. Huh! After all her attempts of stealing food from our plates, she finally has her own and it makes her cry. How cute and confusing. The following day, however, she was totally into it. I steamed the crap out of them, asking Ben a million times if he thought the texture was ok, and then gave them to her. Initially she gagged quite a bit on the carrot fingers, however we persisted and over the course of a week we served them up a total of perhaps three times. One week after the initial attempt, the third time she had encountered steamed carrots (not counting the initial serve when she cried), Joan was eating them effortlessly with positively zero gagging. I was astounded as to how quickly she learnt how to eat. And so, in my clearly limited experience, I would say that while gagging is scary, do not take that as a sign that they are not ready. It truly is part of the learning process and provided your instinct tells you that nothing is seriously wrong and your baby wants to eat and you've prepared food safely (i.e. not raw carrots!), allow them to keep trying and learning (with a partner or grandparent there for moral support if you need it, like I did!). We also introduced her to banana fairly early on, cut into fingers, and she learnt how to mash that up in her mouth and swallow. She continues to love banana and as I mentioned above, it's our favourite "out and about" food.
Meat and iron
After introducing a bit of veg and fruit, we got stuck into meat. I had a feeling Joan would love meat, something in my gut just told me (perhaps it is how she would salivate at family dinners whenever we'd serve roast chicken or lamb...). It turns out I was right, as when we gave her some tender pieces of steak to try she went gaga over the flavour and sucked positively ALL the juice out of the beef before crying out for more. I knew I wanted to try slow-cooked dishes with super tender meat, as it seemed like Joan would manage the texture well and get more in. Those strips were never tender enough for my liking, and after she'd sucked the juices out I worried she'd rip off a piece and have a hard time getting it out of her mouth. I totally could have been overreacting, but I decided to shelve those cuts in favour of slow-cooked meals (that Ben and I happen to adore!) - plus, those cuts of meat are MUCH cheaper than frying cuts of steak. This is when braised beef cheeks started to happen. And while we continue to serve meat outside of the slow-cooked varieties, such as steak, lamb cutlets and preservative-free lamb sausages (the lamb from Colin and Sally's), with those cuts it tends to be more about sucking the juices out - baby girl has no teeth yet (though one has just cut through!), so they're a little hard to eat.
You tend to hear a bit about iron when introducing solids, that once babies hit six months their iron stores run out. It depends on quite a few factors, really, each bubba is different and while it's not a case of "Oh dear, baby has turned six months, their stores are GONE RAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!", introducing foods rich in iron is certainly important. Have a chat with your peadiatrician/dietitian if you're concerned about your baby's iron levels or intake of iron-rich foods, but also don't feel the need to be shovelling iron-fortified-everything into them the day they turn 6 months old. And while many introduce iron-fortified cereal as a first food, we went straight to red meat, a food that is naturally rich in iron without the need for fortification. I always favour getting nutrients from food rather than supplements, as we tend to absorb the goodness better when it is served in a whole food form rather than isolating nutrients and consuming them. And though initially babies may not actually eat a lot of the meat you serve, sucking the juices out will give them a good iron hit. Farm fresh veggies rich in nutrients will also help!
Following meat we started serving a wider variety of foods with less intention of "introducing foods", meaning we just give Joan whatever we are eating that day. Ben and I eat a lot of roasted vegetables in salads, so she eats a bunch cold roasted pumpkin and sweet potato. She continues to eat a lot of steamed broccoli because she adores it. We tried roasted zucchini but because I didn't peel the skin, it was a little hard for Joan to manage - she'd suck the inside then gag on the skin, and so wouldn't reach for it again. I saved the roasted zucchini by taking the inside smushy bits and mixing it with avocado the following day, and she ate this happily. We also give her onion and garlic and spices. Not too much, but we certainly cook with them and she handles them well and I think appreciates the flavour boost!
