All About Baby: My System for Bryn
Health is a very important part of my life. I'm not obsessive and I don't believe in extremes, but I typically choose the healthier option, specifically when it comes to my family, my fans, and most importantly what we put into our mouths.
My Food Regimen:
I eat almost everything, but I eat a mostly vegetarian diet. However, I occasionally eat meat if I'm really craving it or if there is literally nothing else around, but I'm fortunate to love vegetables, grains and all things healthy. As a child, I ate sushi, escargot, venison-- anything and everything. I wasn't squeamish about food and I'm proud to say that I've never ordered off of a children's menu in my entire life.
When I took on the responsibility of Bryn's diet, it took some planning and consideration, but mostly common sense. I knew she wouldn't be a children's menu child either. I often see 13-year-olds who only eat pizza or pasta noodles with butter and so many other adolescents who are picky about food. Food can be such a great passion, a conversation piece, a part of traveling to different places and an overall connection to others.
I had no clue what I was doing with Bryn, and I didn't have a plan. I used my instincts as I went along. I went from strictly breastfeeding, to combining the breast milk with formula, to starting to introduce soft foods. I had been told to begin with rice cereal, but my instincts told me that avocados were high in good fat -- a great texture for babies and such a healthy food. That was the beginning. I did move to some organic brown rice cereal for breakfast. Early on, I made the choice to go all organic for Bryn. Don't get me wrong, if we are in a Mexican restaurant where I know the guacamole isn't organic, it's OK. Obsession isn't the point here. Doing the best we can is. Our babies are a beautiful clean slate, and I am so excited for how healthy she will be.
Preparing Baby Food:
People often stress out about preparing their baby's foods. I can't tell you how easy it is. Simply, choose healthy foods: sweet potatoes, corn, peas, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans etc. and use an immersion blender to puree them once they're cooked. Obviously you need to puree less as they get older (start by giving your baby small pieces of chopped food when they are ready) but it takes 5 minutes to puree and is very little mess. If you are pressed for time, don't sweat it. Many times, I purchase organic frozen chopped green vegetables so I have a head start. Some items like butternut squash already come pureed in a frozen container. As I say in my book "The Skinnygirl Dish," don't try to be a hero. If buying and washing fresh veggies stresses you out, do the best you can. Additionally, I do buy organic pre-packaged baby food and organic vegetable squeeze packets (as opposed to fruits) as an alternative. This is especially convenient when traveling on planes and in hotels. I give these options to her as a last resort and at the end of a meal.
Feeding at Home:
At home, I want her to get her vitamins, calories, eat her veggies but, at the same time, make sure she enjoys it all. When she was younger, I kept the vegetarian options of Earth's Best organic baby food in case I was rushing or Bryn didn't want the other stuff. Always have lots of options and keep changing lanes. This keeps them tasting new flavors at a young age. I buy assortments of beans including: white, red, black, chickpeas, shelled edamame (you must remove that white skin). I also store whole grains like quinoa, couscous, brown rice, millet, whole wheat pastas (not long noodles) spelt and other high-fiber foods. I cook these items at one time and store in labeled containers in the freezer. I also like to keep different kinds of hummus around, which offer fibrous, healthy protein for Bryn. This is all getting yourself prepared prior to mealtime so you're not in a panic when your baby is crying for food.
As for portioning, I divide up vegetables using ice cube trays and fill each cube with pureed vegetables, beans or an assortment of pureed foods.
This method gives you the freedom to create your own recipes when you start cooking. For example, one cube of pureed potatoes with one cube pureed spinach and one cube white beans. You decide and your child will decide when they're over the pureed phase. Then you move on to vegetarian chili and different soups.
Bryn's Food Regime:
As far as raising Bryn as a vegetarian, that was a personal choice. If Bryn is older and wants something at a party that isn't vegetarian, I don't want her to feel ostracized. She'll find her way. I have eaten raw, vegan, vegetarian etc and I love the feeling of eating all of those healthy foods and not incorporating meat. If I have to vow to never eat meat again because she starts to notice that I have a piece of turkey bacon, then I may make that sacrifice.
I chose not to have her be vegan because I believe she needs the fat and protein in milk, and sometimes I need her to fill up on organic cheese. Her health comes first. Also, if she didn't eat so many beans and good proteins, I might change this approach.
Now to the system. As I mentioned, being prepared and having a philosophy is crucial, but getting your child to eat is priority. From the moment she could eat, I made sure she tried anything in front of me. I also make it a point to bring anything home from a restaurant that she might eat: beans, rice, avocado, vegetables etc. I was sometimes nervous when she'd want a bite of spicy corn, pasta or guacamole, but she liked it, she survived and now I know she can handle spicy foods.
