My science of pancakes

Being a scientist is both a blessing and a curse. I’m grateful that I have acquired some of the analytical thinking skills required to weigh the evidence at hand. I like thinking about causality and recognising alternative explanations for phenomena.

But I also have the annoying habit of applying scientific thinking to my everyday life. I have to stifle my desire to cite research papers in casual conversation, or point out errors in logical reasoning. Being a scientist sometimes makes me a pain in the ass.

Gluten-free, apple pancakes

But it also equips me to approach adapting recipes for Keira in a systematic way. The scientific method shares a lot in common with recipes. Writing a recipe requires much of the same type of information as the method section of one my academic papers (or that dissertation I’ve been avoiding…). When I tweak the ingredients to make a recipe baby-friendly, I try to play with only one ingredient/variable at a time. If something goes wrong, I want to know what variable caused it.

When Kim asked for a pancake recipe suitable for Keira, I remembered a recipe for apple pancakes by Smitten Kitchen. I had only made them once before, but they were totally killer – really, just warm apple, enrobed in enough batter to look like pancakes. My method for making them baby-friendly was simple. I swapped out the all-purpose flour for gluten-free flour (following the ratio provided by the Gluten-Free Girl), and dropped the sweetener. Yes, technically I changed 2 things, but I knew that the sweetener was just an embellishment that my baby niece doesn’t really need. If you want a sweeter pancake, just add sweetener to the batter or the final product.

The batter will be thick, and lumpy from the apple

To start baking gluten-free foods in earnest, I recommend putting together a batch of gluten-free flour mix. You can buy pre-made versions, but they tend to rely heavily on less wholesome flours than what I’ve opted for below. I followed the ratio provided by the Gluten-Free Girl. If you want to play around with her recommendations for flours, go ahead! I focused on flours that I knew Kim would be able to get across the pond.

To make a 500gm batch of gluten-free, all-purpose mix, I whisked together the following:

150g oat flour
100g buckwheat flour
100g brown rice flour
75g arrowroot starch
75g potato starch

This recipe makes enough for a few batches of pancakes, so feel free to scale it up or down.

You get bonus marks for storing your flour in a cool jar. I found this one in Austin.

Apple Pancakes
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients
130g (1c) gluten-free flour mix (see above)
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon (optional)

200mL (3/4c) plain yogurt (remember when we made our own?)
1 large egg

1 medium-large sweet apple, grated [Notes: I used a Golden Delicious, which weighed 170g. I don’t peel mine, because I like the added texture and colour from the peel, but you can peel yours]

Method
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
Combine the yogurt and egg, and then add them to the flour mix.
Stir to mix everything together. Add the grated apple and stir everything together.

Heat and grease your skillet. I use a large cast iron pan and just grease it with a small piece of butter. It’s a well-seasoned pan, so it doesn’t need any more fat during the cooking process.
When a drop of water will sputter on the pan, it’s ready for your pancakes.

Scoop the batter by ¼ cup portions, leaving enough room for them to spread. You’ll want to spread the batter a bit when they hit the pan, because they don’t spread well by themselves.
When bubbles form and then start to pop (after a couple of minutes), flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or two.

The apple flavour comes through best when the pancakes cool a bit, so try to wait a minute before devouring them. How you top them is up to you, but here are a few suggestions:
- Plain (the best way, in my opinion!)
- Maple syrup (classic)
- With a good, old cheddar (seriously)

This recipe makes about 10 medium-sized pancakes. I’ve noticed that these pancakes tend to be a bit dry on the second day, so plan accordingly.

Posted in breakfast, gluten-free, oats, pancakes, Recipes, yoghurt, yogurt | 4 Comments

My favourite bacteria

For a long time after I got back into swimming, I’d be sitting in my office and think that I could smell a turkey roasting. 9am in my (mostly) deserted building, and I would smell turkey. How did we just get from swimming to turkey? Well, it dawned on me that the smell of the pool lingered on my arms. And the smell of a heavily-trafficked pool is the smell of chlorine, or Javex, as I think of it. The smell of chlorine and roasting turkey are strongly linked in my sensory memory.