Oats, apples and blueberries
I'm a porridge lover through and through. I make my oats milky and creamy and top them with a bunch of toasted nuts and seeds (though I've recently taken to this method which uses a little less milk and is unfathomably delicious), however because Joan isn't yet drinking cows milk, I don't want to serve her a portion of my usual porridge. Instead, she has porridge made with water, and because I think porridge made with water is a sad thing, I don't want to eat it...so I make two pots. As a result, we don't have porridge all that often because who can be bothered making (and cleaning) two pots of porridge in the morning? Porridge is more of a weekend thing, when I can leave the washing up for Ben (he he he). If I am making bubba a bowl of porridge, however, I use organic oats and cook them in water. I'll perhaps blitz the oats up in a mini food processor if I'm super short on time (so they cook faster) and if I want to add blueberries (I haven't given bub whole or halved blueberries yet). After blitzing up the oats (and sometimes blueberries) I add them to the pan with water and cook it until they're the consistency of a nice, soft, thick sludge. I tend to cook about 1/4 cup oats and add double the quantity of water (perhaps a bit more), and while she usually doesn't eat it all, it allows for leftovers (sometimes I cook more, just eyeballing it, so we definitely have leftovers). In lieu of sweet, milky goodness, I might add a third of a banana to the mix when it's bubbling away, in little chunks, or perhaps vegetables (leftover steamed or roasted chunks or freshly grated veg). Cinnamon is great too and I've added chia seeds on occasion. Once cooled, if the end product a bit gluggy, I'll hand express a bit of breastmilk over the top or perhaps a little yoghurt. I've even put organic extra virgin olive oil if it's too dry. Lastly, I might serve the porridge with some stewed apples (which I peel, slice into thick fingers and cook in some boiling water until soft but not mushy) or a bit of organic tahini or peanut or almond butter. And provided it's not plain, Joan adores her porridge and finds it easy and fun to eat. Porridge fingers are a fun idea (see the BLW cookbook or google a recipe - essentially you bake porridge in a dish, then chill it in the fridge before slicing into fingers), however be sure to add a bit of flavour like banana or spices, as Vanessa encouraged. Joan was severely unimpressed with the flavour of water + oat porridge fingers - fair call, baby, they were kinda bland.
I've also experimented with little pancakes (see here), which Joan has loved, however the recipe needs work. I've tried these with banana, blueberries, sweet potato, pumpkin, broccoli, oats, eggs, and while I always end up with something edible (even if it is more like a scramble), the "pancakes" aren't easy to flip and the texture is never quite right (at least not right enough for me to type and share with you on the blog). I've got a few ideas to tweak it - more veg (and try grating it)/let it rest in the fridge/add some spelt flour but honestly I haven't found it easy to experiment in the kitchen. My time is limited and when using organic ingredients I kinda don't want to f*** it up and waste anything, so I default to things I know for sure work. One day I'll perfect those blueberry pancakes and try sweet potato ones again, because Joan really did enjoy them.
Yoghurt and quinoa
When it came to dairy, I knew I wanted to start Joan on organic, whole milk, natural yoghurt, and we did this when she was around 7.5 months old. We started with Five:AM natural yoghurt however quickly switched to Barambah because I liked their more real, old school yoghurt consistency. We also like B.D. Farm Paris Creek and Shulz. We offered Joan a spoon but she preferred to eat it with her hands, scooping up sloppy portions and devouring it. And she continues to love yoghurt. We might serve the yoghurt with porridge, as mentioned above, or with stewed apples off my folks' tree. Sometimes I'll drizzle some tahini over the top and I may throw in some cooked quinoa too. Or I might do overnight oats (yoghurt + oats mixed then put in the fridge overnight). However we serve yoghurt, Joan adores it. Regarding quinoa, I wanted to introduce Joan to this seed/grain early so she got used to the unique taste. I made sure to cook it quite well so it was very soft, and then served it with plain yoghurt. The following day I served some quinoa with chicken broth soup with cubes of pumpkin. I think it'd be neat to make quinoa patties using leftover mashed pumpkin or sweet potato, so I will try that soon.
Chicken, broth and risotto
Joan adores anything made with homemade chicken broth. We cook a pot as I outlined in the braised beef cheek post, shredding the chicken and freezing portions for future meals, while saving some for whatever we're cooking that night. We do the same with the stock, straining it and freezing portions. I made a chicken and corn soup (cooking farm-fresh sweet corn and carrots in the broth (any starchy veg like potato/sweet potato works well to thicken), blitzing it until thick and smooth and then adding shredded chicken) and she went NUTS over it. Recently we made risotto - cooking onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil and a bit of butter, then adding rice, then stock, then cubes of roasted pumpkin and shredded chicken. I added a bit of parmesan (a touch for Joan, LOADS for Ben and I) because to serve my baby risotto without parmesan felt like a sin. It wasn't organic as I had struggled to find organic hard cheese, however a week ago I found this brand at a local health food shop and bought some parmesan and cheddar, so yay for that! I won't serve Joan cheese very often and I'll keep portions small, as it's is salty, but I'm super excited for Joan to taste cheddar. Anyway, back to the risotto... I was unsure if she would be ok with the texture of the rice (especially after the brown rice incident), and while it wasn't al dente, it also wasn't mush...however she freakin LOVED it and didn't struggle one bit, demolishing most of the big portion I served her. Sometimes when I serve chicken (like in a soup or this tagine recipe), she takes too much and sucks all the juice out and ends up with a bunch of chicken stuck to the roof of her mouth, leaving her gagging and me mildly freaking out. We've now learnt to serve her lots of broth/cooking juice and give her sips of water to wash anything down. I could serve her a drumstick, which is a popular BLW food, however I'm not confident in my bone checking ability, so we haven't done that yet. I also haven't given her fish, so we plan on poaching or steaming some salmon for her to try in the coming weeks.
