Friday, May 29, 2009

Baby Food

There's about a zillion different opinions as to when baby should cop to his (I'm gonna stick to the masculine. Hell with the progressive PC stuff. I'm tired.) first so-called solid food. I don't care to argue with the medical community on this, so my official formal advice is: consult your doctor or paediatric nutrition specialist, eh?

But informally? You'll know when it's time. The little bastard will be sitting on your lap at the table, and he'll be watching every... single... bite... you... take. Every one, from the plate all the way to your mouth. His beady little eyes won't miss a moment of the action, and if that cutlery gets anywhere near the increasingly wild waving of his stubby little arms, you and he both are gonna wear a forkful of lasagne. Or whatever.

Likewise, there's about a million things that apparently you shouldn't feed baby too early. Take bourbon, for example: who would suspect that an 18-month toddler would be so fast off the goddam mark that between putting your glass on the table in full view of six adults at same table and turning back with the ice in your hand, said toddler could seize the glass and gulp a mansize mouthful? I certainly didn't expect it, and none of the people at the table were actually quick enough to intervene -- not even his mum.

He blinked, and coughed a bit - but luckily, I was drinking Wild Turkey, so he didn't get the full pencil-shavings-and-methylated-spirits effect which makes cheap bourbon such a delightful experience. Anyhow, that's off the track. Point is, apparently kids shouldn't get into gluten too early. And honey's full of allergens. And dairy products can cause all sorts of issues. And so forth.

Once again: consult your paediatric nutrition specialist, okay? This particular item is aimed at achieving two things. First, it will help you produce baby food your child will actually eat and enjoy. Secondly, it will set you on the path to raising a kid who isn't afraid of different foods -- one of these nigh-mythical 'not picky' children who eats fruit and veg and fish and nuts and all the good stuff without blinking an eye, or demanding a free pass to McFoodland in exchange.

From experience, the sooner you can start your kid on eating food that tastes like food, the better. The kids agree with me on this, by the way. You can test this hypothesis for yourself: go buy a jar of baby food -- something involving chicken and corn ought to do -- and present it to the new eater in spoon form. The universal first reaction is a pursing of the lips, followed by a spectacularly wet raspberry which distributes pureed chicken and corn across the scenery. This may or may not be accompanied by wild arm-flapping, but since such arm-flapping is the regular response to any new event, I wouldn't be too concerned.

What has happened is simple: baby has rejected his first solid food. What happens next is vital. Some folk recommend that you spoon a bite into your mouth, smack your lips, and say "ummm!" to encourage the little beast. My personal recommendation? Spoon a bite into your mouth. Screw up your face. Blink once or twice. Turn your head and spit the hideous, tasteless pap violently into the nearest receptacle while coughing violently. Put the lid back on the jar and hurl it into the garbage, swearing never to abuse your child in this fashion again.

That's how it went for me, anyway.

Wanna know something which is apparently a secret? Babies like flavour. No. Really. Baby food manufacturers apparently think otherwise, because though I tried about five different brands and a dozen different flavours during the course of raising my three little creatures past this initial stage, I never found one that actually tasted of anything other than cornstarch and blended rice. (Oh, there was the 'World Traveller' series, which purported to have chunky tandooris, curries, laksas, etc.... several of them had a vague hint of tomato, and once I think I caught a whiff of turmeric, but I may have been mistaken.)

You wanna feed your baby well? Throw away the commercial baby food. The stuff looks like somebody ate it once already, and it tastes like it.

Buy yourself a decent hand-held blender-on-a-stick. Get some ingredients. Go crazy.

You're going to have to obey those health rules, naturally. Plus any other rules you've decided you're going to impose. (Ha. Like they're gonna last. Enjoy your illusions while you got 'em.) And naturally, really strong or spicy flavours are going to distress your baby. But within those parameters, go wild.

Elder Son's first meal was an entire ripe avocado, mashed with a little lemon juice and a little salt. He sputtered at the first mouthful, but that was because he didn't yet have a grip on this 'mastication' process, not because of the flavour. The instant he hooked into that yellowy-green goo, he was like one of those laughing clowns at the show -- the mouth open, the head going from side to side, following the spoon. I used to play 'remote control baby head' games just to make Natalie laugh... cruel, I expect, but damned funny.

