Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Feeding My Family

I love food.  I love cooking it, eating it and sharing it.  I also love good health.  I like to feel my body working at it’s best, feeling, strong and clean.  Sometimes I find these two loves at odds with each other.  Reconciling them is something I’m constantly working on.  In this post I will share my experience with making my own baby food and feeding all three of my kids.  My oldest is 6 and my twins are 14 months old. 

First I want to share my family’s eating philosophy.  I have read a bit about the links between health and diet and as a result my family has chosen to eat a certain way.  We are what many describe as flexitarians.  We believe there is an ideal way to eat for the greatest health and we aim for that ideal but we take plenty of detours from it.  We believe the ideal diet is vegan, organic, non-processed, mostly fruits and veggies, low in sugar or other sweeteners and grown by and purchased from local producers.  Truly ideal would be producing it all ourselves.  Like I said, we take a lot of detours from this ideal – it’s just something we shoot for and we hope to get better at it every year.  The closer we get to it the better we feel and the fewer health problems we experience.  I did try for 6 weeks; to live according to the Eat to Live rules and I did it perfectly.  It was amazing.  I wrote about it in an earlier post.  Our weaknesses are dairy products, sweets, summer BBQs, holidays, bread and pasta. 

We have based this philosophy on a handful of books that I’ve read and discussed with my husband.  He’s read some of them.  They include, Eat to Live, Disease Proof Your Child, How to Get Your Kid To Eat But Not Too Much, In Defense of Food, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, and most important to us, The Word Of Wisdom from The Doctrine and Covenants.

My favorite healthy recipes come from the following cookbooks:  First Meals, Whole Food, In Season, Cooking Light: Salads, and Mediterranean Kitchen.  These include non-vegan recipes but I tend to skip those and focus on the plant-based recipes. 

I totally reject the notion of “kid food” – things like fruit snacks, fishy crackers, lunchables, juice boxes, and other processed, snack food marketed to kids.  It’s a modern invention associated with the SAD (Standard American Diet) way of eating that is linked with very high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.   I believe starting toddlers out on “kid food” just primes them for fast food and junk food and deprives them of the opportunity to develop a taste for healthy food. 

Here’s how I feed my kids. 

Birth – 6 months
Idealy, breastmilk only.  I adopted all 3 of my kids and did manage to breast feed them but had to supplement with formula.  Happy to share more with anyone looking into breastfeeding an adopted baby.

6 months – 12 months
I started all 3 of my kids on pureed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, potatoes, yams, winter squash, and sweet potatoes.  I want them to develop a taste for vegetables, especially the ones that aren’t sweet, before I introduced fruits.  My 6 year old still loves broccoli better than just about anything.  Of course they still get most of their calories from breast milk or formula.  With my twins, our dietician and doctor encouraged me to start with baby cereal but I found they had a hard time digesting it so I stopped it and just fed them pureed veggies.  After about a month of veggies I start introducing pureed fruits like bananas, apples, mango, and pears.  I also start mixing things together and making the texture chunkier.  Once they can handle chunky textures and pick things up with their fingers I give them soft, cooked veggies and fruits.  When I’m low on cooked veggies and fruits and short on time I used canned – not ideal, but better than a lot of other options!  I also give them raw banana and avocado chunks, frozen peas (awesome on sore, teething gums!) and canned black beans (smaller than most beans).  They started consuming less milk about this time.  After my twins were doing well with all the finger food and their systems were digesting all the veggies, fruits, and beans well I started offering them bits of whole wheat bread (sometimes I make my own) and making grain-based casseroles for them.  They wouldn’t mind eating these with their fingers but I can’t handle the mess!  I make a sweet casserole and a savory casserole.  My 14 month-old daughter prefers the savory while her twin brother prefers the sweet.  I suspect this reflects their unique dietary needs.  One casserole will usually last for the whole week.

Sweet Casserole
Combine in a casserole dish:
1 to 2 cups of cooked steel cut oats
Homemade applesauce (peeled apples, cinnamon, and water)
Any soft, raw, soft-cooked, or canned fruit that you have on hand like peaches, pears, cranberries, grapes, apples, bananas (add them fresh right before serving), mango, blue berries, and apricots.  Make sure it’s all baby-bite-sized.
¼ tsp of cinnamon

Savory Casserole
Combine in a casserole dish:
1 to 2 cups of cooked brown rice
Any soft, raw, soft-cooked or canned vegetables you have on hand like, onion, carrots, celery, peas, mushrooms, green beans, broccoli, potatoes, yams, winter squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, avocado, and beets. Make sure it’s all baby-bite-sized.
1 can of beans.  (Black are nice and small, others probably need to be cut in half)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup (I feel guilty about this but my daughter is a little picky and she will eat any veggie coated in cream of mushroom so I think it’s an okay trade off.  I should learn to make my own soymilk version….)

