Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What's cooking Mum hacks

When Levi started eating real food at almost 5 months old, I was almost giddy with excitement. I had a couple of baby cook books that I had been itching to try out and I spent ages at the store picking out produce and hours in the kitchen whipping up batches of various concoctions, freezing them in ice cube trays and then storing it all away in labelled zip lock bags. Each night I would take food out of the freezer for the next day, storing it in breakfast, lunch and dinner bowls and giving it time to defrost properly before I warmed it to perfect baby temperature the next day.

Levi loved purees and gladly ate whatever I fed him with little exception. By the time he was into finger foods, I had moved onto the later chapters of my cook books and was once again chomping at the bit to try out new recipes and new mixtures of flavours. And again, he devoured what he was given and I felt like a good Mum for giving him such a healthy start in life.

I love, love, love to cook and this part of motherhood was something I had been looking forward to for ages. I loved preparing meals for my family, baby and all. Levi's schedule meant that I would prepare his evening meal and feed him separately, at around 5pm so he was ready for bath and bed when Daddy got home. Sometimes he ate what we were having and sometimes I prepared something just for him. It wasn't until right before Nora was born that he started to eat meals with us and go to bed later so it gave me a year of being his personal chef, a role I just thrived in.

And then we welcomed Nora into our lives. Bless her feisty little heart. We never tried to get her fed and to bed as early as we had done with Levi because it just didn't seem to fit with the schedule of our family. Her sleeping was never as consistent and neither were her meal times. She is a typical second child in that respect. Food-wise I had high hopes and aspirations that she would have the same healthy, semi-gormet baby food experience that her brother had experienced...ha ha ha (That's me now, laughing at me then)

All of a sudden she was five months old and I realised that she was very interested in what we were eating. I needed to get it together. I will also add we were in the middle of a significant home remodel project with a goal to get the house on the market asap once it was finished so it wasn't exactly the most convenient timing (not her fault in any way, just life, but worthy of a mention).

I got a couple of sweet potatoes, pears, some carrots, squash and parsnips and made a batch of purees. Froze and stored them just like Levi and felt very accomplished. I didn't have the same sense of delight as I had done preparing his food but still it was done and checked off the list. Only, Nora didn't take to them with the same gusto as her brother. If only I could remember to get them out to defrost them in time she would eat a few bites but it felt like a lot of effort for this lukewarm reception! Still, she was into eating. Her fine motor skills surpassed Levi and she was very quickly not interested in being spoon fed but instead wanted to pick up food and feed herself. I am not anti baby-led weaning on principle but honestly it requires a level of supervision that I wasn't always in a place to provide while chasing a toddler too. Not to mention she didn't get her first tooth until almost 9 months old so that limited our options too. She had lots of store bought (organic) puffs [Yes, I mention they are organic just to lessen my Mum guilt, bear with me] She had small bites of toast in the morning, scrambled egg when Levi had that, maybe some banana? But seriously, her people food menu for the first few months was limited to say the least and at best inconsistent.

By this time we had sold our house and were here, living with my in-laws. No one was sleeping well and life just had extra stress which put making my own baby food much lower on the list. Every meal time I would feel guilty and every time when she would nurse desperately after a meal time I felt terrible. The store bought snacks and bars became a staple and even though the emergence of her two teeth made slices of pear or cucumber a non life threatening addition to her menu I still felt she needed more.

Then it happened, one day when I was in the baby aisle at Safeway getting some bars and I saw the pouches of purees. I picked up a couple of veggie blends and promised myself I would only use them in an emergency - which meant of course they were eaten over the next two days and I returned for more. Apparently, it wasn't the puree itself she was anti, just her lack of independence in eating it. If she could hold and suck the pouch she gladly did. For a month or so she ate one almost every day and almost every day I would find myself wishing she wasn't and justifying it but never really feeling ok about the decision, more just feeling like it was the only option to feed my baby.

Then one day, I bought a pouch that was something like, 'Kale, spinach and quinoa' and when I got home I realised I had all those ingredients at home. That was it. I needed to try and make her food again. I had reusable pouches that I had bought for Levi but he'd never really taken to and for some reason had them with us and hadn't stored them away in the move so I dug them out and got to work.

I was so stuck on fresh produce which this time of the year is hard to find a huge variety of anyway and we were now miles from our beloved market which stocked all kinds of organic bounty and were making do with Safeways offerings so that made things even less available. I had an epiphany. Frozen food.

While many fruits and veggies are not in season to buy fresh there are lots of frozen, organic options that are good year round and honestly, in this season of life are easier and quicker to prepare anyway. That's the Mum hack part :)

I tried cooking peach slices, strawberries, blueberries spinach and quinoa together, blended it and put it in a pouch which was supped down in record time by my littlest lovely. Score!

I also picked up a frozen root vegetable blend frozen mix that I have cooked and blended with brown rice, again to rave reviews.

She is still very into feeding herself so the  pouches are only part of her meals, but honestly this has been a real journey of heart for me. Recognizing my own limits and values and finding my way to a balance. Making a way to find peace with both those pieces of my heart and finding joy in feeding my family again!

It might seem silly, but its been heavy on my heart. We all have our Mum things, right?

For some it's screen time and what their kids can or cannot watch, for others it is what kind of diapers they wear, for me it's food. It's my creative outlet, and I want to raise kids who are not afraid of new flavours or who are unwilling to try new foods. It is a work in progress. As they grow up, they do and will have seasons where pickiness or times when preference will become an issue but so far these have been short lived. So if food is your thing, and you are a mama struggling with something similar I urge you to find your way to balance. If cost is an issue then frozen is also a great option. And honestly, its been such fun to mix up the different fruits and veggies and see my baby girl experience new tastes and textures.

Levi is old enough now to want to help in the kitchen and I love that he shows interest and then takes pride in the things we cook together. I hope that soon Nora will be eager to join the team too :)

[Now, if we could just find a house so we can have these experiences in our own kitchen, that would be even more fabulous!]

*Just in case it's not clear, this is in no way a judgement (I know I can get defensive really quickly if I feel like someone is telling me I'm not doing the best by my kids) Many kids I know have been raised on store bought foods and they are just as happy and healthy as mine. It also doesn't mean I will never feed Nora store bought baby foods, this was just a slice of the journey to finding peace with how I am feeding my kids; the choices that I made and how I let life make those choices for a while before I decided that I had to make a change and find a way to make her food.

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