Early favourites? Cherry tomatoes. Spring onions. Tinned salmon. Tinned tuna. Mild coconut-curried chicken. Coriander. Rich bolognaise. Roast capsicum. Raw capsicum... in fact, just about anything that Natalie would let me put through a blender went down the kid's neck.

Mostly, you start with a base of rice. Overcook the rice so it's gluggy. In the beginning, I went with about 70% rice, 30% flavoursome ingredient, but that very rapidly dropped away to 50%, and then even lower. By the time Elder Son was a year old, one of our Tasmanian friends used to wait until the boy had finished his evening meal, then snaffle the remainder so he could use it as a sandwich spread. Flavour, folks. It makes a world of difference.

Here's a few recommendations for your blenderfying enjoyment. In all cases, add enough overcooked rice to the mixture to satisfy yourself that the kid's getting his carbs. Otherwise, simply adjust by taste. And remember: if it tastes like bland, boring crap to you, you'll probably wind up wearing it when the kid gets ahold of it.

1) Salmony Happiness: small tin of salmon. Four or five cherry tomatoes. Two spring onions. Four bushy coriander seedling things. Half a teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper. (Yes. I'm not joking.)

2) Chickeny Capsicum Goodness: roast one capsicum, peel the skin. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a little salt, two or three onions, and a little garlic. Sprinkle a breast of chicken with smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Put maybe half the chicken into the mix. Put the other half on a sandwich, and steal some of the blended capsicum stuff as a spread. You can get really hungry doing this stuff.

3) Fishy Wonderful: small piece of white fish, steamed or grilled. Turmeric powder. Half-cup coconut cream. Squeeze of lime juice. Teaspoon brown sugar. Half a spring onion. Salt to taste.

4) Vegetable Va-voom: Put a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Coarsely chop in a capsicum, four cherry tomatoes, half an onion, a couple of mushrooms, a little garlic, half a zucchini, and some baby fennel. Fry them, stirring, until they're nicely soft. Add a wee bit of salt and some pepper, and maybe just a touch of tomato paste before you blend hell out of the mix with your rice goo.

As you can see, there's really nothing to it. Trust your palate. Play with your favourite ingredients. If you stick to tasty, fresh, healthy items and you don't over-season or over-cook (except for the rice) you can hardly go wrong. And believe me: it's worth every second of the work. Knowing exactly what goes into your kid's food in advance is brilliant -- it saves any amount of time and effort looking up different preservatives and colourings, and wondering whether 'Food Enhancer 666' is monosodium glutamate or just some kind of Satanic prank.

Plus, of course, the look on other people's faces when they taste the food your kid is eating is bloody priceless. Especially when they look back down at their own dinner, and kind of whimper, just a little. I love that.


  1. thanks! great post, insipiring.

  2. This is one of the most informative bits of writing i've ever come accross. I'll be looking ata kid in the not too distant future and its good to know how to translate my food philosophy to kids

  3. One quick note: the onions in 'Chickeny Capsicum Goodness' are actually spring onions or eschallots -- not fraggin' great white bastard onions. That would be kind of rude.

    The whole baby food experience was a rude shock to me. Elder Son ate nothing but home-blend stuff for the first few months of his solid-food career. Then we had to go on a road trip, so we bought a few jars of healthy-looking stuff that assured us of its goodness.

    Elder Son spraypainted me with them. And that was weird, because he LOVED his food. So of course, puzzled, I tasted the stuff. And that was the end of that.

    I have no idea why they seem to think babies want to eat tasteless goo, but they're very very wrong. Nobody wants to eat that shit. It's just that babies can't talk to beg for something better, I guess.

  4. Also because it's cheap to make and it fits the naive parental preconception of what baby food should be - beige pureed stuff in a tamper-proof jar. They're selling certainty rather than nutrition.

    Absolutely true that the earlier you start throwing real food at kids (often literally) and the more like your own food it is, the more they'll like it and the broader their preference base will be.