Sunday, September 9, 2012

food fights, food peace

Bah, I had high hopes for this post, thinking it was going to be a concisely worded minefield of invaluable advice for weaners (har har har!) the world over.  Sadly, it's taken me well over two weeks to write it thanks to Dulcie being unsettled in the evening (blogging time) and all through the night (brain recharging time) of late, so I kind of lost my thread and my mojo along the way.  But I had invested too much to give up, so I just crammed in, list style, what I could remember of what I planned to say.  I should also add that I am no expert in weaning babies (or babies in general) but I have been feeling like I've been on a mighty steep learning curve lately and I wanted to share what I have discovered since it's really the first time I have felt like I've had any baby know-how to share - rather a nice feeling, hark at me!  Hopefully it will help somebody some day, even if all they get from it is an idea of what pasta shapes are easiest for a baby to hold...

Feeding a baby can be hard work.  Aside from the mess (not that the mess should be underestimated - jeez!) there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day.  Dulcie has no sooner finished breakfast and had some milk than it seems to be time to make a start on her lunch.  When she was tiny and new to the eating game, she was quite happy to eat smooth purees from a spoon, but as we tried to introduce a bit more texture and variety into her diet, she decided that spoon feeding was not for her.  In some ways I was quite happy about this.  I had really wanted to do baby-led weaning with her, but because premature babies are weaned at such a young age/tiny size, it just wasn't feasible.  Now it seems that she wants to feed herself quite independently anyway.  Great!  The downside of this was that I really had no idea WHAT to feed her.  Pureed fruit and veg was easy to make and freeze in batches, but making a variety of food that she can pick up and feed herself takes a bit more effort and imagination.  Dulcie would quite happily eat toast for every meal, I think, but I am really keen for her to eat as varied a menu as possible before she gets set in her ways.  In the picture at the top of this post, taken a few weeks ago, she's eating a makeshift fish cake (the previous night's leftover baked potato with cheese and beetroot mixed up with the insides of two fish fingers and some plain flour then fried) served with a pea puree.  The fish cakes went down very well with Dulcie, who gobbled them all up.  Success!
But no sooner had I finished patting myself on the back, I was left wondering what I could make for her next meal a few hours later.  You can see Dulcie was wondering too!

Weaning is messy.  Live with it.
Weaning by spoon is messy enough.  Letting your baby feed herself means that mess times about one gazillion.  Don't feed your baby over a carpet.  I guess you could have worked that one out for yourself!  I know some people put newspaper under the high chair.  I don't bother with that (aren't most kitchen floors wipeable?) but I do like to double bib.  You can see from the pictures above that Dulcie has a muslin square tied around her under her not insubstantial bib.  I roll up her sleeves, tie the muslin round her neck and then tuck the ends of the muslin into her sleeves so she is totally covered.  She usually ends up with food smeared well past the elbow line and you'd be amazed how hard it is to remove regular old vegetable stains from clothes.  Dulcie hates (hates!) having her hands and face wiped once she's finished eating, but I find that if I get the worst of it off before lifting her out of the chair, she's much more amenable to a proper scrub once she's lying down.  I've no idea why that is.  Oh yeah, and I try to check nostrils after feeding too because about half a meal's worth of food can find its way up there.

Eggs are your friends.
Eggs were not something I'd always have in the house before, but they are now.  There are so many quick and easy last-minute baby meals that you can make with an egg and whatever else is lying around.  Dulcie's favourite way to eat eggs is as a one-egg omelette.  Sometimes she has it plain, sometimes with a bit of grated cheese (I'll try to give her some sort of vegetable alongside these) and sometimes she has it mixed up with a bit of pureed vegetable from the freezer.  I've usually got little pots of herby tomato and vegetable sauce (useful for making pizza) on the go, so I just mix that up with the beaten egg before frying.  Eggs are also useful for binding things like fish cakes before frying, or for making fritters with a bit of milk and flour and the ubiquitous tinned sweetcorn.  French toast has been another eggy success, whether plain, herby or cooked with cinnamon and topped with stewed pears and cream cheese, which brings me nicely onto...