Gratuitous shot of Christmas dinner


It seems the deep recesses of my brain had combined the smell of Keira’s nanny cooking Christmas turkey with the harsh chemical she would use to clean the sink and every other surface that the raw bird might have touched. Keira’s nanny is the model of cleanliness in food preparation. I keep a clean, though cluttered, kitchen. But I have learned to embrace all sorts of bacteria. And my favourite bacteria are those that grow in yogurt.

I have been making yogurt with skim milk at least once a week, for nearly five years. I learned how to do it from my officemate, who once casually mentioned that she had made yogurt the previous evening. I was taken aback by her description of the method – it sounded like a recipe for food poisoning. I didn’t know then about those lovely little yogurt bacteria that take over the warm milk, turning it into something even healthier than milk alone. I know yogurt is healthy, but I eat it because I like it. It’s tart and creamy, and finds its way into so much of what I cook and bake.

These two old jars are the perfect size for one week's worth of yogurt


I assumed that using skim milk meant my yogurt would have to be thin. I was confused, though, because sometimes my yogurt would be quite runny and other times it would set up as thick as Greek-style yogurt. I tried adding milk powder or straining it once it had set. But after a few years, I stumbled on this post by the Hungry Tigress. She mentioned that holding the yogurt at 175F/80C would create a thicker set. I have done that every time now with flawless results.

The finished yogurt can wobble on a spoon


I’ve also struggled with incubation times and temperatures. In the summer, it’s no problem – it sets well on my kitchen counter. In the winter, though, we keep the place as cool as we can. I bought a yogurt “maker,” which is just an incubator. It worked, but I found it made the yogurt extra bitter (not in a good way), so I started improvising. My fool-proof winter method is to wrap the jars in a towel and oven mitts, place them in a metal tray, and set them by the heating vent. During the day, the yogurt sets in about 6 hours. Alternatively, I can also leave it over night (when the house is even colder) and awake to perfect yogurt.

My DIY yogurt incubator


Everyone seems to be getting into yogurt-making lately. Here is my take on the totally easy, totally worthwhile process.

Plain Jane Yogurt
Ingredients
Milk, any quantity and level of fat (no additives)
A few tablespoons of plain yogurt (no additives) [Note: you only need this for the first batch]
A thermometer – I use a candy thermometer that hooks onto the side of my pot. Any thermometer designed for testing food temperatures should do.

my "candy" thermometer only ever gets used for yogurt

Method
Heat a quantity of your preferred milk to 180F/82C in an appropriately-sized pot. Heat it slowly, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent scorching. Turn off the burner when it hits 180F/82C and leave it for 10 minutes. This will allow it to stay at 175F/80C for a few minutes, ensuring a thick set. Then remove it from the burner and let it cool to 110-115F/43-46C (this usually takes mine about 30 minutes).

In the bottom of clean jars that are large enough to hold your quantity of milk, place about a tablespoon or so of yogurt. Pour in the warm milk and stir it for a second. Tighten the lids on your jars and wrap them in a towel or two. Place the jars in a warm-ish spot.

Check the yogurt after about 4 hours. How’s the set? Still liquidy? Check back in a couple of hours. Already set? Stick them in the fridge.

Next time you make yogurt, just reserve a few tablespoons from your previous batch to start the new one.

Posted in diy, milk, Recipes, yoghurt, yogurt | 2 Comments

Food to sink your (milk) teeth into

It’s surprising how much of our early life is spent on teeth: growing them, brushing them, losing them, growing new ones, and so on.

I have a distinct memory of my older brother, also named Jeff, convincing me to tie a loose tooth to a door handle, so he could slam the door shut and take my tooth with it. Given how much he liked to push me around at that age I was skeptical of his motives, but the promise of an early visit from the tooth fairy was just too enticing to resist. I must have been in desperate need of another cabbage patch doll.

Before Keira is ready to start selling off her teeth to mythical beings, she has to finish getting them first. Yep that’s right, we’ve entered the dreaded teething phase. For many, the word alone conjures up images of rosy cheeks, drool, fever, diaper rash, and sleepless nights, to name a few. For the most part though, Keira has been very kind to us as she cut her first two teeth. Sure she’s had the occasional fuss and wanted some extra cuddles, but she has slept through the night more often than not and hasn’t shown any signs of significant discomfort or distress. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, sort of.

She has become a biter.

