What babies eat | a blog about food

Darwin tries: Granadilla

Darwin’s First Granadilla from Kirstin Styers on Vimeo.

Here’s something I learned a few months ago about Belgian holiday traditions; instead of cooking beloved favorites for Christmas and New Year’s Day meals, a more modern tradition is to go to the grocery store and buy the strangest, most exotic ingredients you can find and whip those up into something fabulous (or, at least, edible). Case in point? My local grocery store started stocking kangaroo meat in December. Considering how much trouble I had finding a turkey for a classic American Thanksgiving just a few weeks prior, I was certainly surprised to see the new variety!

I passed on the kangaroo steak (wow, it was so expensive), but the demand for quirky food led to a serendipitous discovery: a granadilla! When I first started writing the post on this sweet passion fruit, I assumed that we’d never get to try it without flying to South America ourselves (or at least bribing a visitor to take the risk and sneak one on the plane for us).

Like any non-local produce, I am sure that the taste of this orange orb was muted compared to getting to eat one freshly picked in Colombia or Peru. Still, we enjoyed cracking it open and trying it, or, in Darwin’s case, playing with it.

The granadilla has a hard, but airy shell that reminded me of styrofoam, colored a vibrant orange on the outside with light speckles. Inside was a mess of black seeds covered in a grey goo. Mmm! Appetizing! When giving granadilla to a baby, the seeds and goo are mashed through a fine sieve to retrieve the sweet juice. Since Darwin was already a year old when he got his hands on this, we gave him the whole thing to see what he would do, seeds and all.

He wasn’t excited by it. Fruits are still hit and miss with this guy. He loves the independence of feeding himself, but if a piece of fruit is too fiber-y or has skin that’s too hard for him to chew (he’s just starting to get his molars), then he’ll spit it out. For a long time he went through a phase of being obsessed with oranges, only to suck on a piece until just the pulp remained (which he would return to me, all soggy and mushy. what a joy children are!). My guess is that with the granadilla, it wasn’t convenient enough for him to fully enjoy. Oh well! We can always wait until next December when they hit the shelves again here in Belgium, or maybe take a trip to Bogota?

He sure had fun playing with it though. And, mom had fun cleaning up slimy seeds from the floor afterwards. Oh wait…

(This is my first foray into video! I would love your feedback, what do you think? I plan on shooting many more videos of Darwin trying out all kinds of different foods that we can get our hands on.)

Bamba

Darwin has just entered into a voracious love affair with crackers, specifically, a box of airy and flavorless crackers that my husband accidentally bought, thinking they tasted like something edible. But Darwin loves them. I think he’s teething, and the crunch is satisfying and addictive. I taught him the ASL sign for “cracker” and now he asks for them all day, even though he can’t hardly articulate the word (right now it’s closer to “ga-ga”).

I bet Darwin would adore Bamba, one of Israel’s most popular snack foods. It’s hard to describe it for sure without having seen it and tasted it for myself, but I’ve read that Bamba is like a cheese doodle; light, crunchy, and melts in your mouth. But instead of cheese-flavored powder, it’s covered in peanut butter powder.

close-up of Bamba, photo by Nsaum75

Being one of the most popular snacks in the country (no, really, Bamba takes up 25% of the snack market), Bamba isn’t so much baby food as it is just a pervasive part of Israeli food culture. It’s even considered a vital staple food, and the snack’s mascot baby was at one point the country’s Olympic mascot!

But the thing that makes Bamba interesting to me is its specific peanut flavoring. There seems to be a positive effect to Bamba’s popularity; Israeli kids have a much lower rate of peanut allergies than British and American kids, where the common advice is* to avoid exposure to peanuts before a baby turns 12 months old.

The study, which specifically focused on Jewish children in the UK and in Israel, found that after accounting for other factors, the kids in Israel ate more peanut products at an earlier age and had a lower rate of peanut allergies than their UK peers. This led to a seven-year study in the UK testing whether regularly eating peanuts (in very small doses in a controlled environment) could possibly desensitize children with severe peanut allergies. The study wrapped up earlier this year with good results, but it seems to still be many years away from a practical solution for families coping with severe peanut allergies.