Peanut butter and eggs
Most health professionals now recommend that parents introduce their babies to eggs and peanuts before the age of eight months, as doing so is associated with lower incidence of allergies. And so, when Joan was around 7.5 months old, we started with a small taste of organic, natural peanut butter from a spoon (note: don't give a lot on a spoon as it can get stuck to the roof of their mouths, especially the natural, organic stuff without added oil and sugar). The following day I spread a little more pb on banana fingers, which she loved, and the day after that I did the same with steamed carrots. Since then I've added peanut butter to porridge mixing it through when the oats are warm, and recently bought organic, natural almond butter, which I am serving similarly. Runny almond butter drizzled over stewed apples works well. Joan showed no signs of intolerance or allergy to peanuts, so we ticked that off the list and a week later we did eggs, starting with scrambled eggs that were over-cooked and unseasoned. She didn't like the taste or texture (I hear ya, baby), but she also didn't seem to have any issues with the egg protein, so that was good. We tried her the following morning on flourless banana pancakes, which she positively gobbled up. Next I made Joan eggs in an omelette style, which she managed far more successfully than the scrambled eggs, and the following day she shared a veggie/eggy/almond meal muffin for breakfast at a cafe with her Nana KK and I. Egg introduction, done!
Sourdough toast and pasta and tears at the table
We're a bread-loving household. I'm pretty snobby about my loaves, I'll totally admit. And I'll totally blame this on my father who is a sourdough whisperer and makes crazy good loaves of dense (in a good way) sourdough bread. Dad did a course years ago where he received some starter, and modestly attributes his success to this start, however my family insist he deserves credit for his tenacity/obsession, because his loaves just keep getting better and better and now I am officially spoilt. It was time to spoil Joan. I asked him to create a spelt sourdough loaf (more on spelt below) when bubba was around 7.5 months. Ben and I toasted and sliced a piece, cut it into strips and drizzled it with organic extra virgin olive oil then spread a little pb on top. Joan was curious and she had a munch, but bubs couldn't manage the texture and eat it in the way she's used to eating (it was SUCH a new texture for her), and this made her upset. Like, really upset. We weren't prepared for that! I have since learnt to serve new and possibly challenging textures alongside food I know she tolerates well (this is a good move for older babies, kids, everyone, really!), so she can at least have a try of the new stuff before satisfying herself with the familiar food. I did better with pasta, which was lucky because I was super excited about Joan's first taste of my favourite food and wanted her to have fun with it. Alongside some familiar steamed pumpkin wedges I served her quinoa and rice pasta (from Source Bulk Foods) with a little pesto and a lot of extra virgin olive oil, which she happily gummed. It was a challenging texture for sure, Joan ended up spitting most of it out, but she had a go without getting frustrated. Since then we've had a few occasions when Joan has been beside herself at the dining table. It will happen when I'm introducing a food that I think is be no big deal, but it's new and I don't know, perhaps she thinks she will be getting one thing and it turns out to be something new, or maybe something else is pissing her off or she cannot be bothered to eat...either way it takes me by surprise and it's incredibly adorable and confusing. There was a pumpkin soup incident at my mum's house (it was super thick, so I didn't think it'd be an issue), one night I served roasted eggplant with brown rice (THAT didn't go down well) and then one time we had lamb chops and bubba just wanted to eat the WHOLE thing, bone included, but I wouldn't let her so "whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa".... Big. Fat. Tears. Most of the time serving new foods with familiar ones does the trick but sometimes she throws a wobbly out of left field, just to keep us on our toes.