Yes, our little angel, who I am still breastfeeding twice a day, has started biting me. And she finds it hilarious. Not just a little funny, but roll on the floor, laugh until your stomach aches, hysterical. I still don’t quite know what the right response should have been the first time it happened, but what I did was clearly not it.

It was about 6:30 in the morning and I was half asleep while feeding her. She was just finishing up, when all of a sudden she chomped down. I yelped and said in what I thought was a stern voice “Keira! NO biting.” That’s when she burst out laughing. Unfortunately, I then did what any seasoned parent knows never to do in such a situation: I laughed back. The worst, WORST, thing I could have done. And that is how I created The Monster.

She is getting better, so long as I continue to practice my stern voice and suppress the urge to giggle in response to her simply adorable laughter. But in addition to relying more and more on the bottle, we are taking these ‘love bites‘ as a hint that Keira is ready for some real food to sink her teeth into.

As her first real meal, I put together a batch of Jillian’s Sweet Potato Puff. We already knew Keira was a fan of sweet potatoes, so it was a pretty safe way to start to introduce a little more flavour and a few more sophisticated ingredients such as eggs and oat flour. Preparation was straightforward, and I was able to put it together quickly while Keira entertained herself on the floor in the kitchen (who knew pushing yourself around on your tummy could be so exciting?). I used a very mild, dried chili as flavour, which went over just fine – the particular chillies I used (Easy on the Kashmiri Chillies, from Waitrose) are more sweet than spicy, so I would even consider adding a second one next time for more flavour.

Our first attempt at the puff

My puff didn’t come out quite as pretty as Jillian’s, but it tasted nice and Keira ate it up like it was going out of style. We also gave her some steamed beans and broccoli to nibble on as finger foods. The beans didn’t go over so well, as she wasn’t really able to move the stringy bits to the back of her mouth so she could swallow them – so instead they ended up stored in her cheeks, and I had to fish them out with my fingers before bath time.

Jeff and I had our puff alongside Jamie Oliver’s stuffed Cypriot chicken and a green salad, which I think was a good combination (the stuffed chicken recipe was from Jamie’s new 30 Minute Meals cookbook, a favourite in our household). We also refrigerated the leftover puff for a couple of days, and it tasted just as good when reheated.

Keira's colourful serving of sweet potato puff - she gobbled it all up!

Next on the agenda for Keira to nibble on with her new teeth is a gluten-free pancake, which will add some diversity to our breakfast meals – stay tuned!

Posted in gluten-free, Keira, sweet potato | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Porridge made sliceable

As a kid, I occasionally ate those packets of instant Quaker oatmeal. I liked the apple cinnamon variety. I haven’t had one of those packets in years, but I inadvertently replicated the flavour last week when I stirred some of my homemade apple butter (I followed the recipe from Food in Jars) into a serving of steel-cut oats. I gleefully realised that porridge is the perfect breakfast food for a canner trying to use up a glut of homemade jams and spreads.

Ginger strawberry-rhubarb jam to flavour my porridge

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – my real fondness for porridge developed over years of Keira’s nanny making it for me before I wrote exams at school. She claimed that it would stick to my ribs, so I wouldn’t be hungry while writing the exam. Anyone with cursory knowledge of human anatomy knows that porridge cannot stick to the ribs, unless they happen to spill it down their housecoat…

But Keira’s nanny is right – oats have a fairly low glycemic index, which means they don’t raise your blood sugar very quickly. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, foods with a low glycemic index can help control appetite and cholesterol, as well as lower risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes (pdf). In contrast, most packaged cereals have a high glycemic index. That means they give you a sugar rush and then quickly let you down.

Which brings me to the issue of McDonald’s new oatmeal offering. As usual, McDonald’s has bastardized what would normally be a healthy breakfast food by adding too much sugar and fat. I agree with Mark Bittman, however, that offering porridge (or is it oatmeal?) is probably a good step. My naïve hope is that people might learn to love oatmeal. And, if so, they might realise how dead easy it is to make at home.

The simplest way I make porridge is to bring to boil 2/3c of water and then add 1/3c of oats. (The ratio of 2:1 by volume can be scaled up to serve more.) Reduce to a simmer for about 3 minutes and you have breakfast. If you like it thicker, simmer it longer.

Apparently my great-grandmother liked her porridge so thick you could cut it with a knife. Or so Keira’s nanny tells me. And she says it in such a way that makes me think that she decidedly does not like her porridge that way.

