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Love At First Bite: Raising Adventurous Eaters

When it comes to cooking, I live by the principal food = love. What makes my food taste different than anything found in a store, is that is comes straight from my heart. In fact, my three year old daughter has turned to me at dinnertime and thanked me for making “such a yummy meal for her.” The commitment and hard work (and I’ll admit, sometimes craziness) is all totally worth it (also, cue tears because you know, postpartum hormones). I know that the investment I am making now with my kids, will have a great impact on their future eating habits, and that is a victory.

When it comes to feeding my children, my goal is to provide them with wholesome quality foods packed with flavor. As a mom, I want to make sure my children are getting the freshest foods; free of preservatives, starches, and thickeners. By exposing them to a variety of flavors and widening their palate, I am helping them to grow into more adventurous eaters, eaters who will try anything once and want exactly what I am eating for most if not all meals.

As a former chef, and an Italian, I grew up with food as a means to bring family and friends together. Food was, and still is, a proclamation of love. Passing traditions, made around the table, onto my children, is priceless. I believe in the importance of quality ingredients and experimenting with different cooking methods to bring out the potential in each ingredient. The bottom line is, baby food made in your own kitchen just tastes better. It is fresher and allows you to introduce ingredients that may not be available in a supermarket.

Do you need to be a Top Chef worthy chef? Absolutely not! Homemade baby food is actually pretty simple. Sure, it takes a little extra time, but the beauty of it is that you can make larger batches and freeze portions to save for later meals, making homemade food just as convenient as store-bought.

As adults, we eat what tastes good to us, kids tend to eat what they are familiar with and what looks appealing, and babies, well they are the easiest, they eat what we give them. I was determined to change the truth about the way kids eat, by feeding my daughter flavorful first bites with the goal of forming her into a well-rounded eater. In the past, many pediatricians recommended starting with rice cereal, but we skipped right over that and went to roasted sweet potatoes. Honestly, these were so delicious, I ate a bowl myself. If you want to introduce grains, consider millet, quinoa, or whole grain oats. Experiment with flavor combinations, methods of cooking, temperature and texture. So have I convinced you to put on your apron and get cooking yet? Here is how to get started…

Choose Quality Ingredients

Seasonality is so important here. For instance, summer fruits are amazing right now. Think peaches, plums, cantaloupe, mangoes, and berries. Head to your local farmers market for summer squashes, corn, beets, and kale. By shopping for local and organic produce, you will know exactly where the food you are putting in your baby’s little tummy is coming from and it will be safe and free of pesticides too!

In fall, aim for comforting flavors like pumpkin, butternut squash, pears, and apples (you can even be so ambitious as to strap on the Ergo and pick them yourselves). Spring brings fresh green veggies like asparagus, peas, and broccoli, and fruits such as juicy apricots, sweet cherries, and strawberries (also bonus if you pick your own). In winter I like to focus on root vegetables, cranberries, and oranges.

When you use good quality fresh ingredients, you can make each fruit or vegetable the star. There is no need to hide foods, let the flavor of each ingredient shine. My kiddos are never coaxed into eating vegetables, they simply see them on their plate and gobble them up. Mind you, I add a lot of flavor with herbs, spices, and different cooking methods, which I think helps a lot! Let’s jump into that next.

Don’t Be Afraid of Flavor

We, as adults, don’t prefer bland food, and neither do babies. Tie on your adventurous apron and experiment with herbs and spices. Using theses ingredients will help develop your baby’s palate to make them more daring and open-minded eaters. Consider adding some vanilla to roasted pears, ginger to apples, roasting butternut squash with coconut oil and sage, adding cloves to a peach puree, pureeing plums or peas with fresh bright mint, sprinkle some immunity-building turmeric on roasted sweet potato, roast beets with earthy rosemary or thyme…the possibilities are endless. Just be sure to exclude salt, sugar, and overly spicy ingredients. I can attest to all of the above suggestions, and every single one has been a huge hit. Not only does my 9-month old eat every last bite, my toddler begs for some too (and usually asks for seconds).

Ok, Let’s Get to Work

How exactly does one elevate baby food?  In my kitchen, I love to roast veggies and fruits because doing so brings out so much flavor you would otherwise lose by steaming, plus it is fairly mess free and easy. It involves cutting everything up, spreading it on a sheet pan, adding any additional ingredients (like herbs, spices, or oils), and roasting at 350-375 degrees until tender. Let everything cool then puree with breastmilk, formula, or a small amount of water until you reached the desired consistency. A trusty magic bullet is perfect for this! Homemade food can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days and frozen in small portions (an ice cube tray is perfect) for up to 3 months. It is really that simple!

“Cinnamon Pear Pie”

When making the decision to feed your baby homemade food, don’t hesitate to consult different books for recipes and ideas (hint hint I am in the process of writing one now), they can really provide inspiration and take some of the guesswork out of the process. I am so excited to share this recipe with you for Roasted Pears with Cinnamon and Vanilla, or as my three year old refers to it, “Cinnamon Pear Pie.” This was one of her first foods and she now eats it as a toddler, for dessert. There is no sugar involved, but roasting the pears brings out their natural sweetness, vanilla adds an amazing depth of flavor, and cinnamon lends an element of warmth and a hint of spice. Keep them whole and serve warm or with a little drizzle of coconut cream for toddlers and older and puree as is for baby. This is probably my simplest recipe and hands down my favorite, it’s that good! 

Cinnamon Pear Pie (baby portions yield: 15 1oz portions)

4 ripe organic pears

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degress
  • Peel pears, cut in half, and core using a measuring spoon or melon baller to remove seeds
  • Place pears face down in a baking dish, drizzle with vanilla extract and sprinkle with cinnamon
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes until very soft and beginning to brown
  • Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving warm
  • If pureeing for baby, add pears and juices from baking dish to magic bullet and puree. If needed, add breastmilk or formula to thin to desired consistency.

Let me know if you try it! Happy cooking from my kitchen to yours!

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