Bread is invaluable.
I mentioned above how much Dulcie likes toast and you can spread almost anything on it - unsalted butter, cream cheese, pureed vegetables...  I used to faff about with toast, cutting all the crusts off and slicing it into little fingers.  I soon realised that Dulcie (even without a single tooth in her head) could munch crusts down no bother. I still cut it into fingers (or squares or triangles) though because then if she accidentally drops a piece on the floor, she'll still have plenty more toast to go rather than losing the whole slice in one go.  Incidentally, I also give her just a couple of fingers at a time for the same reason.  If I put the entire chopped-up slice in front of her, she'll sometimes sweep the whole lot off her tray in one go and wind up toastless.  When I'm feeling really lazy or stressed/busy (like when I'm trying to prepare dinner while Dulcie eats her lunch) I will sometimes just fling a dry slice of bread at Dulcie and, to be honest, she seems just as happy with that as she is with toasty fingers dripping in lovely butter.  Dry bread is also very useful for mopping up excess sauce at the end of a meal.  Recently I've also been using ordinary sliced bread to make a super-quick lunchtime pizza - toast one side under the grill, flip it over and spread with herby tomato and vegetable sauce from the freezer, blob on a few bits of mozarella and grill lightly before cutting into fingers.  Dulcie LOVES this meal, it takes about one minute to prepare and has vegetables, carbohydrates, fibre, calcium and fat.  She needs no help or encouragement to eat it on her own, leaving me free to eat my own lunch or potter about the kitchen.

Sometimes simple is sexy.
Well, maybe not sexy exactly, but often Dulcie will be more enthusiastic about things the more basic they are.  She's really not keen on eating anything I prepare for her with broccoli in it, but give her a couple of boiled/steamed broccoli florets in their unadulterated state and she'll chomp away quite happily.  One of her favourite delicacies of this last week has been sweetcorn straight from the tin.  I'll chuck a handful down in front of her and it keeps her entertained for ages.  I'm also entertained watching her chasing the kernels about and using all ten fingers to get just one in her mouth.  I know from her nappies the following day that she's succeeding in getting plenty in there in the end!

The family that eats together... eats! (But when do they cook?)
I used to feed Dulcie her evening meal at about 5pm and then try to have something ready for Graham and I when he got in from work at about 6.  Now that Dulcie can feed herself, it means we can all eat together.  It took a little while to break Dulcie's routine, but with a wee extra milk feed in the afternoon (she still drinks A LOT of milk most days) she can easily hold out until 6 to eat with us.  Since we've all started dining together, I have been trying to feed her the same as us whenever possible.  It takes a bit of forward planning, but I've realised that if you cut out the salt, a lot of what we already ate was fine for her anyway.  She's been enjoying pasta bakes, curry with rice, baked potato and salad...  There are lots of benefits to us eating together, but the main one for me is that Graham and I now get to eat without the distraction of a screaming baby who needs attention.  Late afternoon is a bit of a tired and grumpy time for Dulcie but now there's no more watching your food go cold while you try to cheer her up as 99% of the time she is very happy while eating.  The downside to eating together is that I used to prepare the grown-ups' food while Dulcie was entertained by eating hers.  Now I have to entertain Dulcie while I prepare dinner (rather than when I eat dinner) which is not always easy if she's feeling a bit needy.  I'll often try to make dinner in stages throughout the day, but then it can feel like it's taking over your life a bit.  If anyone has any tips on cooking with a baby around, I'd be glad to hear them.

Finger food doesn't have to be in fingers, but sometimes it helps.
It was really quite a revelation to me that finger food didn't have to be remotely finger shaped.  It may be messy and take a bit longer, but Dulcie is perfectly capable of eating the most tiny morsels with her bare hands.  I mentioned sweetcorn already and then there's peas too.  She'll also pick up and eat food like risotto or curry and rice (albeit mixed up so it's a bit more sticky).  There are some foods, however, that are much easier to manage if they are vaguely finger shaped.  One example of this is pasta.  Dulcie loses interest in the special baby pasta (teeny-tiny shells) but can hold onto and munch the long grown-up varieties.  The absolute best pasta shape for her is fusilli, the spiral-shaped one, as it gives her something to grip onto and stops it slipping out of her fingers so much.  This discovery was a great breakthrough for me as pasta is obviously very versatile and easy to prepare so it's great that we've been able to add it to Dulcie's independent-feeding menu.