Porridge to cut with a knife

I happen to not be very fussy about my porridge. And so the thought of making a porridge that Keira could eat without a spoon appeals to me. It would have to be a porridge thick enough to resist being crushed by her little fists. After watching the video of her eating courgette, I knew she would need a substantial porridge that could survive a baby’s death grip.

To that end, I adapted a baked porridge by Chocolate & Zucchini. I wanted it to be denser so that slices would not turn to complete mush in Keira’s hands. This oatmeal, quite intentionally, can be sliced with a knife. I also replaced the sweetener with home-canned apple sauce to make it baby-friendly (see how to make your own apple sauce). I find it sweet enough as is, but if you want your own portion to be sweeter, consider a slather of jam or honey.

Slices of porridge, ready for dipping


This recipe lends itself to all sorts of variation – you can make it quite plain, or use different dried and fresh fruits when you want to change things up. I topped my first attempt with slices of apple, as recommended by Clotilde, but it may be difficult for babies to eat, so you can either omit it, or simply peel it off the portion they receive.


Baked Porridge
Ingredients
2 1/4c regular (not instant) oats, uncooked
3/4 C dried fruit (I used a mix of dried blueberries and dried cranberries. I wouldn’t use larger pieces of dried fruit that might be a choking hazard) – optional
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 C apple sauce (pure apple with no added sweeteners)
3 C milk (I tried both skim milk and a higher fat goat’s milk with good results. Use what you like)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
One apple, thinly sliced – optional

Method
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, dried fruit, and cinnamon.
In a medium bowl, combine the apple sauce, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add this to the dry ingredients, and mix until well blended.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and use a spoon to make sure everything is evenly spread out. Arrange the apple slices over top. Don’t worry if they sink initially – they will rise back up.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the center is mostly set and firm to the touch. Let cool. The oats continue to absorb moisture and it slices better when completely cool. If you’re cutting it into sticks for the baby, I recommend letting it cool and refrigerate over night so that it is quite amenable to slicing.

This makes a large dish, enough for about 8 servings. After it cools, you can stash it in the fridge or freezer, pulling pieces out for a quick breakfast. I cut mine into wedges or slices and ate it with a bit of nut butter stirred into some yogurt (I’ll tell you how I make my own nut butter and yogurt in a future post). For babies, you could cut it into thick sticks or nuggets that would allow the baby to grasp them more readily.

Posted in breakfast, gluten-free, oatmeal, oats, porridge, Recipes | 3 Comments

BLW Baby Steps

In the weeks leading up to Keira’s first taste of food, we sat her in her high chair at meal times and gave her a spoon to play with. It wasn’t long before she started picking the spoon up and chewing on it, flipping it around to get the ‘good’ end into her mouth, and imitating us as we sat at the table and ate with her.

I think this early practice and ‘watching time’ was key to Keira’s quick progress with BLW. After only two and a half weeks she is pretty adept at feeding herself with the spoon (as long as I put the food on the spoon first, then put it on her tray). She’s also quite a pro at grasping veggies and fruit in her tiny fists, finding her mouth, and chewing and swallowing whatever she manages to gum off. However, that’s not to say that she doesn’t still have room for improvement!

We’re gearing up to giving Keira something a little more interesting than plain steamed veggies and raw fruit in the next few days (beginning with Jillian’s Sweet Potato Puff).  However so far in Keira’s BLW adventures we’ve had the most success with the following:

Sweet potato
Baked sweet potato has become one of our most popular meals. I bake the sweet potato in the oven until the juices start to run (around 30 – 40 minutes, depending on the size of the potato), then allow it to cool. I’ve served this to Keira in two different ways:

  1. Cut it into quarters, and give baby a whole quarter to chew on. Its mushy and messy, but Keira does pretty well getting good chunks of it into her mouth and, subsequently, into her tummy
  2. Put small amounts on a spoon, and let baby pick it up and eat each spoonful at her own pace. I usually give Keira a few finger foods to choose from at the same time, such as steamed courgette or broccoli. She happily alternates between all of the available options

Courgette/Zucchini
Steamed courgette is easy to prepare, and it is firm enough for Keira to pick up without destroying it, yet soft enough for her to chew off manageable bites. To prepare, peel and cut the courgette into sticks, then steam until nice and soft (7 to 10 minutes). Place the cooled sticks on the highchair tray or table for baby to pick up and gum. As long as the courgette is soft enough you shouldn’t have to worry too much about her gagging, as what she ends up with in her mouth is just as mushy as most purees.