For breakfast: I got her used to soft oatmeal then moved on to steel cut oatmeal, which takes longer (I just make a batch at the beginning of the week and portion it out each day). I stick to water and milk as beverages. Juices are treats, but I buy high calorie smoothies to give her on occasion to gain weight. Since she doesn't always drink straight milk, I add it to the oatmeal. I want her to love the oatmeal; I add unsweetened applesauce, bananas or no-sugar preserves. My latest trick is to give her milk in the morning when she first wakes up because she is starving. I put the milk in a bottle with a straw with a little bit of agave nectar and cinnamon because she had stopped drinking milk, which was stressful. Do what you have to. I've started to add milk to other items like corn or whole wheat mac and cheese. Get it in where you can. I also found a whole milk rice pudding (I'm going to start making this with brown rice and whole milk and freezing it). This she eats for dessert sometimes. Sometimes for breakfast I'll give her a whole-wheat waffle or pancakes for a change. She'll also take bites of my whole-grain shredded wheat (when its soggy) or a whole-wheat bagel or whatever I happen to be eating. If at the end of a meal she hasn't eaten, I'll even give her a healthy muffin or, like last week, a small munchkin at Dunkin Donuts. Try the healthy stuff but at the end, the calories count.
As far as lunch and dinner, I have separate colored containers that I use. I heat up her food in one pan one food dish at a time. I give her one course at a time for two reasons: 1.) Not to confuse her and 2.) So she doesn't see something more exciting and only eat that. For example, broccoli first, then soybeans, then pureed sweet potatoes, then corn, then beans, then pasta or mac and cheese or pizza. Then the fruits come. The fattening rice pudding or organic vanilla ice cream is last. As I said, feel that your child is satisfied after a meal.
Here's an important piece: babies are people too. They have palates. Make it taste good. I'll add a small sprinkle of sea salt. I add healthy sweeteners, cheese, butter or pesto (just make sure there are no potential allergies ) for flavor. You will be surprised at what they love and at what they hate. Sometimes I'll want her to eat lentils, so I'll put a little bit of BBQ sauce on them. I often hide foods like beans or grains in low sodium pureed soups that she likes. By the way, some days she'll throw something on the floor (so Cookie can eat it) and other days she'll love it. Patience is key and if at first you don't succeed, you try-try-again...but in a different way.
Some days I distract her with a small toy while feeding her a spoonful at a time. Other times, she smacks my hand away. Sometimes she hates something, and two courses later she'll eat it. Or she won't eat two individual items, but put them together and she will eat them.
Patience is a virtue. You can't just offer food and give up if they refuse it. Sometimes I have my husband distract her or give her a toy while I sneak a bite in. Some things she wants to hold herself and others I can feed her. They love the squeeze packets of food, but I use them as a last resort. When she won't eat a big diner, I give her rice pudding, yogurt or organic ice cream for dessert. You must come from a place of yes and be creative. Try new things everyday. Yesterday she loved a veggie dumpling and fried rice. Tomorrow it is lasagna. I do give her pizza, fries and everything delicious, but I make sure she eats a well balanced diet to the best of my ability.
Get to know your child's preferences. One day they may hate small pieces and prefer to hold the large piece themselves. For example, at 16 months, Bryn wanted to hold a whole piece of asparagus and take bites or a larger piece of pizza. Just be mindful and watch them so they don't bite off more than they can chew.
Choking is a scary topic, but its better to be prepared, here are a few tips to avoid a potential problem. Always accompany your child while they eat. Also taking a CPR class is an essential tool in my book. I had my entire staff take it with me. Cut foods into bite sized pieces. Be careful of foods that get stuck in your throat, i.e.: hot dogs, popcorn, grapes, fruit skins, and mozzarella cheese. Do research on the Internet, books or ask your pediatrician about other foods to avoid.
Eating Outside of Your Home:
Bryn eats better when we're at a restaurant (I bring her own food to supplement) because she's distracted. I'm the one who brings a hot plate, spatula and containers of what she likes to hotels when traveling. I want her to eat well and like as much as possible. It's worked so far. Let's hope it lasts.
The real challenges can sometimes be the simplest issues. The good news is Bryn eats everything, but certainly not all of the time. It varies from day to day and there is a psychology to it. Right now she is not into oatmeal, but will tolerate a whole grain waffle with maple syrup. Like us, they're not always in the mood; it depends on their hunger and it changes from meal to meal. Be patient and have fun cooking for them. Feeding your child can be a real bonding experience, and I have the most fun learning about what she likes and how she likes to eat it. I hope you enjoy this experience as well.