When we first decided to make our children homemade purees, our main rationale was that it's healthy, easy and delicious. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But the more and more I read and learn about nutrition, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely crucial to their lifelong health and happiness. Make no mistake: what you feed your baby now will affect the rest of their lives.
Did you know that children grow more rapidly in the first year than at any other time in their lifetime? Did you know that much of a human's brain growth occurs in the first few years of life? In fact, there is so much rapid growth and cell division in the body that scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health. It's called "metabolic programming," the idea that the foods eaten in childhood can have long-lasting -- even permanent -- effects on how the body grows and functions and wards off disease.
I am indebted to Dr. Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., who coauthored the book "Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health" and is also the author of "The Instinct Diet" for parents. She really opened my eyes to the powerful effects of early choices.
Dr. Roberts points out that during the early years, as all the cells throughout the body are growing, they are sensitive to availability of nutrients. "The nutrients present at this crucial time of cell division and growth help determine which cell types become predominant with each tissue," she says. These tissues and organs become important in the essential body processes of hormone production and enzyme activity. So you can see why the programming of these cells begins so early.
Dr. Roberts notes that "metabolic programming gives your child's body directions for his or her future. We know that first foods can have permanent effects on growth, strength, the immune system and intelligence -- with long term consequences for many other aspects of health and even personality. Through metabolic programming, our children's whole lives are influenced by what they eat in their early years."
Good early habits can help prevent obesity, avoid allergies, optimize bone strength and height, maybe boost intelligence, and prevent childhood and adult cancers.
The other important reason for making homemade purees is that good eating habits are learned early. Babies who eat fresh fruits and vegetables grow up to be children who eat nutritiously. It's a wonder to watch our daughter Riley eat steamed broccoli pieces like they are chocolate-covered strawberries. The nutrition experts say that from nine to eighteen months we are given this incredible opportunity to put just about anything healthy on our child's plate and train their taste buds to enjoy wholesome foods forever.
So, bottom line: healthy eating in infancy is quite simply the cornerstone of a longer, healthier and happier life.
Yield 32 ounces 6 months plus Ingredients: 1½ pounds frozen peas (that’s usually 1½ bags) 8 ounces water You’ll need: • Colander • Large bowl filled with ice and cold water. You want as much ice as possible. Directions: 1. Fill a 4- quart pot halfway with water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. While water is coming to a boil, get your “green veggie shocking station” ready. 2. Pour the frozen peas into the colander. Run cool water over them to get rid of any ice crystals (which will allow the boiling water to come back to a boil faster). 3. Pour the peas into the boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes on highest heat. 4. Pour peas into colander. Run cold water over them and pour them into the ice bath. Allow the peas to chill for 3 minutes. Pour the peas back into the colander and pick out any remaining ice. 5. Pour peas in the blender and add 8 ounces of cold water. Puree until smooth. 6. Pour into two ice cube trays. 7. Wrap and freeze.
Yield 36 ounces Age 10 months plus Ingredients: 1½ pounds strawberries 3 bananas ¼ pineapple 8 ounces water Directions: 1. Remove stems of strawberries and then wash the berries. 2. Cut each banana into 4 to 5 pieces. 3. Cut the pineapple— see demo below. Cut into pieces approximately the size of the strawberries. 4. Put everything into a 4- quart pot. 5. Turn the burner on high and cover with a lid. 6. Cook for approximately 6 minutes, stirring once. 7. Pour everything from the pot into a strainer with a bowl underneath to save the juice. 8. Pour the cooked fruit into the blender. Puree until smooth using 2 to 4 ounces of the reserved juice if necessary to adjust consistency. 9. Pour into two ice cube trays and allow to cool. 10. Wrap and freeze.
Yield eight 2-ounce pancakes 10 Months Plus Ingredients: Pancake Mix 3 cups whole wheat flour 3 cups all- purpose flour 1½ teaspoons baking soda 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar Pancakes 2 cups pancake mix (from above) 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (aka flax meal) 2 eggs 1 pint buttermilk ½ stick unsalted butter, melted (that is 1⁄8 pound) ½ cup fresh blueberries Directions: 1. In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the dry pancake mix. Store in a zipper bag or in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. 2. Preheat griddle to 350°F. You can also use a large cast- iron pan or a nonstick pan. Just let it preheat for a while on medium heat -- you’ll have to practice a bit to achieve the correct and consistent heat. Pour the pancake mix and the flaxseed into a large bowl. Whisk eggs in a small bowl. Add buttermilk and then melted butter to the small bowl and whisk ingredients together. 3. Add the egg, buttermilk and butter mixture to the pancake mix and the flaxseed. 4. Add blueberries. Slowly whisk together to just combine wet and dry ingredients. 5. You do not want the mixture to be smooth! Ladle mixture (about 2 ounces per pancake) onto the griddle and cook until golden brown. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown. This should take approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Chef’s notes: Pancakes will never qualify as a super nutritious food—especially topped with real maple syrup and butter the way we like ’em in our house. But I would be remiss to not include them in the book. This was the recipe I made for Norah at least three times a week during each pregnancy. Norah would eat three big pancakes! The twins started eating these at about eleven months. Henry still whines about the blueberries. You can use frozen blueberries if you want. They’ll turn the whole batter blue if you add them to the mixture. When using frozen I place them in the pancakes just after they are poured onto the griddle. You can skip the maple syrup and the butter and top these with Very Blueberry and Apple puree Nutrition tip: Flaxseeds and ground flax meal are true nutritional powerhouses. These tiny seeds have an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans. Lignans may benefit the heart and have anti-cancer properties.
Yield 36 ounces 10 months plus Ingredients: 4 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium- sized butternuts or 1 really big one) 16 ounces water 8 ounces whole milk, hot ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 2. Cut the squash lengthwise. Remove seeds with a spoon. 3. Place squash flesh side down on a sheet tray. 4. Pour water onto the sheet tray. 5. Roast approximately 60 to 75 minutes until tender. The squash should be bubbling and caramelized. 6. Allow to cool 10 to 15 minutes so you can hold it without a problem. 7. Spoon out the flesh and pour into the blender with hot milk and nutmeg. Puree until smooth. 8. Pour into two ice cube trays and allow to cool. 9. Wrap and freeze. Chef’s notes: There are many types of hard squash available. Butternut just happens to be the most popular and the most widely available. It is also really easy to clean and remove the flesh from the skin after cooking. Feel free to use acorn squash or other hard squashes that you enjoy.
Yield 4 servings 8 months plus A 120-second recipe Ingredients: 1 avocado, nice and ripe but not all brown 1/3 lime 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped well 1 tablespoon minced red or yellow onion Directions: 1. Remove the pit from the avocado and scoop out the flesh from the peel. 2. Place on a cutting board and squeeze the juice from the lime onto the avocado. 3. Sprinkle avocado with cilantro and onion. Mash with the back of a fork until completely smooth and creamy. Chef’s notes: This is a restaurant-style guacamole recipe minus the salt. So feel free to make a larger batch, get a bag of chips, give baby a big bear hug, and watch some football together.