Soft fruits, such as avocado, pear, banana, and melon
These are about the easiest BLW foods to prepare, and Keira seems to enjoy them just as much as her veggies.  Simply cut the fruit into strips long enough for baby to grip in her fist and still have some poking free to chew on, then serve. Over time she’ll figure out that she can’t grip too hard or else it will turn to mush in her little hands!

While we’ve had some really great experiences with the above, we’ve had a little less luck with:

  • Sweet potato sticks (pre-cut and then baked):  I tried cutting the sweet potato into sticks before baking them in the oven, and found that they ended up with a rather thick ‘skin’.  This skin was chunky enough that, in the early days, it made me worry that Keira might suck in a hunk and choke.  Its probably fine for when she is a little further along, but not necessarily ideal in the first weeks when she is still figuring out how to chew and swallow.
  • Raw apple slices:  I gave Keira some peeled, raw apple slices and with her then-toothless little mouth she still managed to bite off chunks that were just the right size and shape to cause a choking concern.  I’ve opted to wait on raw apple until she’s a little better at chewing what is in her mouth.
Posted in Keira, Recipes, sweet potato, Tips and Tricks | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A tale of two potatoes

I can no longer remember the year, but it was as far back as junior high school. Keira’s grampy and I were having dinner without her nanny. This didn’t happen very often, but for some reason that night, we two prepared dinner for ourselves. I remember nothing of the meal except for the sweet potato. If they’re reading this, this is the point at which Keira’s nanny and grampy will let out a collective groan. I bring up this story every. time. we. eat. sweet. potato. And we’re a family of sweet-potato lovers.

On that particular evening, we both sat down in anticipation of a potato so sweet that its juices burst forth from its flesh to caramelize on the pan in the oven. And that’s exactly what grampy got. I, however, received a dry, stringy, impersonation of a sweet potato. I watched with jealous eyes as grampy delighted in the wonder of his sweet potato – a vegetable so sweet and delicious that it needs no adornment. I tried to rescue my own tuber with margarine, waiting in vain for an offer of sweetness from his plate. I will always remember that night when we experienced the best of sweet potatoes and the worst of sweet potatoes.

It is, perhaps, time that I let it go. I’ve been lucky with sweet potato for years now. The harvest in southern Ontario starts in the early fall, and this winter I’ve been bringing home from the Kitchener market over a kilogram of sweet potatoes each week. Not a single one of those potatoes has disappointed. Most of them I have baked whole, and eaten out of hand once they cooled (a bit). I bake a half dozen at a time and stash them in the fridge so that I have a ready after-school snack.

I heard from Kim that she had tried roasting slices for Keira, but the skin that formed on them while baking was too tough for those little gums to overcome. I suggested baking them whole, as I do, cutting them in half, and allowing Keira to grasp the skin like an ice cream cone. I heard back from Kim that this method overcame the problem and allowed Keira to gobble them up. So, there it is – our first recipe!

While I think anyone in their right mind will enjoy sweet potatoes in this unadulterated fashion, I wanted to offer a recipe that would be more appropriate as part of a meal. I also thought that because Keira’s love of sweet potato was established, I could use that as a gateway for introducing new flavours.

Sweet potato puff, just out of the (toaster) oven

This recipe is utterly simple and lends itself to all kinds of variations. Kim and Jeff are big lovers of spicy food, so I opted to use chili in this recipe. If you don’t want to make it spicy, just leave out the chili. You could also take this in a different direction by using cinnamon and/or ginger (maybe a half teaspoon?). Think about other spices that complement sweet potato.

Note that it starts out as a puff – rising promisingly in the oven. It falls, but this is not a disappointment – it takes on the texture of a flan after cooling and sinking into itself.

