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Raising a Real Food Baby

By guest blogger Jeffery Lindenmuth, a full-time writer focusing on food and drink.

People are always saying that our baby girl, Elke, resembles the Gerber baby. And as the time came for her to begin eating fruits and vegetables, my wife and I reached for organic baby food from Gerber. It was a decision we felt good about, considering the Environmental Protection Agency says that children may be “especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides” because their organs are still in development and they consume far more fruits and vegetables per pound of body weight than adults.

Nonorganic commercial baby food is a minefield of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen—produce like peaches, apples, strawberries, nectarines, and blueberries, the fruits that have been confirmed to contain the highest levels of pesticide contamination. (Bananas and pineapples are exceptions, among the least likely pesticide offenders.) As a bonus, most organic baby foods also have no added sugar or sodium. This is all comforting information for us; however, Elke can’t read.

As our dinner simmered in the Le Creuset, I grew sad that Elke was coming to know food only from a jar or a little plastic tub. She developed a Pavlovian response to the beep of the microwave, even though baby food was actually one the few processed foods in our house. And, not even organic commercial baby foods are safe from the contamination and recalls that plague industrial foods.

Always eager to solve a challenge with a cool gadget, I surprised my wife with the Béaba Babycook. Sure, you can make baby food on a stovetop, but wouldn’t you rather steam carrots and potatoes with the power of a pressure washer, then puree them in the same bowl? The recipe booklet for the pricey French-made Béaba was its one downfall (Baby want whiting fish with courgette?), so we planned Elke’s next dinner, along with our own, at the Emmaus Farmer’s Market. We’d buy local, organic whenever possible, and thoroughly wash or peel other produce.

Yes, we want our baby to eat organic, but it’s equally important that her early food experiences include a smile from a farmer, the feel of fuzz on a warm peach, and family time in the kitchen. Cooked yellow squash met with toothless approval, so we got to work and soon discovered several websites and Facebook groups dedicated to the benefits of homemade baby food. Perhaps most surprising, flavor isn’t off-limits. At 9 months, Elke dines on carrots with thyme, snow peas, and spinach with a hint of garden mint, and organic apples with nutmeg and cinnamon—culinary treats that don’t exist in commercial baby food. A 2008 study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia suggests that infants have excellent taste discrimination, and that both repetition and variety of flavors increase their acceptance of fruits and vegetables.

As Elke grows, there will be everything from store-bought organics to unavoidable junk foods in her future, but we’re encouraged that some of the joy of whole foods and organic farming has entered her young life. When people comment on Elke’s blue eyes, eager smile, and rosy cheeks, it’s not that she’s a Gerber baby. She’s a real food baby.

Jeffery Lindenmuth lives with his family in Pennsylvania, where he contributes to Men’s Health and other national publications.

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5 Responses to Raising a Real Food Baby

  1. Hillary September 28, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    I like Jeff’s realism that there will be non-organic and even *shudder* junk food in his baby’s future.

    Our own experience with our kids as babies included a mix of Earth’s Best organic prepared products and food from our own meals, ground with the fabulous Happy Baby food mill. Now that they are school age, I try to send them off with wholesome lunches and cook fresh from the farmer’s market and my own garden as often as possible, sprinkling in Nature’s Path shortcuts where necessary!

    Still, even though we’ve worked hard to help the kids develop their tastebuds and understand our food choices, one of my sons pines for Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese (which he had at a friend’s house once). He finds it mortifying that our pasta is whole wheat and I won’t pack him Lunchables!

  2. Mike Lieberman September 28, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    I don’t have kids, yet, but because of the way that I choose to eat and live this is one of the questions that people ask me most frequently. Thanks for showing that it can be done.

  3. Leah Stoltz September 28, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    When my son was born, I wasn’t on a healthy lifestyle yet. When my son turned 3 and was diagnosed with Autism, we began learning about what proper nutrition could do, and many of my family and extended family have followed suit.

    It is important to show our kids how to live, like you said.. let’s go touch vegetables, smell them.. talk to farmers with dirty nails..See it’s dirt kids! I can ask my son “what vegetable/fruit would you like to try today?” and he does!
    It is possible to feed kids healthy, and though I didn’t get to do baby food with my son. I know have others in my family able to do it for theirs, when kids grow with these foods they become what they want. We don’t need to convince them everyday, it becomes normal. There is fun healthy food available too, they don’t need to “miss out”
    I wrote a book for my son when he was 3 and we read it every day, how the food goes thru the body, how important enzymes are and if some aren’t working, how we avoid certain foods.. if we help kids to understand, in a way they can understand they will make the right decisions.

    (And.. a tiny rant.. microwaves are scary. I’d vote for no food, but especially baby food not be microwaved.. kills the foods energy.. )

  4. Jean Nick a.k.a. Rodale's Nickel Pincher September 28, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    I never bought a single jar of prepared baby food for my two kids. Making your own baby food from the same food the rest of the family eats is easy and inexpensive, and teaches them to be helathy eaters. I had a Happy Baby mill when they were really little and after that we chopped fine and mashed, doing less as they gained skill and teeth. Find more tips on making your own healthy, organic baby foods on Rodale dot com: search for “baby food” to pull up my article on making your own “baby” cereal for pennies, adult foods that are ready to feed as is, and how to prepare and freeze your own pureed baby food. There is also a link for the Happy Baby mill (now called the KidCo Food Mill BabySteps 1).

  5. Amanda September 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Like Jean, we just scooped from what we were eating (before we added salt). I think parents get deterred when they think about “making baby food.” Like it requires special ingredients and particular equipment and a chef’s jacket or something. When did we decide kids and babys eat should eat different food than adults?

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