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You don’t have to be Australia’s best chef to make baby food at home. In fact, it is quite simple and the advantages are endless. By being homemade, bub will be eating foods free from preservatives and harmful chemicals. It also sets up your children with a love for healthy eating right from the start, making them appreciate fresh, wholesome food.

TOOLS AND APPLIANCES

The tools needed to make baby food are staples already lying around the kitchen. Not many are needed – minimal equipment will still make delicious food.

Blender or food processor

 Options like the Chicco 4-1 baby blender or Cherub Baby steamer blender are good options if looking to purchase. Otherwise, any blender that makes smoothies or purees food will work. If the blender is older, add an extra dash of liquid to make food a smooth consistency. 

Ice cube trays

 If the ice-cubes are calling these home already, check the local op shop to stock up on trays for an inexpensive price.

Steamer basket or insert

 This is needed to steam the food for purees. Steamer inserts can fit more produce but both will get the job done.

 Other tools include:

  • Baking sheet
  • Saucepans
  • Peelers
  • Spatulas
  • Knives
  • Freezer bags
  • Storage containers

COOKING TIPS

Main cooking techniques include steaming, roasting, baking or microwaving until food becomes tender. To preserve the nutrients from fruit and vegetables, opt for steaming not boiling and if ripe, they don’t need to be cooked at all.

Once cooled, transfer to a food processor of choice and blend for one to two minutes. Slowly add water, breastmilk or formula to reach a desired consistency – which ultimately should glide off the spoon.

Enhance taste and your baby’s palette by adding herbs and spices like sea salt, ginger, cinnamon and rosemary.

 STORAGE

Food will need to be kept in airtight containers, freezer bags or ice cube trays. Before transferring to the fridge or freezer, allow food to cool. Ice cube storage allows flavour combinations to be created as the small dosages of food can be mixed and matched.

The storage timeline for baby food is up to four days in the fridge, two months in the freezer for purees with meat and beans and up to three months in the freezer for fruit purees.

Labelling containers with the date and what is inside will allow for no confusion when choosing baby’s next meal.

RECIPES

Recipes from Babyfoode.com

Apple and coconut milk baby puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 6 apples – peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp cloves

 Method:

  1. Put the apples, coconut milk and cloves in a medium saucepan and cover. Heat over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until apples can be cut in half with a spoon. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer all ingredients into blender and puree until smooth.

Broccoli and olive oil puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups broccoli – chopped into small florets
  • 1 small potato or apple – peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil

 Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to boil over medium heat.
  2. Place broccoli and potato (or apple) into a steamer basket and place over boiling water. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Let cool slightly.
  3. Add the broccoli, potato (or apple) and olive oil into a blender and puree until smooth, adding water from the steamer in ¼ increments if needed.

Mango and Vanilla puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mango
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract or a pinch of fresh vanilla bean seeds

 Method:

  1. Put frozen mango and vanilla extract/bean into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir often until heated all the way through and tender roughly 3-4 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer into a blender. If mango mixture gets an excess of liquid while cooking, strain mangos and reserve liquid into a bowl.
  3. Blend on high for 1 minute or until the puree is smooth.

 

Only 50 per cent of Australians eat the right amount of fruit and vegetables. Here are some tried and true tips, tricks and strategies to include more fruits and vegetables in your family diet.   

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, and there is very good research confirming this. Not only do fruit and vegetables have protective effects for reducing our chance of getting cancer and heart disease, but anyone who eats the recommended amounts of two fruits and five vegetables are more likely to be a healthy weight.  

Adults are recommended to eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables, legumes or beans. The recommendations for children can be seen in the table. 

      Serves per day* 
    13-23 months  2-3 years  4-8 years  9-11 years  12-13 years  14-18 years 
Vegetables and legumes/beans  Boy  2-3  2 ½   4 ½   5  5 ½   5 ½  
Girl  2-3  2 ½   4 ½   5  5  5 
               
Fruit  Boy  ½   1  1 ½   2  2  2 
Girl  ½   1  1 ½   2  2  2 

 

*Additional amounts may be needed by children who are taller or more active 

What is a serve? 

A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g or: 

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables 
  • ½ cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils 
  • 1 cup salad vegetables 
  • ½ medium potato (no chips!) 
  • 1 medium tomato 

 

A standard serve of fruit is about 150g or: 

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear 
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruit or plums 
  • 1 cup canned fruit (no added sugar) 

 

Tip 1: Chat about Fruits and Vegetables 

Do you know what your children’s favourite fruit and vegetable is? I found it a fun exercise to ask my children. My seven year old daughter said mango and broccoli, and my three year old son said banana and carrot. This question led into a chat about fruits and vegetables and why they are so important in our diet. It is important to keep any conversation about food fun, light hearted and age appropriate.  