I don’t bake them but you could.  I just mix them, refrigerate them and warm up a small bowl for each feeding and my twins gobble them up.  I try to make sure that at least half of the volume comes from fruit or veggies. 

When we are out of the house for mealtime, I take small containers of beans, peas, canned veggies, and a couple slices of bread with me.  Easy, cheap, and healthy.

12 – 24 months 
I start letting them sample what the rest of us are eating at the table, as long as it’s not dangerous for them.  We wait until 2 yrs old on peanut butter, nuts, honey, strawberries, green salad (need teeth for that!), and citrus. We also don’t share cookies or other treats with them. I have not and don’t plan to introduce regular cows milk or juice to my twins.  I still give them formula 3- 4 times a day.  I will eventually start offering them soy and nut milks in small quantities.  This really helps my husband and I focus on healthier eating – we don’t want to set a bad example for our kids.  For breakfast this includes oatmeal (steel cut is best but instant is so much easier), fruit, green smoothies (pureed fruit and spinach) toast, and pancakes.  For lunch we typically have PB sandwiches, fresh and dried fruit, salad, nuts, and veggies and dip.  Our dinner staples are pasta (whole wheat or multi-grain) w/marinara and parmesan, soft polenta made with parmesan and butter, massive green salad with beans and sometimes grilled chicken, steamed veggies, veggie soup and homemade biscuits (nothing healthy about these), rice and beans, and grain-based salads. 

2 years old (or whenever they have a full set of teeth) and on
They eat what we eat.  If they don’t like what we’re having for a given meal, they might be hungry but I won’t make them anything else.  Our 6 year old has done very well with this.  She goes through picky stages and sometimes she’s not satisfied at the end of a meal but she usually makes up for it later in the day or the next day.   I just keep offering her a wide variety of healthy food and she sometimes discovers that now she likes something she used to hate.  I don’t force my kids to eat anything; I just don’t offer them much that’s not healthy.  When my oldest goes to parties or other places away from home she is very attracted to junk food and will eat as much as she can but I don’t worry about this because we’re pretty healthy at home.  She seems to be losing her taste for dairy.  We only have Parmesan and butter on a regular basis.  On Sundays I make one of our less-healthy favorites like lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, chicken and cheese enchiladas, and homemade pizza.  My daughter recently declared that she doesn’t like melted cheese.  She will not eat pizza with cheese (I make a small part of it with just sauce and pepperoni for her), or any cheese-based sauce.  At friends houses she has refused milk and string cheese – she used to love both of those things.  I’m curious how my twins will do going forward.  My little girl is definitely picky.  I know more than I did when my oldest was a baby and I’m feeding my twins even healthier.    

And for all of us it’s a work in progress.  We get better every year but we’re still a long ways off from the ideal.

UPDATE:  I forgot to add that we get most of our produce from Klesick Family Farm.  Each week they deliver a box of fresh, organic, mostly locally-grown, delicious fruits and veggies.  We always order lettuce, potatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli.  I order additional things each week based on what's in season.  We love it.  Everything is so much tastier than what you get at the grocery store and because it's so fresh it lasts longer without spoiling.  I can keep the lettuce in my fridge for more than a week.  If you live in the Seattle area, check out Klesick.  If you live somewhere else google CSA in your town.  CSAs are community supported farms and they are a growing trend.  


Sea Star said...

Over the past few years we have really changed our eating habits too. My kids don't seem to be suffering because of lack of goldfish crackers either. My kids now don't have a problem at the store when they ask for something and I say no or "Let me look at the label". I have tried to eliminate MSG, HFCS, food colorings, and hydrogenated oils. It is amazing how many things at the store this cuts out of our diet.

We have been having a lot more soup this winter and my kids actually love it when we have salad. They don't complain about our 3 or 4x a week green smoothie. I am still working on beans with them. They are getting better about eating them but it is a bit of a struggle.

I haven't totally taken the kids off of milk and dairy products. They still love cheese and yogurt and milk on their cereal. Mark loves his almond milk. We have done soy in the past but we both decided soy isn't for us. It threw my hormones off so we won't even give it to our kids. But rice and almond milk is a staple at our house.

I feel pretty good about our eating habits now. We are always making little improvements but I know we are getting in a lot of fruits and veggies. There isn't a whole lot else in the house to eat. We have our occasional desserts but I try to make sure they stay occasional.

I think I will have to give your casseroles a try with my little 6 month old. She is just starting to sample foods. Mostly I have just given her bites of what I am eating. Bananas, pumpkin muffins, and lots of peas and cooked carrots. I have given her some cereals too but she doesn't really like it. She actually loved my green smoothie the other day.It didn't have frozen strawberries in it so I figured she could give it a try. She kept reaching for the cup so I guess she liked it. I think we will have to have a yummy mango one today!

