Baby Knows Best

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but sometimes baby knows best. If you’re having trouble getting your baby to eat, try following his lead. Obviously, babies don’t know anything about nutrition, or electric outlets, or the dangers of drinking antifreeze. That means they don’t need to run the show, but it doesn’t mean their preferences should be ignored entirely.
Babies come equipped to express their needs. If you’re a parent, you’re well aware of your baby’s ability to communicate hunger, discomfort, frustration, anger, and a preference for mommy and daddy. Each baby, like each adult, is slightly different. A one-size-fits-all approach to introducing solid food can result in frustrated babies and irritated parents. Eventually, all babies will learn to eat solid food, but why not make the process as painless as possible?

This is a frequent topic of discussion with my son who believes that hands and the floor should stay clean and whatever’s offered should be eaten…no matter what. Sometimes I wonder if he’s forgotten how he was raised. He was allowed to make a mess, get his hands dirty, and choose not to eat something as long as he was eating something else that was offered.

Mind you, I understand it’s not fun to clean up the mess my grandson DJ makes. The first day I decided to see if he was ready to scoop food out of a bowl by himself, I ended up with food all the way to the top of my refrigerator door. From this I determined he’s not ready to handle a bowl, but he knows how to have fun!

I prefer to keep meal time a lighthearted learning experience rather than a battle of wills. All this requires is a sense of humor, attentive observation, and a little preventative maintenance. I now cover the floor under the high chair with a sheet so that cleanup is quick and easy. If DJ wants to mash the banana on his tray rather than eat it, we make a game of it. After all, he’s learning what foods are called, how taste & textures vary, how to pick up small pieces of food, and depth perception. At 8 months, he’s not ready to learn table manners yet. That will come. Of course I set some limits. When DJ decides to spit peas, he gets one free pass. After that, the peas go away until another meal.
It can be easy to assume a baby wants to spit peas because she’s misbehaving or hates green vegetables, but it’s obvious that DJ is just having fun making noise, making a mess, and watching my response. He loves it when I think he’s funny. After we have a laugh, he usually goes right back to eating. He actually likes peas.

Food preferences can develop before a baby is born. A child who spits out spinach may gobble up asparagus or broccoli. When you offer a large variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, you’ll soon learn where your child’s preferences lie so that you can incorporate some of those foods into the family menu on a regular basis.

DJ’s parents feed him regular food that they prepare at home. That way he can eat the same foods they’re eating and they can know exactly what he’s consuming. While they have chosen not to use prepared baby food, they are creating traditional purées for him to eat from a spoon.

After a month or so of success introducing foods, DJ began to gag or shudder whenever the spoon approached his mouth. He no longer seemed to like foods that he loved the day before. He also seemed reluctant to touch his tray, and he clearly wasn’t enjoying himself at meal time.

I might not know how to solve that specific problem immediately, but I know how to make the experience more engaging. Once a baby is engaged, a little observation can lead to some possible solutions. Babies love to put things in their mouth. They enjoy touching new textures. DJ needed to get his hands dirty.
I bought him a silicone spoon that works as both a teether and a spoon. It’s easy to hold with no pointed end to endanger a baby’s eyes. Of course DJ wanted to grab it and chew on it. Then I added food — the same food that he gagged at when I tried to feed him. He grabbed the spoon, ate a big bite, looked at me and said, “Mmmmm!” He had fun for the rest of the meal. Weeks later, DJ is still having fun at meal time and he’s eating well. Sometimes he’s happy for me to feed him. Sometimes, he wants control of the spoon. I simply follow his lead.

The result of a little observation and willingness to experiment is a baby who has shown us that he prefers vegetables to fruits and eats a wide variety — spinach, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, butternut squash, black eyed peas, potatoes, and carrots. He also likes chicken, avocado, cantaloupe, dates, and mango. He doesn’t like to eat bananas, but he loves to smash them into his tray.
DJ Eating
As his world expands, DJ’s preferences will continue to evolve. We plan to take note and include his new preferences in our meal plans. We will offer simple choices between A and B rather than open ended questions regarding what he wants to eat. This will give DJ control over his diet within the boundaries of the adults who know he will thrive with fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and eventually eggs, dairy, and whole grains. Our goal is to provide healthy food while keeping meal time peaceful and fun. My son and I can agree on this.

If you run into a problem getting your child to eat, keep offering a variety of fresh food, follow his lead whenever it makes sense, and remember to have fun! That may be all it takes to solve the problem.

Treating Depression with Diet

Will the medical community begin treating depression with diet? Of course, I hope so. At Cooking2Thrive, we support healthy diet and exercise as a first step in treating and preventing any disease. If that first line of treatment works, there’s no need for the introduction of chemical medications that may have numerous adverse side effects. The use of diet and exercise first also reduces the cost of medical care. Finally, science has begun controlled trials that can show whether diet is effective treatment for specific conditions.
Diet as effective as drugs?

