Science Mom: Feeding Baby

Graduate Division

When it comes to baby food, I married a complete and total hippie, although this really only applies to our baby’s food, and not at all to what we, as parents, consume.

For instance, before we had a kid, there was the incident at Trader Joe’s when I lazily tossed some organic 29 cent bananas into the cart, instead of going out of my way for the non-organic 19 cent bananas.

“Who cares about 10 cents?” I said. My husband and I were both grad students at the time, and he absolutely cared about 10 cents. To my surprise, having a child transformed my penny-pinching husband into an organic-only, hormone-free, locally grown, “Does this have nitrates?” farmers’-market hippie.

I can understand this impulse. As parents, we try so hard to give our children the best. Even before our babies are born, mothers are carefully monitoring their nutrition and avoiding dangerous food and drink.

After our babies are born, the amount of milk intake can be an issue of great preoccupation for parents, particularly for a baby that is being exclusively breastfed. For breastfed babies, there’s not an exact way to measure the amount going in, other than looking at the amount coming out.

Then as a baby transitions to solids, there are foods that babies should not eat, like honey, cow’s milk or soy milk. There are also foods that can cause allergic reactions, like eggs, milk, peanuts, fish and shellfish. These foods should be introduced one at a time. One can see how feeding your child the first foods, although exciting, can also be daunting.

Anyway, one day, the hippie comes home with a mini food processor under his arm and announces that we will be making all our own baby food. I didn’t take issue with his declaration at the time. Like most things baby-related, it seemed easy in theory.

In the beginning, we would mash a slice of avocado, or puree a banana. Babies eat so little at first, so food preparation isn’t all that time-consuming.

Gradually, our kid began eating more and more. Eventually, preparing separate meals every day got to be a lot of work. Even though we tried freezing baby food, the freezer would quickly get filled with food that our kid refused to eat.

You just can’t reason with babies. Even though it’s a $25 free-range, organic chicken stew with veggies that took you several hours to make, just like that, they will spit it in your face.

And then they’ll laugh.

After one too many days of wiping homemade, organic, whole-fat yogurt off the kitchen tiles, I decided that I’d had enough. I went to the store to buy one of those food pouches that I had seen on the playground. They are basically plastic pouches filled with baby food, and on top there is a twist-off cap that reveals a spigot.

So, you take the spigot and stick it in the kid’s mouth. Then you squeeze the pouch and the food squirts directly into the kid’s stomach. I brought this home to test, and my kid loved it! It was so easy and clean, too. Everything was totally groovy, until the hippie came home and saw the empty food pouch in the trash.

I watched his face turn from confusion to horror as he realized that his baby boy had been fed processed baby food — from a plastic pouch!

My husband calmly explained to me that part of the reason that he wanted to make all the homemade baby food was because he felt like it was a good way for him to play a larger role in feeding our son. When a baby is younger and being exclusively breastfed, fathers can sometimes feel left out.

Ultimately, we decided that my husband would prepare all the baby food, and take care of most of the feedings. This gave him more bonding time with our baby, and helped him feel more useful.

I felt grateful to have a husband who really wanted to be more involved in caring for our child. His support is a major reason why I am able to maintain my sanity as a mother and grad student.

In terms of organic food, my husband’s penny-pinching side eventually murdered the hippie within him, and now we use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list.

These are lists of fruits and vegetables that are known to contain either the highest (Dirty Dozen) or lowest (Clean Fifteen) levels of pesticide residues. We use these lists as guides to determine which foods to buy organic: