Once upon a time, a long time ago, when Delphine was still a baby, some friends wondered how a person who can barely manage to feed themselves without a takeout menu can manage to feed a child. I used to think I would be able to answer that question, but the fact is I have become very domestic in the last few years; I have a kitchen that is almost always clean enough to cook in, I have multiple pans and knives, I have a working dishwasher, I have enough staples on hand to cook a dinner or bake a cake. I even have a chest freezer.
One day this could be you (well, maybe not the chest freezer). The journey from urban restaurant forager to urban chef has been one of many steps, and one of them was having a child who needed good food, not just leftover pizza (although they still get that sometimes). So it may be that having to feed your child properly is exactly the kick in the pants you need to learn how to feed yourself properly too.
But that is neither here nor there -- what you need to know right now, with your hungry six month old on your knee, mouth agape, is how and what do I feed her now?
Your first and best friend in this task is the boxed baby cereal. The one I always get is Heinz -- look for one with as few extraneous ingredients as possible, especially without milk or added formula. Lots of baby cereals have milk in them; those cereals are for formula-fed babies who have already been exposed to the hard-to-digest foreign proteins in cow's milk -- if your baby is exclusively breastfed there is no need to expose her to those proteins until she is ready for them, in a couple of months. So look for cereal that just has grain, and probably a couple of vitamins, in the ingredient list. Get used to reading ingredient lists -- you will be doing it a lot.
Start with rice cereal -- rice is the easiest grain to digest. If you're a champion pumper you can mix it with breastmilk, otherwise use water. You're supposed to use boiled, cooled water -- I just used whatever's in the bottom of the kettle from my last cup of tea, which was never very long ago. If you trust your municipal water supply, after a while you will just use tap water if you're lazy like me.
A little bit of cereal a couple of times a day is fine to start off with. Remember, real food is just recreational for now -- your baby gets all her nutrition from breastmilk (or formula) at this stage, and will until she is a year old.
Do rice for a week, then try barley and oatmeal -- these are also very easy to digest. If you are brave enough to try them, you will find that the tastiest of the cereals is barley, despite being the unappetizing grey colour of papier mache.
You're supposed to wait four days or so between introducing new foods -- Cordelia is almost eight months old as I write this, and I am introducing new foods at a manic pace of one a day or so. You might be more conservative if you have any concerns about allergies or if your baby is sensitive to new tastes and takes a while to get used to them, or if you're just nervous. Whatever works for you.
After you have your baby nicely warmed up on cereal, you can introduce fruits and veg. My doctor suggested doing orange, then yellow, then green, but I think this whole process is complicated enough without bringing the rainbow into it. Just introduce whatever you think would be fun. (See the chart I posted for ideas.)
Jarred Food or Homemade?
Both. Jarred food is convenient, and you can get good stuff. You can even get organic if it's important to you. Just, again, read the labels and don't buy anything with added sugar or starch. If the jar says "Sweet Potato" the ingredient list should say "sweet potato" and nothing else. Use your good sense.
Two things to avoid: jarred banana tastes weird because it's cooked, so it actually has that fake banana taste, and also, how hard is it to mash up a banana with a fork? Buying jarred banana is just embarrassing. And jarred green beans are sour and horrible -- homemade green beans aren't nice either; they just don't puree well. Green beans can wait until your baby has learned how to chew.
But homemade baby food is nice, too -- there are lots of fruits and vegetables that you can't get jarred -- okra? asparagus? mango? And there's a warm, fuzzy feeling to feeding your baby something you have made with your own hands.
How to make homemade baby food? This is the easiest way:
- open a bag of frozen peas
- dump some in the beaker that came with your hand blender (You do have a hand blender, don't you? How do you make milkshakes?)
- Pour in just enough water to cover the peas
- put a saucer over the top of the beaker
- stick it in the microwave for a few minutes, until the water boils and the peas get a little bit soft
- drain off the water
- blend the peas into mush
Put some in a bowl, wait until it cools, serve. Put the rest into those little one-cup or half-cup Gladware containers and freeze. (Everyone says to use ice cube trays, but they are a pain in the ass, and my kid easily eats a quarter-cup at a sitting, which is way more than one ice cube.)
You can do the same with other frozen vegetables, or frozen or canned fruit (you don't have to microwave the fruit, obviously). If the resulting puree is too runny, add some of the dry baby cereal to thicken it.
If you have a clean knife and cutting board kicking around, you can do much the same thing with any fresh vegetable or fruit (with the exception of berries and tomatoes, which can be allergenic). If you prefer, cook it in a pan on the stove, if you have a clean pan and your stove works.
Get someone else to clean up, you have done enough.