Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What to do with jarred baby food?

Until recently, I had never bought commercial baby food for Little Bug.  In all honesty, he doesn't really even like finely pureed foods.  I think it's a texture issue; he has a hard time swallowing purees.  In order to get him to eat the organic applesauce that his grandma lovingly made just for him, I usually ended up mixing it in with some of my breakfast oatmeal.  (And then he loved it!)

Actually, thus far the solid food adventure could primarily be classified as baby-led weaning.  The main idea here, which seems so obvious and intuitive to me, is that babies don't really need purees.  Once babies are ready for solids, they can handle actual adult people food.  They can manipulate it within their mouths to make it swallowable, and will gag and spit it out if they try to swallow too much at once; in this way, they quickly learn their limits and how to, well, eat.  (Note too that gagging and choking are not the same thing.)  And better yet, they are quite capable of feeding it to themselves, thank you very much.

This is another area where I found it a little difficult to go against the grain.  At first, anyway.  After spending my entire lifetime watching babies receive their first foods from those cute little jars, it felt a bit weird to be taking a different route.  (The one exception to this was my sister, who made baby food from scratch... she helped to normalize the idea that baby food doesn't have to be bland or tasteless or contain only a single ingredient.  But she still started with purees.)

So we eased in slowly.  I honestly couldn't tell you what Little Bug's first food was; I don't remember.  But we started with soft things that I knew he could easily mash up with his gums.  Banana.  Avocado.  Cooked carrots or peas that I smooshed just a little between my fingers before offering to him.  Steamed zucchini, lentils, beans.  And always in small enough pieces that he could swallow without choking on, just in case he didn't manage to thoroughly gum them first.

And now?  When we split a banana every morning--and by split, I mean he eats maybe a third of it--he takes a tremendous mouthful, stuffing as much in there as will fit.  He used to end up spitting out half when he did this, but now he just works it around and slowly swallows until it's all gone, and then eagerly comes back for more.  (Sometimes he gets worried that I will eat it all before he gets seconds!)  I will offer a piece of veggie to him on the palm of my hand, and he will carefully pick it up and cram it into his mouth.  When we go to the farmers' market, I offer him whole berries to nom.  Out at breakfast the other day with my dad and his lady friend, we gave him little bits of plain pancake to feast on.  Fortunately, the nice people at IHOP didn't mind that he made a giant mess; honestly, who could get annoyed with that cute little face?

So that's where we are now.  The only purees he eats are things that are naturally pureed: applesauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin puree from the pumpkin I roasted the other day.  And none of which are finely pureed; lumps make life more exciting.  He'll consent to being fed with a spoon occasionally, but he really prefers to feed himself, and he doesn't really like food that contains no lumps.

And then I signed up for WIC.  In case you are unaware, WIC is a government program that provides pregnant women and the parents of young children (up to age five) with vouchers for healthy foods.  The primary qualification has to do with income, and a surprising amount of military families can qualify.  Among other useful things, we get vouchers that pay for about sixty jars of baby food per month.  Per month.  I wish I could instead get more money to spend on fresh produce and whole grains, since that's what he actually eats.  But I'm not one to turn down essentially free food, so now I have a ton of jarred baby food in my cupboard.

I tried feeding him one jar.  He thought it was okay, but seemed much more excited when we switched to something more, erm, substantial.  So instead, I'm going to try to think of more creative things to do with all of those tiny jars of pureed fruits and veggies.  Add to pasta sauces or soups?  Maybe.  I bet I could toss part of a banana in my Magic Bullet along with the contents of a fruit jar and some almond milk (or, more likely, soymilk, since I get a ton of that from WIC too) and make a smoothie.  Applesauce is applesauce, which I can mix into my oatmeal (and then share with Little Bug) or use to replace the oil in recipes for baked goods.  Bananas can replace eggs, or just be made into banana bread.  "Winter squash" could surely be turned into pumpkin bread, or maybe... pumpkin pie?  Pumpkin risotto?  (Of course, I have a bunch of pumpkin puree in my freezer, but bear with me here.)  I have a vegan brownie recipe somewhere that calls for prune puree.  (Seriously.)

We'll see.  If I come up with anything exceptionally creative, I'll be sure to write about it here.  Until then, I guess I'd best devote a shelf of my cupboard to my increasing supply of baby food!

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