A huge thank you to my dear friend Yael for the heads-up on Bamba! If you know any interesting tidbits on what/how/when babies are introduced to solid food, or anything that you think might be of interest to readers of this blog, please get in touch!

So now I’m on the hunt for Bamba for Darwin to try. Yael has assured me that a Kosher food store in any major city should carry it. Next time I plan to be in Brussels, I’ll check out a few Kosher stores, but if any lovely readers in Israel (or anywhere where Bamba is available) are interested in a care package swap, feel free to get in touch! Belgium has a few delicacies that it’s known for (chocolatechocolatechocolate!).

*Maybe I should say, the common advice was to avoid peanut exposure until after 12 months, but these days it seems that doctors are recommending earlier exposure to potential allergens. As always, check with your pediatrician and be alert for allergic reactions when giving your child a new food!

Granadilla

In Colombia (plus Peru and maybe some other South American countries), a baby’s first food is often a granadilla, a type of passion fruit. If you’ve never heard of one, I hope you know someone who can pronounce it correctly, because it’s a beautiful word. Gra-na-DEEEE-ya!

Passion fruit varieties come in different colors (the ones I’m familiar with are purple), but granadillas are bright orange and about the size of a lemon, with light, yellowish spots. Inside is a mess of slimy, grey seeds.

Truthfully, the first time I came across this information, I was confused. I’ve never eaten a passion fruit before, I’ve only seen them in photos. I thought, “What are babies supposed to do, swallow the seeds? What a terrible idea!”

Some diligent research answered my question. The seeds are covered in a plump membrane that yields juice when pressed through a sieve. Juice made from a granadilla is sometimes given to babies as early as 3 or 4 months old in Colombia or Peru, with the idea that it will slowly introduce them to the new flavors they will experience with solid foods a few months later. Granadilla, specifically, is sweet and not as acidic as other fruit juices, and therefore more gentle on sensitive bellies. It’s also an opportunity to get the baby accustomed to eating food from a spoon instead of a bottle.

And now, because wobbly babies eating food are just totally adorable, here are some videos I found on YouTube of babies having their first sips of sweet granadilla juice.

This little one seems pretty indifferent.

Oh no! This baby doesn’t seem pleased. Maybe his granadilla was a bit on the sour side? But he keeps eating more! It reminds me of this video I had previously posted.

This one is transformed by the granadilla juice, from wiggly and fussy to calm and serene.

When I first heard of this custom, I was a bit disappointed thinking that Darwin wouldn’t be able to try a granadilla for himself any time soon. Not unless we took a spontaneous trip to Colombia (and won the lottery, of course). But it turns out that a strange holiday tradition here in Flanders made it happen! Keep an eye out for that post soon.

One thing I was curious about is that in the US it is commonly said feeding a baby fruits before vegetables (or in general, something sweet before something savory) will result in the baby having a sweet tooth and the parents having a difficult time convincing the child to eat their veggies. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that, especially if babies all over South America get their first taste of food in the form of sweet fruit juice. Are there any beliefs surrounding the order of foods to introduce to your baby in your culture? Maybe it’s a topic to explore in a future blog post.

Sources: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 (check out this last link for pictures of an amazingly chubby baby and another cute first-granadilla video!)

Brain Food round-up

Phew! Anybody who has experienced a major move, anybody who has experienced an international move, and anybody who has experienced an international move with a baby should understand that it takes a long time to settle. But here I am again, easing back into this blog. I have some exciting posts planned, but for now let’s start off with a few interesting links.