We know that exercise can be as effective as drugs for some conditions. How we fuel our cells is bound to affect how they perform, so in some ways this result doesn’t seem all that surprising. But don’t get too excited yet. One promising study doesn’t mean there will be any immediate change in protocol in psychiatric medicine.

For one thing, this study was small and small may or may not reflect the results you would find in a larger group. Before the medical approach changes, there will need to be larger studies that repeat this result.
It’s food, not drugs.

The good news is that this improvement was driven by food, not drugs. If you suffer from depression, it may be possible to improve your outlook by changing your diet on your own. Do not take this as a license to discontinue any medication you are currently taking without consulting your physician. Some antidepressants must be tapered down in order to avoid adverse reactions. Instead, work with your physician or therapist to revise your treatment plan to include nutritional counseling and dietary change.
In the SMILES study mentioned above, the experimental group received dietary advice and nutritional counseling that included goal setting and mindful eating. The specific dietary recommendations were:
5-8 servings per day of whole grains
6 vegetable servings per day
3 fruit servings per day
3-4 legume servings per week
2-3 servings per day of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods
1 serving per day of raw and unsalted nuts
At least 2 servings per week of fish
3-4 servings per week lean red meat
2-3 servings per week chicken
Up to 6 eggs per week
3 tbsp per day olive oil
Up to two glasses of wine per day only with meals. Red wine preferred.

In addition, participants were encouraged to reduce intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks, and any alcohol beyond two glasses of wine per day with a meal.

As you can see, there’s nothing radical here. The experimental group was simply consuming the kind of healthy diet that benefits all of us.
I know I told you not to get too excited, but if the results of this study hold true, the news is incredibly exciting!!!

According to the CDC, 3% of Americans (more than 9 million) over the age of 12 had severe depressive symptoms in 2012. Almost 43% of those reported serious difficulties at home, at work, and socially. Of that 43%, only 35% reported having contact with a mental health professional during the past year and those living below the poverty level were 2.5 times more likely to have depression than those above the poverty level. Dietary support can be a powerful way to help the approximately 1.4 million severely depressed people who do not have a mental health professional.

Dietary support and change can also improve the mood and resilience of those who suffer from diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, heart disease, fatigue, reflux, and eczema. All we have to do is overcome our resistance to change.

Okay, I know that’s a big obstacle. And that…is the challenge.

I Finally Learned How to Pop Popcorn!

I may have ruined a pan in the process, but I finally learned how to pop popcorn! Now, I don’t mean I just learned how to put a bag in the microwave or work some kind of popcorn popper. I mean I learned how to take a bag of kernels and pop them in a pan on top of my stove without using a ton of oil.

Why is this a big deal? It’s not, but it does give me a filling, crunchy, high-fiber, low-calorie, gluten-free snack that I can keep handy in the pantry. Okay, I must confess that it sometimes feels like a big deal when I’m craving chips, but know I’ll be satisfied by a bowl of popcorn topped with salt.
Popcorn is a healthy snack so long as it doesn’t have lots of oil and chemicals added. That means you’ll need to avoid microwave popcorn, movie theater popcorn, and even pouring a bunch of oil into the bottom of your pan when popping at home. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with tasteless, less toasty air-popped corn either.

What’s wrong with microwave popcorn?

That wonderful smell microwave popcorn generates comes from a chemical called diacetyl, a synthetic buttery flavoring. Diacetyl causes “popcorn lung” in popcorn factory workers, and can generate lung problems for those who make it frequently. Another chemical that lines microwave popcorn bags can cause thyroid issues, high cholesterol and bladder cancer.

In addition to the chemicals, standard microwave popcorn has added fat that boosts the calories to 413 per 2.5 oz bag. You have to eat less of it to reduce the calories or switch to low-fat popcorn that still has 300 calories per bag. And if you have to eat less of that, your crunch craving may not be satisfied.

Movie theater popcorn is better anyway.

As far as taste goes, movie popcorn is delicious. I’ve never liked to add butter because it makes the popcorn soggy and I just don’t like it, but even without added butter, a small movie popcorn has about 400 calories. A large can have as many as 1200 and most of those calories come from saturated fat.

What about air-popped?

Air-popped popcorn is great if you have a hot air popper. It drops the calorie count to 31 calories per cup of popped popcorn. A cup of popcorn contains 1 gram of fiber and less than 1 gram of fat. It’s also contains protein and is high in antioxidants. It sounds like air-popped ideal.

The problem is, I used to own one of those air poppers. Not only did I find the popcorn less tasty, I don’t like having a bunch of electronic gadgets in my kitchen. For me, air-popped is not ideal. I went looking for other options, remembering my previous failures using oil and a pan.

