Kitchen Tips from a Rookie Mom: Preparing Healthy & Tasty Foods for your Family
This post originally appeared on our old blog Born to be a Bride.
When we were engaged and living in Dallas, I got really into cooking. It didn’t hurt that my work schedule had me home (traffic and all), by 5:30. Or that I didn’t have a little one to run around after, so my time was my own. (Not complaining, but facts are facts!) Josh and I slimmed down dramatically that year as we were no longer eating takeout constantly, and I had finally learned my way around the kitchen. I picked up time-honored recipes from friends and colleagues and did healthy twists on them, swapping a bed of rice for one of spinach, or subbing fat-free Greek yogurt in for sour cream or mayonnaise.
Anyway, cooking was an adventure. I had my successes and failures. But always, I had fun. Then, I had a baby. All desire to cook went out the window when Willow was tiny. Okay, even if I had the desire, I just didn’t have the energy, strength, or free hands. Josh and I got back into takeout (mostly salads!) or he would whip something up when he got home from work as I sat on the couch and cried because I felt like a failure. Yeah, new-mom hormones are super-fun!
Willow was exclusively breastfed to six months and then we started her on solids. Very slowly at first, we tried sweet potatoes, then avocado a few days later. We moved on to bananas (something she absolutely loves and that we mix into almost everything as a “sweetener”), peaches, and so on. The beginning was fun, if a little sad. Part of me will always miss my newborn who was reliant 100% on me; watching her eat foods was so cool but one step away from her mama. And making purees of one or two ingredients isn’t exactly exciting. Once we’d cycled through everything on the “baby’s firsts” list of fruits and veggies, I was stumped. What now?
I caved and bought a few of those pouches of organic baby food one week, because we were on the road a bunch and it was just easier. But through the age-appropriate ingredients found in those, and my own research, I started to get inspired. I also have a fantastic baby cookbook that’s helped to guide me in the direction of what Wills can have now, how to prompt her to try new things, and offered up suggestions on prep. The once arduous task of dicing vegetables is now filled with a joyful twist. I’m making it for her.
Call me a crazy rookie, but one week into really cooking for my girl, I’m loving it. It’s just fun watching her face light up when she tries new things, and letting her make a big old mess trying to feed herself, too. Yesterday, I took the base for the tomato sauce featured in the book, and upped the ante with some added ingredients for more complex flavor. Also, I decided to make it in bulk this go-round, since I know Willow likes the basic flavors. The measurements were pretty loose, but it worked perfectly in the end.
First, I diced up 3/4 of an organic white onion and about 12 organic baby carrots very fine. I sautéed them in a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft. Then, I poured in a half cup of water, a half cup of frozen organic corn, half a can of organic diced tomatoes, and two finely chopped basil leaves. I covered and let that simmer on medium heat for another 10 minutes. Then, I allowed it to cool for a few before pouring it into the Vitamix to blend until semi-smooth.
Once the mixture had cooled down quite a bit, I poured it into freezer-safe baby food containers and made myself quite the stash. I left out enough for two days of lunches, and then simmered some baby-safe pasta (about two dry tablespoons worth) on the stove in an inch of water. I’ve found this is a much easier way to cook pasta for baby since they need so little. Willow is gluten-free for now, so we used Riso di Pasta rice pasta in a baby-friendly shape. If your kiddo is okay with wheat, many brands have fun shapes and textures like stars and tiny macaroni that babies love. Cook the pasta until quite soft (not al dente for baby!) and then sprinkle a little mozzarella or cheddar cheese on top. Mmmmm!
I used to see these women making baby food and think they were nuts — or super-talented in the kitchen. Turns out that’s not necessarily true. This is one of the easiest things I’ve ever made in my life, and it’s absolutely delicious. For adult consumption, I recommend a dash of salt and pepper. But other than that, it’s a crowd-pleaser and a healthy alternative to jarred sauce. Not that jarred sauce is always a “bad” thing, but many do contain high levels of sugar. And this one has sneaky vegetables inside! Moving forward, I plan to stuff more in there — kale, broccoli, and so on. But carrots were a great start, because just like her mama, Willow hates them — even though she needs them.
As for the adults’ dinners? Summer mode is on strong here and we recently acquired a grill. Josh has been grilling up lean protein and tossing tons of super salads for healthy fare we can enjoy at our dining-room-table-slash-crafts-area. (Yes, I need a new place to make bows. Let’s save that for another post!)