By Lindsay Courcelle
As I was out walking with my daughter a few days ago, our neighbor motioned to us and we went to say hello. She had just celebrated her 84th birthday, and I told her that I’d love to know her secrets of how to age so gracefully.
Her reply was that food today is not the same as when she was young. She continued, “Back then, we drank raw milk, had fresh eggs, and vegetables from the garden.” She credits her good start with food as a child to her good health today.
Indeed, many foods we eat today would have been unrecognizable to her growing up in the 1930s. Foods were eaten fresh and in their whole forms instead of being processed and packaged.
I took this opportunity to ask her about the first foods she fed her kids. With a five-month old daughter who is increasingly curious about my dinner plate, this has become a subject of interest. She said the first food was gruel, made with oats. Then, baked potatoes, mashed up. And finally, homemade applesauce.
In Vermont, we have access to many locally grown foods that are good for babies. Some that come to mind are mushy purees like applesauce, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. But there are many different schools of thought as to what to feed to baby.
One approach shies away from purees and instead focuses on letting babies feed themselves as soon as solid foods are introduced. This method is known as Baby-led Weaning (BLW). Simply give your baby suitably sized pieces of food, let her use her fingers to get the food to her mouth, and baby will suck on, and eventually chew, the food. Perfect starters would be steamed carrots or a baked potato, but curry is also a possibility.
Proponents of Baby-led Weaning believe that babies will learn all that they need to by feeding themselves. Some parents may fear that baby will choke, but those who practice BLW say that gagging is different than choking, and an important evolutionary survival mechanism. When a baby gags, she moves the food around in her mouth, and prevents choking.
Baby-led Weaning gives children an opportunity to discover food and flavors in a way that encourages independence and confidence. BLW is meant to be accompanied by breastfeeding, ensuring that baby gets all the nutrition they need as they start to explore different foods.
Another interesting school of thought that utilizes many local foods is the Weston A. Price diet. Price was a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930s to study indigenous populations who were not yet touched by modernity, and hence, attained a level of health that we don’t see today.
The first foods in a Weston Price diet are lightly boiled egg yolks from pastured hens. The egg whites are more likely to cause allergic reactions, and so should be avoided until baby turns one. But the yolks are rich in choline and cholesterol which are critical for brain and nervous system development. Occasionally, you can grate raw liver (which has been frozen for at least 14 days to avoid harmful parasites) into the egg yolk. Liver is rich in iron, vitamins, and trace minerals, and is a highly important food for most indigenous cultures.
After this, pureed meats, raw fruits like bananas, cooked fruits like apples, and cooked vegetables can be added to baby’s diet. Vegetables like carrots and beets should be steamed and mixed with a liberal amount of fat, such as butter or coconut oil, to provide nutrients to aid in digestion. Grains should be avoided for at least a full year because babies do not produce the needed enzymes to handle cereals, especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, before then.
I am barely a beginner when it comes to parenting and feeding babies, so you should of course consult your physician or read more about these approaches for more information. No matter your approach, consider shopping locally for your baby foods, like organic sweet potatoes from Laughing Child Farm, applesauce from Yoder Farm, or eggs and veggies from our many dedicated Rutland-area farmers.
Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a vegetable farm business in Shrewsbury. Learn more at www.AlchemyGardensVT.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald on April 5, 2016.