 I like to tell my children that fruits and vegetables are ‘super’ foods because of their different colours. For example, strawberries have folate in them which is important for our blood cells to grow. Mandarins and oranges have Vitamin C to help us stay well and heal cuts and bruises. Broccoli and baby spinach contain Vitamin A which is important to help us see at night and grow strong teeth. An easy way to find out more about fruits and vegetables is to Google them! 

 

Berry Smoothie
Serve 2
1 cup milk
½ cup baby spinach
½ cup frozen berries
2 tsp vanilla essence
½ cup ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Can add some honey to taste if desired. The spinach is hidden by the delicious berries!

Tip 2: Are they really hungry? 

If only I had a dollar for every time I heard one of my children say ‘I’m hungry’! My three year old will say this often after finishing his breakfast of three Weetbix, some oats and sultanas. So I am pretty confident that he isn’t hungry and I use this opportunity to ask him if his tummy is making hungry sounds or if he would like to play with his trains/get out his crayons or read a book. Usually it is just boredom and once I have set him up in an activity he is happy. 

Children have little tummies and can easily fill up on milk or juice (which I say doesn’t count as a serve of fruit because most juices don’t contain fibre). It can be useful to keep a food diary for a few days of what your child is eating as this can provide some clues on areas to improve. 

Tip 3: Encouragement and Praise

Children need to be offered, and encouraged, to eat foods. Vegetables are the most often rejected food – but each vegetable needs to be offered at least eight times before becoming a trusted and accepted food. I know just how frustrating it can be to see a child eat only one pea and refuse any more but the key is repetition, encouragement and praise.  

The jury is still out on rewards. The long standing ‘eat all your vegetables and you can have some ice cream’ can do more harm than good. If this is something that you are saying most nights then it probably isn’t working. The time when rewards of this nature can work is to encourage a child to try a food. If your child is refusing to even try different fruits or vegetables, a promise of a reward can work to encourage tasting, but after this it loses its value and may even cause a child to dislike a food even more. Beware of this backfiring! Noticing when they have made an effort and commenting on this goes a long way to improving eating habits. 

Tips from other Mums!

– Be creative and use cutters to cut fruit and vegetables into shapes

– Hide the vegetables!

– Eat together as a family

– Get the children to help prepare and cook the meal. From about the age of two children can start to use peelers to peel carrots/potatoes/sweet potatoes

– Grow some vegetables in your backyard

– Make fresh fruit ice lollies – puree some watermelon and add some sliced bananas, kiwi fruit and strawberries and put in ice moulds

– Frozen peas and corn make great snacks over the warmer months

– Vegetable pizzas with different vegetable pictures, such as a garden – broccoli for trees, carrot and peas for flowers

– Lots of different vegetables in small amounts often work better than just a couple of vegetables in big quantities

Tip 4: Plan to eat fruit and vegetables 

As parents we are in the powerful position of influencing what our children eat – but of course we aren’t the only influence – and our level of influence decreases as the children get older. So start early is my advice! If children see their parents eating and enjoying plenty of fruit and vegetables, then children are more likely to do the same. Children are more likely to adopt healthy eating behaviours when they have more than one person to imitate – so recruit as many family members as possible! 

 Children are often wary of foods, particularly foods that they haven’t enjoyed previously. Dinner time can be a particularly difficult time of day to encourage children to eat as they are often tired after a long day. If this is the case try lunch time and snacks to offer new fruits and vegetables when they are likely to be more receptive. Whole pieces of fruit such as bananas, apples and pears, or offering tomato and avocado on crackers or some vegetables sticks with peanut butter or a dip, are some easy, healthy snack options. 

Tip 5: Shop together 

I know that shopping with children is often one of the least favourite things to do. It is frustrating how things can take longer, packets can jump off shelves courtesy of little hands, and tantrums can occur. Consider visiting a fruit and vegetable market or your local farmers market with your child or children as an outing and opportunity for them to choose a fruit or vegetable that is in season that they would like to try. The rule is that whatever your child chooses you must buy and prepare, and you as the parent must try the food too. 

Empowering your child to make decisions about fruits and vegetables means they are more likely to try the food because they have been involved in the process.  

Finally, consistency plays a big role in getting children to eat their fruit and vegetables. There are always going to be those days where it comes down to a boiled egg and toast for dinner – but it is all about what happens most of the time.   

Accredited Practising Dietitian, founder of and Mum of three, Kate Bullen has gone from A for Additives to Z for Zinc, providing you a guide to keeping your family’s food healthy and nutritional.