Jennifer said...

That's awesome Sarah! I love hearing what other families are doing to eat healthier. Thanks for sharing!

Stefanie said...

I love your post! When we get another child I will be referring to your recipes. Bob and I are in the process of reading both Eat to Live and How to Disease Proof Your Child. We definitely think this is the ideal way to eat. We have just started on our journey to become more healthy with our eating habits. Keep me posted on some good recipes. You should put your favorites on your blog or at least email them to me :)

Jennifer said...

That's awesome Stef! I love hearing that you guys are learning about this way of eating too. You should really read Michael Pollan's stuff too - I think he has a slightly different perspective than Fuhrman which I appreciate! Good luck. I'll work on adding more recipes. There are few on my blog. Just click the recipes tag under this post.

Pugsley said...

My favorite investment this past year has been our VitaMix. I use it at least once a day--you can add whole seeds and nuts to your green smoothies or make your own almond and rice milk (though they won't be fortified). I'm excited to start making baby food again in a few weeks. Do you like quinoa? I know it's anything but local, but it is one of the healthiest grains and one of my favorite comfort foods paired with homemade beans or veggies.

Pugsley said...

Me again. Agave nectar is one of my favorite sweeteners. Here's a recipe for a treat you might like: 1 block tofu, 1/3 cup agave, 1tsp. vanilla, 2-4 T. cocoa powder. Blend in mixer or food processor until smooth, chill. I make this when I'm really craving something sweet--I have sworn off any refined sugar.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the recipe Alyson! I'm dying to get a Vitamix and we will, hopefully this year. I love quinoa -it's got the most interesting texture. I've tried agave. It was pretty good. Do you ever use raw honey? I like it too...

Photographer: Rebecca Pierce said...

I have to suggest coconut oil. You can buy it so that it doesn't taste like coconut and it is my butter substitute. I love all that you wrote. I have never given any rice cereals to my kiddos, and I have a vitamix, so I make all their food too, so cheap and so easy and organic and tasty enough that I lick my fingers while I'm making it! I throw in a lot of cucumber to thin it out a little and I love to cut some wheat grass and add that in. I have always had easy milk supply, but this time around I only lasted like six months and started supplementing at 4 months. I collected breast milk for awhile, but eventually that option dwindled and I'm spending a serious fortune on organic soy formula (we don't do cow's milk either, though we do do cheeses and yogurt) so she is 9 months now and I'm gradually giving her goat's milk in her bottle until we eliminate the formula (I'm not really sure about soy myself, but it is the only option...either soy or cow for formula). I LOVE my naturopath, she is our everything doctor, they are hard to find that accept children and especially babies, and I love her. If you ever need a good one, she practices twice a week in Kirkland and the other three days in N. Seattle. She's been saving us from prescriptions for 8 years now and I will drive to Kirkland from Puyallup before I would ever waste my money on a local doc...don't get me started.

I have a relative that cured herself of breast cancer following an alkaline diet and so I went to a week long retreat in CA to learn more and it is a great way to be. I ate alkaline with my second pregnancy, and I lost a ton of weight in spite of eating a ton of food, and I feel it still shows in Alice's food preferences. Anyway, so my kids love thier avocado, cucumber, spinach, tomatillo and lime smoothie, we have it for breakfast a lot. Also, my favorite breakfast is quinoa with tomatoes and avocado with Braggs and lime juice. Sooooooo tasty.

Okay, enough. I'm still reading, Jennifer!

Photographer: Rebecca Pierce said...

OH. MY. Gosh. I just left a massive comment, but not longer than the other ones, and google didn't post it, and it is gone! Bummer! Just saying I'm on the same page, I have a VitaMix and we are obsessed with it. I have a great naturopath that specializes in babies and children (hard to find) and I highly recommend her if you are interested. Her food introduction recommendations are like what you are doing with your kids. We don't do cow milk either. What else was I commenting (this is the short version)...oh, try coconut oil for your butter. I buy the Spectrum brand they sell at Fred Meyer. Soooo good. I usually add sea salt if I spread it on bread. I ate an alkaline diet for about a year, my aunt cured herself of breast cancer eating that way so I went to a retreat to learn more. I totally believe it is the way to be, I just can't commit...soooooo restrictive. I am more moderate, we eat scarce meats, and all organic when we eat it...blah, blah, I've been commenting forever. Still reading!

Photographer: Rebecca Pierce said...

Hahahaha...maybe you got my first comment? I notice now that it says you have to approve it. I don't think you got it, but maybe you did.