First up, a summary on the New York Times’ Well blog about a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics showing that there seems to be a correlation between when a baby is introduced to solid foods and whether or not they develop food allergies. These days, it seems that food allergies are becoming more and more common, and, as new studies are done, previous medical advice seems to constantly change about what a woman should or should not eat while she’s pregnant, or what foods should or should not be introduced to a child at what age. This results of this study showed that when controlling for all other factors, 17 weeks seemed to be the magic age for introducing solids; if a baby waits until after they are 17-weeks old to start eating solid foods, they are less likely to develop allergies. To quote the lead author, Kate E. C. Grimshaw, a nutritionist at the University of Southampton, “Don’t introduce solids until 17 weeks, and if you can wait longer, that’s fine, too. At whatever age you begin solid foods, you should continue breast-feeding as well. And for those who cannot breast-feed, the advice not to introduce solid foods until 17 weeks is still applicable.”

I know that in the U.S., pediatricians recommend introducing solid foods until the baby is six months old. I would guess that similar recommendations are made around the world? Chime in if it’s different where you are!

Of course, recommendations don’t always line up with reality. Have you heard about the Longest Shortest Time podcast? Hillary just started her second season and I’m hooked! Recently they aired an episode featuring a mom who felt like she was doing everything wrong when raising her daughter by going against the normal parenting “rules”, including feeding her daughter solid foods at three months old and giving her cereal in her bottle at night (my mom did the same with me, I never knew it was such a secret!).

Last, here’s another post from a New York Times blog, this time from the Motherlode blog. An American mother writes about how raising her two young children in Thailand is shaping their palate. I love reading about these things! Little toddlers scarfing down delicious Thai food every day? I’m so jealous! Being an expat myself, I can understand the nostalgia for classic American foods, but isn’t it such a romantic idea to raise kids who have such a worldly appetite? (Although, the idea of hauling 40 pounds of rice on vacation is decidedly not dreamy.)

Lately, I’ve been teaching myself to cook Indian food and it has been a hit with Darwin, so much so that he eats a shocking amount of spiced lentil curries over any other foods we give him. I don’t even think I ate Indian food for the first time until my late-teens. Do your little ones have any weird food cravings that are different from dishes you grew up eating?

Belgium

What do babies eat in Belgium? Darwin and I will find out soon; we’re moving to Ghent!

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We’re currently back in the US for a few weeks visiting family after a whirlwind month of packing up our lives in Bishkek and apartment-hunting in Belgium. Several nearly finished posts are sitting in my draft folder, like popular dishes that babies eat in Kenya and Scandinavia, plus videos of some food experiments with Darwin. Cow tongue? Rice water? Uzbek plov? Yes to all of those, with some funny reactions.

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If you want to keep up with future posts on What Babies Eat In, be sure to “like” the Facebook page or follow along on your preferred reader service, like Bloglovin’ or Feedly.

La Prima Pappa

In my opinion, Italian cuisine is ubiquitous worldwide for being both delicious and gourmet. Maybe in the US it sometimes gets a bad reputation (hello, Olive Garden?), but even here in Bishkek there are several expensive Italian restaurants where you can get truly excellent dishes of fresh pasta, rich sauces, and good olive oils and cheeses that are otherwise unavailable in the city. With such a deep culinary heritage and the importance that Italian culture places on food, is it any surprise that an Italian baby’s first meal seems so fancy?

At its heart, la prima pappa (Italian for “the first meal”) is cereal. I found several variations, some that suggest including pureed vegetables or meat, but the base is the same; prepare a broth (“broddo“, aren’t we feeling fancy, learning Italian words?) from one zucchini, one potato, one carrot and one tomato. Simmer for one hour, strain out the vegetables and use this to cook up some rice cereal (or another grain of your choice, like tiny pasta).

The meal is not done yet. In fact, this next step is the most important. This is what makes it truly Italian. You add a swirl of good olive oil and top it with a bit of Parmesan cheese (aged at least 36 months, naturally).

This is the sort of discovery that makes me excited about this project. Yes, at its core, it’s just a slightly nuanced version of rice cereal, but it’s these tiny additions and variations that make it so culturally relevant, that make it definitively Italian.

