Archive for April, 2008

Getting Greener or Getting Fooled – Label Deception

Friday, April 25th, 2008

From Lisa Barnes

Advertisers and marketers are having a field day with the going green trend and making millions on labels for everything from cheese puffs, to laundry soap, to toys. Everyone wants to buy “greener” products and we simply look for a quick “seal” or buzz words – but what do they mean? Is it eco-friendly, or sustainable, or recyclable, or animal-friendly, biodegradable or “other”?

I recently taught a baby food cooking class to new parents who were just starting to feed their children solids. They of course are very concerned about what goes in and around their babies – as they should be. I showed them how not only to read labels but decipher them and be careful about products marketed for babies and children. Brands our parents and grandfathers trusted aren’t necessarily helping the confusion.

We discovered baby teething biscuits with partially hydrogenated oils. Turkey labeled as “natural” (however it’s legal for “natural” turkey to have been raised on a diet that included hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified corn). Typical “junk foods” (cheese puffs, potato chips) labeled as “organic” (but still no healthier due to trans fats and additives and preservatives). And the biggest shock to the class was baby food packaged in #7 plastic (thought to leach chemicals in foods) – with microwave directions!

This past weekend was a helpful article in the San Francisco Chronicle about green products seals, and claims surrounding green products. We’re still so new at determining and establishing some product standards that some companies are just making them up themselves. Do we want to trust Johnson and Johnson’s “green” label conducted by an in-house team? We need to educate ourselves so we’re not caught up in the marketing tactics of large companies who just want to sell us products (healthy or not, truly “green” or not). Those of us trying to go “greener” need help as well as some time and patience to read between the lines. I found the article to be helpful which you can read here.

As far as food goes, it’s just one more reason to avoid reading labels and shop for whole organic foods at the Farmer’s Market. I know we can’t always go there and they don’t have everything, but it sure makes shopping, cooking and eating easier (and healthier). The good news is that there is a federal standard for “organic” food. However staying away from processed foods cuts down on much of the label deciphering, but if you must do it keep these things in mind for “organic” food claims.

Those small stickers with the numbers on the fruit mean something too. Did you know?…

*A four-digit number means it’s conventionally grown (not organic).

*A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it’s organic.

*A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it’s genetically modified (GM).

According to the Center for Food Safety, GM foods have been in stores only since the 1990s, so we don’t know the long-term health risks, and in a 1998 EPA sampling, 29% of the foods tested contained detectable pesticides.

Here’s a reminder of the organic labels on multiple ingredient foods:

Labels and definitions are as follows

“100 percent organic” All ingredients are organic.

“Organic” At least 95 percent of ingredients are organic.

“Made with organic ingredients” At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic. If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, the word “organic” can be mentioned on the information panel, but not on the front of the package.

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Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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Introducing Solids To Baby (with Organic Sweet Potato Puree Recipe)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

From Lisa Barnes

The American Pediatric Association recommends introducing solids between four and six months of age. A few large-scale studies suggest that this timing may lower the risk of developing type I diabetes. Feeding your baby solids before four months can trigger an abnormal reaction in his immature immune system. Many mothers are told by well-meaning family members to give baby solids very young in order to get them to sleep through the night. However, feeding a baby solids does not make them sleep any better. It may just coincide with other developments that encourage routine sleeping patterns at this stage.

On the other hand, introducing solids later than six months may inhibit the development of a child’s palate, as they will not be exposed to enough variety early on. It is best to check with your child’s pediatrician to get the green light based upon your own child’s needs and development.

How Much?
In the beginning your baby will eat about one to two teaspoons of cereal or puree, once or twice per day. Although the first few times, when they’re getting acquainted with the process, your baby won’t swallow much of anything. He is still drinking about twenty-four to twenty-eight ounces of breast milk or formula each day.

Ready?
Many parents, me included, look forward to introducing solids and are just waiting for the right time. But when? The biggest cue is that your child will take an active interest in watching your eat, looking at and trying to grab your food. You’ll know they’re ready when you start to feel guilty eating a meal in front of them.

Babies have a natural reflex in their tongue called a thrust reflex. This is when the tongue thrusts outward to push items out of the mouth. When this reflex is gone, your baby will be able to eat because he can then swallow food. When I began my son, Jonas, on solids at five months, he still had the reflex. I would spoon the food into his mouth and his tongue would flip up, as if he wanted the spoon under his tongue. He was not yet ready to eat. However, he enjoyed thinking he was eating (though it was on his chin and spoon only) and we continued the routine. After about three days, he stopped thrusting his tongue and learned to swallow.