 

 

 

Additives – may include preservatives that help keep our food safe to eat, or colours and flavours added to make food tastier and more appealing to eat. Most people don’t react to food additives, but some people do. If you think your child might be reacting to food additives, please speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Breakfast – it really is the most important meal of the day. Research has shown that children who eat breakfast are more likely to have a healthy diet. Quick and easy breakfasts include a piece of fruit, some toast, a smoothie or a couple of Weetbix with milk.

Calcium – needed for strong bones, which is most important in growing children. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are our best sources of calcium. But, we can also get calcium from other foods including almonds, tahini, salmon and dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy.

Drinks – the easiest, cheapest and healthiest drink is water, followed by milk. Drinks are important to stop children getting dehydrated – particularly in our hot summer months. Encourage regular drinks of water throughout the day and get children in the habit of having water as their first choice of drink.

Eggs – boiled eggs are our family’s easy meal. My children will have boiled eggs at least once a week – add a bit of salad to the plate, and some toast – and an easy, healthy and tasty meal is ready to eat. Children typically love eggs and they are a good powerhouse food with plenty of protein and other vitamins and minerals.

Fruit – summer fruit is the best! Watermelon, grapes, mangoes, stonefruit – all so tasty and plentiful. Fruit is great for snacks, but also delicious when whizzed up with some milk and yoghurt to make a smoothie, or used in baking muffins. Frozen grapes are an easy fruit to add into the lunchbox – and stay cool till lunch which increases the chances of them being eaten!

 

Genetically Modified Food – relatively new in Australia, and really comes down to personal choice. As yet we don’t know if there are any long term effects of eating genetically modified food. Most foods will be labelled if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Hunger – does this phrase sound familiar “Mum – I’m hungry”? I hear this many times a day! Sometimes it’s true hunger, sometimes it’s ‘boredom hunger’. Children typically need to eat every two to three hours as they only have little stomachs – so this can be a clue as to whether they are truly hungry. If you don’t think your child is hungry, try re-directing them to another activity until it is time to eat to avoid ‘boredom eating’.

Iron – if you have a teenager at home, you might want to check if they are getting enough iron as the amount of iron they need increases during the teen years. If they don’t get enough iron, anaemia can develop. The best sources of iron are red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, wholegrain breads and cereals.

Junk food – it is almost impossible to completely avoid junk food, but keep it to special occasions. Once a week is occasional, when junk food is eaten every day then you may need to reassess a child’s diet.

Kilojoules – the preferred unit of measuring energy in Australia, abbreviated to kj. Kilojoules are what you will see referred to on food labels. Calories are the alternative measure of energy. One calorie = 4.186 kilojoules.

Legumes – baked beans, chick peas, lentils and kidney beans are all lentils (sometimes also called ‘pulses’). They are a great sources of protein and fibre – try adding some legumes into your next mince dish. Lentils go almost unnoticed by children, so can be a good one to try.

Meat – choose lean meat with very little visible fat. Red meat such as beef and lamb is a great source of iron and zinc.  Eating lean meat a couple of times a week is a great way to make sure your kids get plenty of these nutrients.

Nuts – fantastic sources of protein, fibre and vitamins. Great snacks for older children, although not appropriate for taking to school due to the risk for any children with nut allergies.

Overweight and obesity – current research shows that 23 per cent of primary school aged children are overweight or obese. If you are concerned about your child, speak with your GP and an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Probiotics – good bacteria to help keep the digestive system healthy.  Most useful to reduce the likelihood of antibiotic-induced diarrhoea. Whenever my children have a dose of antibiotics, I usually get some probiotic yoghurt and milk drinks to have daily for a couple of weeks.

Recipes – involve your children in cooking and planning family meals, and they will be more likely to eat the food. This is a win-win!

Sugar – naturally occurring sugar in fruit and milk is unlikely to be a concern in a child’s diet as they provide other important nutrients. Added sugar in foods (eg. biscuits, cakes) is something to watch out for, as sugar can be easily over-eaten – particularly by children.

Trans Fat – avoid as can increase cholesterol levels. Most often found in processed foods such as biscuits and pastries, fried foods and takeaways.

Underweight – less common than overweight, but can still be cause for concern. If you are worried about the weight of your child, please speak to your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Vegetables – very few of us eat enough vegetables. Children will typically model their eating from their parents. If there is one change you make to your families eating, then I would strongly encourage it to be eating more vegetables. This is a change you won’t regret!

Whole grains – choose whole grains instead of refined and processed grains to get more fibre and antioxidants.

Zinc – essential for normal growth and development in children. Good sources of zinc include lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals.

For more information, head to Kate Bullen’s website www.dietitianonline.com.au