Also, olive oil and cheese! What about all of the recommendations not to add extra sources of fat and salt? Olive oil plays a vital role in the Mediterranean diet and has been shown to be a heart-healthy source of good fats. Aged Parmesan cheese, while salty, is not the same as adding extra salt to your baby’s meal (although some would say that a bit of salt for babies is fine, and even necessary, for a healthy diet). It imparts flavor, extra nutrition, and, if aged 36 months or longer, is believed to be easy for little tummies to digest.

Moderation, of course, is important, and the suggested amount that I read in many recipes for this particular preparation is only one teaspoon each for the olive oil and cheese.

Here’s an excerpt from a guide to infant nutrition from the Cultural Association of Pediatricians of Western Italy on the benefits of cheese and olive oil for babies:
“CHEESE: It is good to offer an alternative to meat and vegetables; cheese contains a lot of protein and calcium, but less iron and more fat. You can use parmigiano and Grana Padano, or soft cheeses such as cottage cheese. The amount is variable, depending on the type of cheese: from a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese to a tablespoon in the case of cottage cheese.”
“OIL: The addition of oil, which may be extra virgin olive oil or one such as corn, sunflower or peanut oil, is used to give the child a dose of essential fatty acids. You can add one or two teaspoons to a serving of baby food.”

Do you want to try making this for your little eater? Here’s an easy recipe:

1 zucchini
1 potato
1 carrot
1 tomato
3 cups of water
3 tbsp rice cereal
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp Parmesan cheese

- Wash, peel, and roughly chop the vegetables. Add them to a pot with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer for an hour.
- Strain out the vegetables. Use some of the broth to prepare the cereal (you can save the rest of the broth for future meals).
- Stir in olive oil and cheese.
Buon appetito!

As for the choice of vegetables in the broth, there does not seem to be any steadfast concensus on which ones to include or avoid. Some sources praised the nutritional properties of a tomato while cautioning aginst the potential toxicity of the potato, and vice versa. When in doubt, check with your pediatrician, but I’m going to use whatever I have on hand when I make this for Darwin. I don’t think he’s likely to eat enough of any one thing to be dangerous.

Would you feed this to your baby? Do you think adding olive oil and Parmesan cheese sets up your little one to be a mini-gourmand, or are they unnecessary extras? I’ll share Darwin’s reactions to his prima pappa in a future post!

Sources: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11

Brain Food round-up

I love reading along with Luisa’s experiences feeding her adorable baby son, Hugo. Luisa Weiss is an award-winning food blogger at The Wednesday Chef and author of the bestselling book, My Berlin Kitchen. When it comes to preparing meals for Hugo, not only does she have an impressive reputation in cooking to live up to, but also the battling influences of her Italian, German and American heritages and upbringings. If you aren’t already following Luisa’s blog, you should definitely consider adding it to your list!

okuizome

お食い初め

People in Japan have a ceremony to celebrate a baby’s first food as well, similar to Annaprashan in India. It’s called okuizome, which is Japanese for “first food” or “first eating”. I noticed a few similarities between the two ceremonies, such as the sentiment behind the event, marking a new phase in the baby’s life, as well as the celebratory atmosphere of the event and a big feast for family and friends. There are some interesting differences, though.

During okuizome, the most unique aspect I found was a ritual in which a small pebble is given to the baby to bite, symbolizing strong teeth. I can get behind this; you need good teeth to fully enjoy food!

お食い初め on Vimeo

Another difference is that okuizome is typically celebrated when the baby is 100 days old. Isn’t 100 days a bit early to introduce solid foods? Some may say yes, but actually, during okuizome, the baby isn’t really transitioning to solid food for good. Usually, relatives just pretend to feed the baby. I have read that some people might wait until the baby is closer to six months old to organize okuizome for them.

So what’s the point? As with any party for a baby too young to remember the festivities, it’s about celebrating the child with loved ones and good food. Okuizome has been celebrated in Japan for hundreds of years, during times when babies didn’t always make it to 100 days old. When the milestone was reached, it was a cause for celebration.