Sweet Potato Puff
Ingredients
750g sweet potatoes (somewhat less would be okay)
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp oat flour [I used oat flour to make it gluten free. You can make your own by simply whizzing rolled oats in the clean, dry food processor before you start. If you're not concerned about gluten, you can use all-purpose flour instead.]
One small, dried chili [or another seasoning of your choice]

Method for making one large sweet potato puff
Roasting method for sweet potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 425F
Scrub & prick the potatoes
Bake them for about 40 minutes, turning them over half way through. They’re done once the juices started to run forth and caramelize. You can do this part days ahead of time, if you wish.

[Note: I believe you could, instead, peel the sweet potatoes, chop them into chunks and steam until soft. I haven’t tried it for this particular recipe, but I don’t think the flavour would suffer, and they tend to steam much faster (e.g., only about 15min) than they bake.]

For the final product:
Preheat oven to 375F
After letting the potatoes cool, pull off the skins and drop the flesh into the food processor
To that, add the remaining ingredients
Whiz everything until smooth.
Lightly grease an approximately 9” pan (I used pyrex), and smooth the mixture into that
Bake it for about 28 minutes
When finished, the top will be browning and starting to crack. Let it cool for a while – it will sink into itself and become denser. The final product will be quite soft and moist, but should mostly hold together when served.

Cooled, it sinks and becomes delightfully wrinkled

Upon reflection, it might make sense to bake it in individual ramekins. This would allow you to tailor the taste for baby and parents. That is, you could follow the basic method but omit the chili until you spoon some of the mixture into a ramekin for the baby. After you have portioned out her part, you could add the spice to your own. You will have to adjust the baking time to accommodate the smaller size of the baking dish.

Posted in gluten-free, Recipes, sweet potato | 4 Comments

Keira’s First Feast

It was Keira’s 6 month ‘birthday’ last Saturday, so we decided to celebrate by giving her her first taste of real food: steamed carrots (Jeff and I also celebrated by feasting on Molly Wizenberg’s chocolate cupcakes with bittersweet glaze, after Keira was safely tucked away in bed. Yum).

Keira's first food was steamed carrots

I’ve been thinking and reading non-stop about feeding solids these days, but I haven’t actually been very organised about getting all the necessary gear.  Fortunately for me, a metal strainer placed over a pot of boiling water works just as well as a proper steamer, and full-body bibs are a dime-a-dozen around London!

I decided to start with carrots because, well, they’re easy to prepare, tasty, and are commonly recommended as a ‘first food’ by baby health experts including the NHS and Annabel Karmel.  Carrots and other root vegetables make ideal first foods because they are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and are easy to digest (although a look in Keira’s diapers these days might suggest otherwise!)

Doing carrots the baby-led weaning (BLW) way of course meant that I didn’t need to puree or mash them, just cut them into sticks big enough for Keira to hold onto and then steam the bejesus out of them.  Ok, steaming the carrots to death is not really a BLW thing, more of a me thing.  I just couldn’t get it out of my head that if they weren’t mushy enough she might gum off a firm piece that could present a choking hazard. I know, I know, the BLW hardcores would scoff heartily at my choking fears, but come on – its only natural to worry about it (for the record, I recommend taking a first aid course that covers treating choking infants – the London Ambulance Service runs free courses).  And therein lies the rationale behind serving Keira uber-mushy carrot sticks as her first food.

A little celebratory treat for the grown-ups, after we enjoyed our own healthy dinner ofcourse

As Jeff and I watched with bated breath (and held not one but two cameras in her face), Keira happily sucked and chewed on the carrots without much of a reaction at all.  To be honest I felt a little cheated at first – aren’t all parents entitled to a little show when their baby has her first taste of food?  Where was that scrunched up, ‘what the hell IS this’ face?  Keira was so blasé about the whole thing that I had to wonder if she’d actually been sneaking food out of the fridge for weeks now, just waiting for us to get our act together and feed her something other than boring old breast milk.  Although since her only form of getting around at the moment is to push herself backwards on her tummy, I suppose its more likely that our even-keel, go-with-the-flow little girl was, once again, just getting on with things.

Keira's tastes have already expanded to include avocado, sweet potato, and pear

The carrots went over well enough that the next day I gave Keira some nice mushy avocado sticks to chew on.  Later in the week she sampled some sweet potato, and finally some juicy pear sticks.  She gummed them all like a pro, mashed them in her fists, ground them into her high chair, threw them on the floor, and even managed to swallow a little of everything.