When you run out of ideas, consult a recipe (or a friend) or two.
It's been very useful to have a sister who is currently weaning a baby too and who has gone through it before.  She has lots of ideas for quick and easy meals when I run out of inspiration.  Did you know if you mix three tablespoons of porridge oats with three tablespoons of milk and microwave it for two minutes you will get a solid(ish) substance that you can cut into slices and give to a baby for breakfast?  She also bought me a really good recipe book (where that porridge idea came from actually) full of quick fixes and tasty things you can cook for everyone in the household, not just the baby.  There's loads in there that I fancy making and we've already had great success with the cheesy lentil wedges (click on the link for the recipe).

If you've made it to the end of that, you deserve a little reward in the form of another of my classic home movies.  Ha!  I realise I run the risk of getting a reputation as someone who shoots and shares the world's most pointless unedited mini movies, but I can live with that.  Moving images in a blog post?!  It's sheer magic, man!  Dulcie's self-feeding skills have progressed somewhat since this was filmed, but I think you do get an idea of how relaxed and contented she is while eating.  One day this week while having lunch (bread-slice pizza and sweetcorn straight from the can) she sat in her high chair for over an hour, perfectly content all the while.  I was able to tidy up the kitchen while she fed herself.  It seems like food is one of the highlights of her day at the moment.  Long may it continue!

Holy guacamole, I am never writing an informative blog post again.  (Could you call this informative?!)  This has honestly nearly broken me.  Well, this combined with Dulcie making life in general really, really hard.  How ironic to spend weeks writing a blog post about raising babies while I'm pulling my hair out and not having a clue what to do with my own pesky infant behind the scenes.  My mum is coming to give me a week's respite/assistance as of tomorrow and I can not wait.  I just need to find a way to make it through tonight without totally losing it in the meantime.  That may not sound like much, but I feel my sanity is on a knife edge.  Nothing a good night's sleep wouldn't fix, I'm sure, but that is one thing I am certain not to be getting.  Better go and rescue Graham and his eardrums from the screaming.  Wish me luck :(


  1. Porridge/porage/oatmeal. Make it thick so it sets as it cools and then hack it into sort of fingers with your spoon and let her have at it. Also fruit fruit and more fruit. But not too much fruit. I find that Amelia has bottomless pit days and not that fussed days, too.

    1. Dulcie was not much into fruit for a while (I think because it was harder to hold than rice cakes!) but these days she is loving it. Nectarines, clementines, melon and lime (the wedge from her mother's drink) are her favourites at the moment. Banana she loves, but only mushed up with stuff. She won't eat it in unadulterated chunks for some reason. Once the pineapple in the kitchen ripens she'll be having that, which I think will go down well. All her fruit consumption is great for my five a day too. I'm loving having a well-stocked fruit bowl :)

  2. In response to above, bananas are great mashed onto a ryvita or cracker bread!!

    You are both so amazing, she is such a star!!

    I used to prepare evening meals after the afternoon nap, as they were refreshed and could be distarcted by a wooden spoon or a cracker in the high chair at the kitchen side with me.

    You have an ikea high chair, I loved mine as when the tray comes off they can sit up at the table with everyone else :)

    1. Dulcie is not much of a napper, but I will try to do the dinner prep in the post-nap window to see if it makes a difference. Thanks for the tip :)

  3. We're a week into our weaning journey - thanks for the tips :-) Very well timed for me!

    1. Ooh, enjoy! The early stages of weaning (well, weaning in general really) are so much fun :)

  4. My wee boy is coming up for 2 and I'm still having the mealtimes issues. It's so hard to cook when he's around but he doesn't nap and he loves eating so much the minute he sees me with food or near the cooker he wants in his chair and food on his plate. I have no idea how i'll cope when no2 makes an appearance.

    I think it sounds like you have a great approach and Dulcie is getting a wide variety of foods and textures and generally a big thumbs up to you. Findlay's nursery seem quite shocked at my stance on low salt, low sugar and non-processed foods as they seem to think that as a toddler 'treats' can be an everyday occurance and anything goes as long as it's in moderation. Ooops, ranting there.
    Hope you get the rest you deserve and need and I appreciate you ploughing through to post.

    1. Thanks :) I was just thinking today that this is probably a relatively easy stage - Dulcie is still getting lots of sustenance from milk so I don't get too hung up on food groups etc. I don't know how I'll cope when food becomes the be all and end all of her fuel intake. Pressure!

      And don't talk to me about nursery! :(


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