Baking and flour
This week I made a loaf of banana bread, which Joan LOVED. Of course she did, it was like a sweet cake! It contained sugar in the form of bananas and maple syrup. I favour these sweeteners as they contain some welcome nutrients (the fruit in particular - fibre!), whereas sugar is just sugar. However, it is still a sweet food and will only be something that I make occasionally, especially while Joan is so young. I also wanted to note that while I don't do a lot of baking, when I do get my cake on I favour spelt flour, whether white or wholemeal (and preferably organic). Sophie Dahl got me onto spelt flour a few years ago with her gorgeous cookbook. Spelt is a form of wheat, however it's different from the wheat that is common in so many foods today, it's more easily digested and tends to contain more nutrients. Really, I just like the way it tastes and sits in my belly after eating, plus baked goods always turn out well when I use spelt. And so, as I ease Joan into wheat consumption, I find myself favouring foods made with spelt. Don't get me wrong, we are a bona fide pasta-loving household, so Joan will be eating regular wheat in the future (provided she can tolerate it), I'm just going easy on it initially, with little bits here and there and mainly spelt. I also like using other wheat or gluten-free flours like oat flour and almond meal, as they are often full of good nutrients and I want Joan to get used to those nutty, more complex flavours.
Portions and figuring it out
Ahhhhhhh, portions. Even as a dietitian I was unsure as to how much to feed my baby - what she could manage and what was "normal". We tend to wing it and rely on Joan's internal appetite control, which is intuitive and smart and fluctuates daily. I start by serving Joan what I would consider a fairly good portion - perhaps 4-5 stalks of broccoli/wedges of pumpkin, half a banana or 2 heaping tablespoons of casserole/risotto/yoghurt/porridge - and offer her more if she wants it (which maybe 2 out of 10 times she does). She eats most of what I serve up, as she's a very accurate and serious self-feeder, however we do scoop food out of her pocket bib a couple of times throughout the meal and place it back on her plate. Only twice has she refused a meal because she just wasn't hungry and at those times I thought - "Gee you're smart baby, how cool is that?!", also "Thanks, now I can eat your delicious roasted pumpkin, mwahahahaha". Joan is usually up to trying everything we serve her and likes most things, even lemon (though she did NOT like the taste of passionfruit juice I put on a spoon for her to sample). Ben and I can clearly tell when baby girl LOVES something, as she cannot eat it fast enough. She will shovel it in her mouth, barely stopping, and becomes very protective of her plate and portion, as though she's saying "don't you dare touch my food it's MINE". We can also tell when she doesn't love something (bland food like plain porridge and rubbery scrambled eggs come to mind), as she will stare at us unimpressed, eating a small amount unenthusiastically before sighing and looking for something else to do. Whenever she Joan tries something new, a really unfamiliar flavour or texture, she puts it in her mouth and then spits it out and shakes her head, as though she's saying "oh, NO! No, no, no, no, no"... as I said above, sometimes she becomes overwhelmed/frustrated/what-knows-what and will get very upset at this moment, however most of the time with new foods she will reassess, pick it back up and try again, figuring out how to tackle this new food - "Is this a bit dry, do I need to get loads of saliva flowing, or do I need to gum it?... What's the best way I can get it in my belly? Hmmmmmmmmmmm..." It's really cute to watch those cogs turning in her head.
Ben and I are pretty strict about eating meals as a family. We want Joan to know that eating is more than putting food in your mouth, it's also about being at the table together and connecting and sharing. Therefore, we try to eat at the same time Joan is eating. Breakfast is easy, I always eat with bubs and she will have either a variation of what I'm having or some yoghurt/fruit. During the day if I haven't organised my lunch in time I may simply share a bit of avocado with her while she has her meal, saving my lunch for later, and in the evenings the three of us eat together. This can be tricky, as Ben is home at fluctuating times each day and sometimes this means we are eating at 7pm, which isn't ideal because bedtime is 7:30pm... Early on, when we were figuring this all out we'd often serve dinner close to bedtime and then Joan would be hard to settle - wriggling around, waking often and crying, I'd wonder "Why on Earth is this happening?!". My mum pointed out the obvious, that she was probably still digesting and dealing with those new sensations, so now we try to eat as early as Ben's work will allow. Honestly we're still figuring it all out, but regardless we adore our mealtimes as a family. And as much as I love food and cooking and am all about it, I don't want to make a big deal about this stuff in front of Joan. I grew up knowing food was delicious and awesome, but it was just food... it wasn't a battle or anything, it wasn't a prize, it was just food, and we ate dinner as a family and that was that. And so even at this young age, I want to do the same thing with Joan, making sure we're eating mostly the same thing for dinner, sitting together as a family and she'll know that's what we do. Even throughout the different ages when she practices "No!" and becomes a moody teenager, that's what we'll do. Behaviours and attitudes may change but we'll always sit together and some days she'll like what I serve (beef cheeks!) and some days she may not but it'll just be food and it's not a big deal. And at the moment, Joan really seems to enjoy sitting at the dining table with her two favourite people, eating dinner. She watches us closely and that's been helpful when introducing new textures, as we model how to chew with exaggerated motions. This, we find, reminds her to munch and get her saliva going, helping her adapt to new textures. We chomp loudly and make a load of eating noises that would have made my older brother squirm - "Stop chobbling!", he used to always say. But he'd totally be cool with us chobbling for Joan.