First BLW meal tips:

  • Use a root vegetable, like carrot or sweet potato.  The naturally sweet flavour makes them a hit, plus they are easy to digest
  • Invest in a full-body bib, such as Silly Billyz long-sleeved bibs.  Those little bitty bibs might look cute, but they do nothing to protect against the wrath of a baby-led weaner
  • If you’re at all worried about choking, as I was, steam your fruit and veggies enough that whatever baby manages to bite off is soft and mushy, much like a puree.  I steamed my carrots for 20-30 minutes.
  • Get your diaper genie ready.  After their first taste of solids it sure doesn’t take long for baby’s poo to start smelling like, well, poo.
Posted in Keira, Tips and Tricks | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Learning to love veg

The first weeks of Keira’s introduction to food won’t involve much more than cooked veggies, which could make for some boring “recipes” on my part. Cut carrots, steam. Bake sweet potato, cut in half.

Keira at Woodlands

At 3.5 months, Keira couldn't partake, but she still enjoyed our Indian feast at Woodlands.

Instead, I’m going to take this time to reflect on the basic question of how to get kids to like healthy foods. I’m not the first to ask this question. Jamie Oliver (the dreamboat) has gained a lot of attention for trying to address this question and solve the obesity epidemic plaguing North America. I agree with Jamie that getting people cooking again is perhaps the single most important answer. But what about starting before that – long before habits of take-away containers and high fructose corn syrup?

How do we get kids to ask for a snack of blueberries and yogurt, as our nephew does? At 4, Cullen also loves hummus and asks his nanny to make porridge for breakfast. Cullen can tell you about different colours of carrots, and asks for tuna at lunch.

Cullen's third birthday

By his third birthday, Cullen was allowed to enjoy "worms" in "dirt."

I know all kids are different, but surely there are tactics we can use to guide them in the direction of a healthy relationship with food. Evolution has endowed us with a taste for foods that are sweet, salty, and fattening, but we can appreciate other types of foods. Here are a few of my thoughts on how to get kids to love vegetables:

First, I suggest repeatedly exposing kids to vegetables. This might sound obvious, but there’s good evidence that mere exposure to just about anything increases liking. We all dislike some foods, but assuming your kids don’t hate a vegetable on the first try, they should learn to like it more over time. Carrots are available year-round in Canada (and England?), so you can easily offer them every week.

As a side note, this brings to mind a commercial for Tyson chicken nuggets I saw recently, after the Gluten-Free Girl tweeted about it. Bear with me for 31 seconds:

This marketing suggests that if it’s too hard to get your kids to eat healthily, there’s always processed, edible, food-like substances available. On this blog, we call that Giving Up On Life.

Second, introduce a variety of vegetables. Teach your kids that carrots are not always orange, kale is not always green, and that most varieties of tomatoes look nothing like the anaemic orbs available in the grocery store. We like things that are familiar, but we also like things that are different. Hey, humans are complex.

purple carrots

I grow purple carrots because they are particularly beautiful.

Third, practice what you preach. Cullen’s love of porridge emerged after months of being cared for by his nanny. As a toddler, he wanted what she was eating, and she willingly shared her breakfast with him. If she’d been eating Corn Pops, things may have turned out differently. Mind you, she used to let me eat Corn Pops (as an adolescent!), and here I am… But the point is: try not to eat too much that you wouldn’t want your baby to eat!

Finally, don’t be afraid to praise your kids for good eating habits. Although much research has suggested that external rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, a recent article* in Psychological Science indicates that saying “Brilliant, you’re a great taster” (can you tell the study was done in Britain?) after consuming vegetables actually increased liking and consumption of the same vegetable a few months later. I wouldn’t recommend explicitly bribing kids to eat vegetables, but it doesn’t hurt to let them know they’re doing well!

*Cooke, L. J., Chambers, L. C., Añez, E. V., Croker, H. A., Boniface, D., Yeomans, M. R., & Wardle, J. (2011). Eating for pleasure or profit: The effect of incentives on children’s enjoyment of vegetables. Psychological Science, 22, 190-196.