The food prepared at an okuizome varies between the different regions of Japan, but the tray of food to be presented to the child usually includes a fish (cooked whole, with the head and tail still attached), rice, soup, and boiled vegetables. While researching okuizome and reading about the choices behind different foods, I was surprised at how many foods were chosen because their name sounds like the Japanese word for a certain virtue. For example, the word for beans (mame) is similar to the word for loyalty/diligence and the word for red sea bream (a type of fish) is similar to a word for happiness (tai and mede-tai). I like the idea that eating a food that sounds like a positive trait may help you gain that trait!

Can you think foods this would apply to in English? Patience, wealth, serenity, wisdom… okay, really I’m just trying to think of what rhymes with “ice cream”.

Check out these blogs for some real-life (and adorable) examples of babies’ Okuizome ceremonies!
Three Squabbling Asians
Abdallah House
Dynamic Duo
The Artist and the Mommy
Blackcabbit’s World
Lingua Lift

Too bad I already missed Darwin’s 100-day anniversary to celebrate okuizome for him (instead we did our own spin on a Korean baek-il ceremony). I think my favorite part is seeing a huge feast set in front of such a tiny baby!

Want to see more tiny babies in front of huge feasts? Check out my Okuizome gallery on Flickr!.

Smakportioner

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Smakportioner is Swedish for “little tastes” and refers to the practice of giving the baby small bits of food to try prior to when they begin eating food as a substantial part of their diet. It’s only a tiny portion, just enough to pique the baby’s interest and allow him to experience new textures and flavors. Essentially, you just dip your finger into whatever you’re eating and let your baby try it.

I found this advice on the website for Sweden’s National Food Agency, in their recommendations for starting infants on solid food. To paraphrase their recommendations, it’s possible to begin giving the baby smakportioner around the age of four months, or even earlier, depending on the baby’s interest in food. Because the amount is so small (only about as much food that will fit on your fingertip), it’s okay if the food contains ingredients like salt, which is generally much more limited in baby food. Obviously, the food can’t be a choking hazard, but otherwise there are very few limits for a smakportioner.

The small quantity of a smakportioner means that the baby is still fed normally, whether he’s breastfed or forumla-fed, until he begins eating solid foods on a daily basis.

As soon as I read about this practice, I knew it was something I had to try with Darwin. Previously, I had this idea that by waiting until he was six months to start him on solid foods, that a single morsel of food couldn’t touch his lips before then. Now, it makes more sense to me to get him accustomed to different flavors before he turns six months. At least two or three times a week either my husband or I will introduce a smakportioner to Darwin of whatever we’re eating. Since he was about four months old, he has tried gorgonzola sauce, Indian curry, strawberry juice, hummus, pumpkin dip, watermelon juice, olive juice, sauce from a bowl of plov (a Central Asian rice dish), Thai peanut sauce, yogurt, a small flake of trout, and many more that I can’t remember.

It has been a lot of fun letting him try different bits of food this way. There’s no pressure (yet!) to make sure he’s eating enough solid food or worry about whether there are enough of a certain nutrient, too much salt, too much sugar, too much spice, etc. The very first smakportioner he had was the gorgonzola sauce. Darwin had been showing immense interest in eating, so I stuck my finger in the sauce. He excitedly opened his mouth as my finger approached, but when the sauce hit his tongue… confusion. Concern. A bit disgusted. I don’t think he actually swallowed any of it, but rather pushed it all out of his mouth. Subsequent tastes have been much more successful, at least according to his reaction, although he doesn’t always seem to understand that he’s supposed to swallow the food.

Baby steps, I suppose.

What do you think about this practice? Did you (or would you) wait until a specific age to start introducing any solids, or did you give your baby little previews of what’s to come?

(Sources: here and here)

First Tastes video

I found this adorable video via Dinner, A Love Story. Filmed in high speed, it’s an entertaining and well-crafted look at young children getting their first bites of various foods with strong flavors. The little ones trying the anchovy and orange are my favorite.

I had higher expectations for the little boy eating a slice of lemon. Have you ever searched for videos of babies eating lemons on Youtube? They are super cute! I cannot wait for Darwin’s first lemon video. This only makes me wish I had access to a high-speed camera.

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