- Braised beef cheek (recipe link). Baby girl cannot get enough of this dish, which is great as it's pretty no-fuss to make, as well as being cheap and highly nutritious. I make a batch for the family, as Ben and I love it too, and I also make sure I have individual Joan-sized portions in the freezer for those times when Ben and I are eating something delicious that she can't have. As I said above, we try to eat the same thing, but sometimes takeout happens or we make a dish that is far too tricky or inappropriate for Joan to eat (super hot curry!). When we feel guilty for not sharing, baby gets beef cheek.
- Meat of any kind.
- Tomatoey ragu-type meals like bolognese or lentils - dishes cooked with onion, garlic, maybe herbs or spices, plus vegetables and something like meat or lentils in a tomatoey sauce. I might serve it with another vegetable, some pasta or on its own. Joan LOVES these flavours and I say woohoo to that because they're one my favourite things to eat too.
- Risotto. As described above, Joan goes bonkers for anything made with homemade chicken stock. The texture and flavour of risotto made her super happy, so I see us making a lot of this in the future - with roasted or steamed vegetables, chicken, fish, ragu-type toppings, whatever!
- Banana pancakes. We cook spoonfuls of mashed banana + egg in a skillet with either extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil. They may be fiddly to flip, but they are soft and delicious to eat. I always use a whole banana and sometimes only use one egg, as once you get the hang of the process you can kinda wing it and if it ends up a mess, then scrambled banana eggs it is (that sounds horrifying, but bubba likes it). Making a big batch means leftovers and Joan adores these banana pancakes cold from the fridge. Here's my blog post with a recipe - note that I leave out the salt, but cinnamon is a great idea. I'm also keen to do these with leftover cold mashed pumpkin or sweet potato.
- Yoghurt - plain, whole milk, natural or Greek yoghurt. Joan seems to like the flavour and mouthfeel of yoghurt, so I always make sure to have some in the fridge. Lately she seems to be enjoying it even more, especially when I give her a spoon, as it must be nice and cooling on her gums as those teeth pop through.
- Stewed apple. As described above, I peel the apple, cut it into fingers and cook it in a pot with some water until soft but not mushy. I add more water if required throughout the cooking process and sometimes I add cinnamon. I've cooked plums this way, and have also given Joan other fruit (banana, figs, persimmon, blueberries), but stewed apple is by far her favourite. At the moment I am getting organic apples from my folks' tree. Apples are a good one to try and by organic because they're particularly susceptible to sprays. I suppose that even though Joan likes apples I won't buy them myself, as organic apples from the shop can be $$$. That's seasonal eating and frugality for you, baby girl, sorry! I suppose she better get used to it.
- Broccoli. Baby girl goes nuts over steamed broccoli florets. Seriously, they make her so happy and content, often I will watch her pick up a stalk and sing to it. When we get broccoli from our farm box I steam it that day (broccoli loses its' nutritional goodness quickly after harvest) and Joan has fresh broccoli, then leftovers over the following days.
And that's how we introduced Joan to solid food! We are blessed with an adventurous eater who is (usually) a patient baby, which makes it an enjoyable process. I'd like to think that this is due to a combination of Joan's disposition and the way Ben and I dove in with challenging textures and interesting flavours. I suppose we will see when baby number 2 hopefully comes along one day...we may do the same techniques however they may be hesitant and require repeated exposures and modelling before they eat. Who knows? I guess I'll just continue buying, preparing and offering good food, not making it a big deal or pressuring, rather serving new and adventurous tastes alongside food I know they enjoy, while modelling eating it myself. And we'll continue to sit down to the table as a family and our kids will continue to know that food is awesome... just as awesome as being together, talking, laughing, singing to our broccoli and chobbling.