Set?
It is best to keep a log of foods your baby has eaten. It may sound silly, but it is very easy to forget what your baby has tried or not tried. This information can be provided to your doctor in case of illness or reaction. This information can also prove helpful to baby sitters and family members who care for your baby. Foods will need to be introduced for three to five days in a row to check for any allergic reactions. Then, if a problem arises, it will be easy to determine the offending food.

Go!
First foods are most likely single-item fruit and vegetable purees and cereals. In commercially prepared foods, some companies call these “Stage 1” foods. Rice cereal is the most common introductory food in baby’s culinary adventure because it’s easy to digest and isn’t likely to cause allergies. This is best purchased commercially prepared, because these cereals have an extra boost of iron, which your baby needs after six months of age. There are a few brands to choose from, with organic and GMO-free options. The cereal can be mixed with formula, breast milk, or water. Once introduced, the cereal can also be mixed with fruit, vegetable, and meat purees.

Some parents think that children introduced to vegetables before fruits will not have a sweet tooth. Most nutritionists and doctors disagree with this idea. Children will like sweets. There are also many opinions about the order of food items to introduce. Some experts recommend serving vegetables in order of color—lighter yellows to oranges to lighter greens, then dark greens. This suggestion is because lighter-colored foods tend to be milder in flavor; then as your baby’s palate matures the food flavors will increase with color intensity.

When To Stop
No one wants to waste food; however, forcing your child to eat or “finish their plate” is not advised. Before your baby can speak and tell you he’s finished eating, he will give you cues. These include: refusing to open his mouth, looking away, becoming agitated, appearing distracted, or squirming in his chair. According to nutritionist Mary Ellen DiPaola, most children can regulate their own appetites in their early stages of eating. If you force children to eat, they may lose the ability to read their own hunger and full signs. Feeding should be enjoyable for baby and parent, in a relaxed atmosphere, and at your child’s natural pace and appetite.

Foods To Avoid
There are a few reasons to avoid certain foods when introducing solids. The reasons include allergens, food intolerances, family history, special dietary needs, nitrite levels, and choking hazards. The biggest concern is potential food allergies and intolerances. Symptoms include rash, hives, respiratory problems, diarrhea, gas, and vomiting. Food allergies and intolerances are often linked genetically, so if parents are allergic they should be cautious and delay introducing these foods to children. Potential allergens include: wheat, cow’s milk, soy, nuts, shellfish, strawberries, and egg whites.

Some foods are more likely to cause adverse reactions. Doctors agree these should not be introduced as first foods, but how long to wait is often debated. Some believe these foods should not be introduced until after one year of age, while others, such as Brock Bernsten, M.D., my son’s pediatrician, believe some of these foods, such as yogurt and wheat, should be introduced between six and eight months of age. Otherwise you may miss an important window of opportunity when children will try new foods. He cautions, however, to give these foods each day for five to seven consecutive days, rather than the typical three- to five-day recommendation.

Nuts and peanuts are a special concern because of the severity of allergy symptoms affecting the upper respiratory system. Less than 1 percent of children and adults have the allergy. However, there are many processed and prepared foods that you may not realize contain nuts, including cookies, crackers, sauces, and ethnic foods. Many nutritionists suggest waiting to introduce nuts and nut butters until your child is two years old or older.
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Organic Sweet Potato Puree

I never met a baby who didn’t love sweet potatoes. They are much sweeter in taste and higher in nutrients than the basic white potato. They pack more beta carotene (an antioxidant) than any other vegetable and are loaded with fiber and vitamin A. Baking the potatoes in the oven may take longer but the flavor is much richer than steaming in the microwave or stovetop.

Makes 4 servings

2 medium (7- to 8- ounce) organic sweet potatoes
Water, formula, or milk

Oven Method: Preheat oven to 425°F. Prick potatoes with a small knife, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until tender, and skin is wrinkled. Potatoes should pierce easily with a toothpick. Set potatoes aside to cool before handling.

Using your fingers, peel potato skin from flesh. Mash with a fork for thicker potatoes, or puree in a food processor with a steel blade until mashed. For a smoother and less sticky texture, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water, formula or milk, at a time. Add liquid and process until you’ve reached desired consistency.