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Introducing Jillian

Food became very important to me around the time I started grad school. I’d recently become a full-fledged vegetarian after a decade of slowly reducing my meat consumption. I was also fortunate to start my PhD program with a cohort populated by an excellent cook, an outstanding baker, and a handful of adventurous eaters. It slowly dawned on me that although I was capable of making dinner, what I had been making wasn’t terribly interesting (my ex-boyfriend can attest to my penchant for serving steamed broccoli and carrots every. single. night.). I also became aware of the environmental implications of what I was eating and the packaging it came in. Long concerned about the environment, I started on the long road of trying to reduce my carbon footprint by changing my eating habits.

I have been relatively successful in this endeavour, such as by making my own yogurt to avoid consuming all of the icky additives, and the plastic containers that will be on this planet long after I’m gone. I eat as seasonally as possible – long Canadian winters have fostered a love for cabbage, and May brings the excitement of the first tender asparagus spears. I’ve also expanded my repertoire by reading food blogs, experimenting in the kitchen, and acquiring too many cookbooks. The thread that unites most of what I cook and eat is a focus on sustainability – at the individual level, and the environmental level. I do think that everyone should eat food that is better for their bodies and the planet, but I would never dream of proselytizing. Well, until August 5 of last year, when my adorable, good-natured, smiley niece was born.

When Keira was born, 6000km away from where I live, I immediately started to worry about how I would develop and maintain a relationship with her. I want to teach her about the things I love: science, books, vegetables and gardening, bicycles, travel! How could she grow to know me and learn from me, given this vast distance between us?

I started applying for jobs in Europe.

Then the holidays came and I learned from Kim about her desires to use the baby-led weaning approach to feed Keira. Although I assured Kim that the recipes I use are readily available online, I realised that this blog might provide an opportunity to play a role in Keira’s development. To me, then, this blog is not just about food – although that is important! – it’s about watching my dear little niece grow.

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Introducing Kim

As my beautiful daughter approaches her 6-month birthday, the topic of what to feed her and how to feed her has been increasingly on my mind.  The World Health Organisation recommends starting solid foods at around 6 months, so I’ve been doing lots of reading and thinking about how I’d like to introduce Keira to the wonderful world of food, and how we can help her develop a healthy and positive relationship with food.

Over the Christmas holidays this year we spent a lot of time with our family back in Canada, who happen to love food and also be very talented when it comes to making food of all descriptions (perhaps with a slight bias toward the sweet side!).   My stepmother is the family expert on baked goods and also makes the most delicious selection of homemade breads.  My mother-in-law has a wealth of knowledge about low-fat cooking, and on the other end of the spectrum also has some killer dessert recipes to make up for all those calories saved.  And my stepsister Jillian is all about natural, local, vegetarian cooking, and makes everything from her own yogurt to her own crackers.  Pretty impressive.

Throughout our many food-related discussions over the holidays (which I’m afraid to admit dominated the conversations), Jillian and I discovered that her approach to natural cooking nicely complements my goals for feeding my baby girl during her early years:

  • by making a variety of tasty foods in my own home, I can ensure that Keira starts her life enjoying food that is additive and preservative free
  • by using fresh, local ingredients wherever possible, I can minimize her exposure to genetically modified foods, with the added benefits of better flavour and reduced environmental impact
  • by choosing to cook with primarily organic foods I can reduce the amount of pesticides and other chemicals that Keira consumes
  • and of course, by eating the same or similar foods that we make for Keira, my husband and I will also benefit.

To complement this natural, organic, local approach to feeding Keira, we are also planning to introduce her to solids using a baby-led weaning (BLW) approach.  In baby-led weaning, the focus is on exploring and experimenting with food, flavours, and textures, tapping into baby’s curiosity and sense of play to introduce him or her to a variety of age-appropriate foods.  Our motivation behind following a BLW approach is:

  • to help Keira develop into an adventurous eater, who enjoys a variety of foods
  • to allow her to share in family meals as much and as early as possible
  • following on from breastfeeding, to continue to allow her to control her own intake of (healthy) food at mealtimes

With that in mind, Jillian and I have set out to apply her skills and knowledge from the natural food preparation side of things to help us feed baby Keira over the coming months and years.   The deal is that Jillian will come up with recipes and meal ideas that meet Keira’s eating needs at different stages, I will do my best to replicate them, and Keira will let us know whether they’re winners or losers!

During this little experiment, we’ll share our experiences (including successes and failures) on our blog.  And hopefully, for your sake dear reader, there will be something worth reading!

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