In my research, I read that you can pop popcorn in a pan on top of the stove without any oil.

I tried it. I ruined my pan.
burned pan
I also read you can microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag. I don’t happen to have any brown paper bags lying around my house. I wonder if a white bag would work, but I don’t have one of those either.

I approached the problem like I would any recipe variation. I took a moment to think through the problem. I knew I needed a little something to keep the popcorn from sticking and burning into my pan, so I pulled out my olive oil cooking spray. A .25 second spray has no calories or fat. That sounded promising. I formed a new corn popping plan. Luckily, it worked.

My popping plan.

Spray the bottom of a 6 quart cooking pot with olive oil spray. Turn a large burner on medium. Place the empty, sprayed pot on the burner and allow it to get warm. Get out a timer that will count in seconds. Once the pan is hot, place one-third cup of unpopped popcorn in it and put on a lid. Gently shake the pan a few times every 10 seconds. Yep, again already – every 10 seconds. Do this before the corn pops. Do this while the corn pops. Do it until the popping slows.

When the popping slows, turn off the heat. Leave the lid on for a few seconds. A few kernels may pop after the heat is turned off so if you remove the lid immediately, it may pop right out of the pan which is kinda cool, but startling. Pour the hot popcorn in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. I know it seems like no salt will stick, but enough will hang on.

You’ll end up with about 8 cups of popcorn. That’s a snack with about 172 calories, 2.02 grams of fat, 5.76 grams of protein, 6.5 grams of fiber, and tons of crunch. The same volume of potato chips would have 1096 calories. Obviously, popcorn is a better snack choice than potato chips.

With this easy popping plan, you can enjoy popcorn at home with no special equipment. You’ll save money, calories, and pans while avoiding the toxic chemicals in microwave popcorn. Now you can have ice cream more often. I call that a win!

Five Minute Gluten-Free Dessert Tricks

Everyone needs some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks. When the kids start asking for a treat on a rainy school night, I bet you think of your mom’s five minute desserts. I’m pretty sure all moms have them.

I grew up on a farm about seven miles from town and 10 from the closest grocery store. If I wanted dessert some evening, no one was baking and no one was driving me to the store. Instead, my mom’s go-to treat was what she called “angels-on-horseback”.
If I search that name online, I find s’mores, but my mom’s version was a saltine cracker topped with a slice of American cheese (from a cheese brick, not a sliced single), and half of a large marshmallow placed torn side down. She’d place these on a baking sheet under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow was toasty brown and they were ready to serve. The mix of salty from the cracker and sweet from the marshmallow balanced by the slight tang of the cheese was a perfect bite for a kid who wanted dessert.

My mom had a couple of other tricks up her sleeve. She sometimes made icing with milk, butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla and then put it between two graham crackers. That was her favorite, so you might find some already made and wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter if you looked around for a minute.

I suppose these days it’s more likely that the pantry has prepackaged cookies, snack cakes, or oatmeal cream pies, but in the gluten-free home, that may not be the case. There are too many expensive, mediocre gluten-free products on the grocery store shelves. Homemade is better, but can mean that dessert is reserved for special occasions rather served every day. If that’s the case at your home, you need some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks handy when the family gets a craving.

Here are a few and they’re all gluten-free:

Stuffed dates. I often keep dates in the pantry. I like to use them to sweeten muffins, but I also like to eat them. If you have some dates, raw pecan halves and smoked gouda cheese, you’ve got dessert. Just slice a pitted date lengthwise and then insert a pecan half and a thin slice of smoked gouda. Voilà, dessert.
Chocolate dipped grapes. This is a great one person dessert and it will encourage your children to eat fruit. Place 2.5 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds and stir. Place back in the microwave for 15 – 30 seconds depending on the power of your microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip grapes, fresh pineapple, cherries, strawberries, bananas, or dates in the mix and eat. Cold grapes are my favorite.

Chocolate oatmeal. Fix a packet or cup of instant, single-serving gluten-free oatmeal. Once it is cooked, stir in a handful of chocolate chips and a spoonful of marshmallow cream.

No bake cookies. For a more elaborate dessert that the whole family can share, you can stir up some no bake cookies by combining 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips, 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, and 2 tbsp water in a medium microwaveable bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add 2 packets of maple brown sugar gluten-free oatmeal and stir until evenly distributed. Drop in spoonfuls on wax paper and let sit at room temperature until hardened – about 20 minutes or eat them with a spoon right away.

These gluten-free dessert tricks are all fast and easy! They’re also a tiny bit healthier than the typical dessert. Each one of them contains something healthy – fruit, whole grain, or nuts and a minimum of sugar. Some of them are based on single servings providing automatic portion control.

Best of all, these simple solutions satisfy that desire for a sweet treat after a meal. Who knew gluten-free dessert could taste this good with this little effort?