Microwave Method: Prick potatoes with a knife and place potatoes in a microwave-safe dish. Add ¼ cup water and cover tightly, allowing a corner to vent. Microwave on High for 3 minutes and turn potatoes over. Re-cover and cook for 3 to 6 minutes, or until tender. Check for doneness, cool, and proceed with directions above.

Tip:
It’s all in the name. The names sweet potatoes and yams are used interchangeably in the United States, although true yams are different from sweet potatoes. Only sweet potatoes can be found in the U.S. You will notice different varieties (with varying shades of orange) in stores, most common are Jewel and Garnet.
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Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
Excerpted from The Petit Appetit Cookbook
Image Credit: © Eric Gevaert | Dreamstime.com
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Williams-Sonoma’s New Cooking for Baby Book (with Recipes)

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

From Lisa Barnes

I’ve written the recipes for a new baby food book for Williams-Sonoma. Entitled Cooking For Baby, this book focuses on those first bites through 18 months old. Although I must say some of the grain recipes and snacks are yummy for the whole family. Of course you’d never know I wrote the recipes unless you look in the inside title page or back inside jacket.

Doing this book was very different from my own. Although I am still happy with the results and it is interesting to see the food in photos. I was really hoping to be on the photo shoot for the book. I’ve always heard how they do all kinds of crazy stuff to food to make it hold up under lights and for lengthy photo shoots. Unfortunately I wasn’t invited. (Probably too many cooks in the kitchen!). So I don’t have anything juicy to report from the process.

Here’s a few recipes (organic versions) for those expanding their baby’s palate and moving on from first foods. It’s a fun and exciting time to watch those first bites. Be sure to have a camera on hand for the range of faces and expressions.

Baby’s Organic Brown Rice Cereal
Although most babies begin their culinary adventure with commercially made rice cereal because of the added iron, this is an easy way to graduate them to another grain. Brown rice is not stripped of the hull, which not only makes it brown, but also more nutritious than its white counterpart.

¼ cup Organic Brown rice

Put rice in a blender and pulverize into a powder, 3 – 5 minutes on medium to high speed. Bring 1 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown rice powder and reduce heat to low. Cook, whisking constantly until water is absorbed, 4 – 5 minutes.

Add water, breast milk or formula to thin the cereal to a consistency your baby can handle. As baby gets older and tries more foods, combine rice cereal with fruit or vegetable purees.

Makes 1 cup

Note: Commercially prepared baby rice cereal is usually fortified with added iron. If you prepare rice cereal at home, discuss your baby’s iron needs with your pediatrician. Young babies can get iron from a range of foods, including breast milk, formula, meat, poultry, prunes and dried apricots. To store, refrigerate cooled cereal in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or fill ice cube trays or other containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Baby’s Organic Turkey
Start with ground turkey for the easiest texture, then once baby is ready, simply puree or chop up pieces from your own adult cuts for baby. To sweeten the flavor, and smooth the texture, stir in baby’s pear or apple puree.

½ pound organic ground turkey
¼ cup water

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add turkey and water. Cook, breaking up and stirring turkey constantly about 3 – 5 minutes, or until meat is cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from heat and let cool. Drain and reserve cooking liquid.

Transfer turkey to food processor fitted with a steel blade and puree 1 minute. With machine running, add reserved cooking liquid by the tablespoonful. Texture will be paste-like. Add more liquid to thin puree to a consistency your baby can handle.

Makes about 1 cup

Baby’s Organic Sweet Pea Puree
Homemade peas should be bright green, unlike the drab colored jarred versions available at the supermarket. To help the peas retain their vibrant color, do not overcook them. Frozen peas are the next best thing to fresh spring peas: they’re available year-round and they will save you the time and effort of shelling.

2 cups (10 ounces) organic peas, fresh or frozen

Bring 1 inch water to a boil in a pot. Put peas in a steamer basket, set in pot, cover tightly and steam until bright green and tender enough to mash with a fork: 5 – 7 minutes for fresh or hard frozen peas, and 3 minutes for thawed frozen.

Remove basket from pot, reserving cooking liquid. Rinse peas under cold running water to stop cooking. Puree peas in a food processor until smooth. Add cooking liquid, breast milk or formula to thin pea puree to a consistency that your baby can handle.To store: refrigerate cooled pea puree in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or fill ice cube trays or other containers to freeze for up to 3 months.
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Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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