Latin American baby food? Yup!
Can I be real for a minute? As much as I wanted to feed my little girl all the best things in the world -- I breastfed her until she was 2.5 years old -- I also used to make baby food for economic reasons. Kahlo's dad and I were a one-income family for the first year of her life, and for a little while I only worked part-time for months after. Times were tight. As she transitioned to solid foods around 4 months of age, like my mother before me, I began making my own food.
When Kahlo first showed interest in eating solid foods I already had an idea of where to start. The truth is, her sense of taste started while she was still in my womb. Whatever I ate, she ate. I ate tons of fruit (my only craving), made daily nutrient-packed smoothies, I ate lots of veggies, definitely loved eating pasta (my super weakness), and only ate chicken and some fish (just a preference, not for health reasons, specifically). I have a particular fondness for any type of Latin American food (Peruvian, Mexican, Caribbean, etc.) so she was definitely tasting a lot of beans, rice, spices, onions, garlic and peppers!
I continued to eat this way while I breastfed. In the first months of a baby's life, their taste buds are quite simple but still sensitive. They can distinguish between sweet and bitter flavor notes (thanks biology!) and will appreciate food with good flavor. They taste our food through the milk we provide and then from the foods we prepare in our kitchens.
There has been no particular study that has shown that you, as a parent, can completely influence what your child likes or does not like. Some of it has to do with genetics and some with environment (nature vs. nurture). What is obviously true, though, is that if you feed your child what you eat, this will become what they become familiar with and will come to define them culturally, creating lasting food memories and connotations. Within your own culinary cultural traditions you may have a range of foods that are typically in your pantry, and within these perimeters, your little one will find the things she's most drawn to.
Now, Kahlo is obviously way past the age of eating baby food, but as I've been reflecting on her growing up and how her eating habits have changed over the years, I was thinking back fondly on the time period of her life when I would make her baby food from scratch and she would eat EVERYTHING. Luckily, she's now old enough that she's once again becoming adventurous with her eating but it's taken a minute! So glad we're past those toddler years!!
In my kitchen, I do tend to lean towards a more Latin American spices. As I am most familiar with Peruvian dishes, I use the range of flavors that you would find in a Peruvian (American, New England) kitchen to make any number of things. But I also have love for Mexican and Puerto Rican food, so at times my spices or ways of cooking might also lean in those very different directions.
Below is a list of foods (and the ages you can introduce them to an infant) I typically had in my pantry or added to my pantry once finding out I was pregnant. The goal was simple: to eat a rainbow.
sweet potatoes (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
squash (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
carrots (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
peas (puree, after 4 months; whole pea, after 6 months)
green beans (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
leafy greens (after 6 months)
white potatoes (after 9 months)
broccoli (after 9 months)
beets (after 9 months)
tomatoes (after 10 months, very acidic)
Typical grains and seeds:
rice (cereal, after 4 months; whole, after 6 months)
oatmeal (cereal, after 4 months; whole, after 6 months)
cream of wheat (after 6 months)
quinoa (liquid, after 6 months; whole, after 9 months)
pasta (pieces, after 6 months; with sauce, after 10 months)
(Not originally a part of my pantry: baby puffs, after 6 months)
toasted oats (after 9 months)
corn (whole, after 9 months)
Proteins and legumes:
chicken (puree, 4 months; ground, after 6 months)
turkey (puree, 4 months; ground, after 6 months)
beef (puree, 4 months; ground, after 6 months)
fish (pieces, after 6 months)
eggs (scrambled or boiled, pieces, after 6 months)
beans or lentils (after 6 months)
Typical widely-available fruits in the Northeast U.S.:
apple (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months, no skin until 9 months)
pear (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months, no skin until 9 months)
peach or nectarine (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
banana (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
oranges (pieces, after 10 months)
mango (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
papaya (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
avocado (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
strawberries (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
blueberries (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
blackberries (puree, after 4 months; pieces, after 6 months)
pineapple (mashed, after 6 months; pieces, after 9 months)
The aromatics (anytime after 6 months is standard, but I introduced at 4 months*):
anise (to make tea for tummy aches)*
aji amarillo (Spicy! I've tried introducing spice to Kahlo but she still doesn't like it. The first time I tried was when she was 5.)
peppers (not spicy)
So, when I began making baby food I looked to things I already had at arm's reach. Did/Do I succeed at eating a rainbow everyday? Heck no. But did/do I attempt it? Sure did/do!
When she was about 4 months, I began with baby oatmeal or rice cereals with fruit for the mornings. I found some quality cereals at my local supermarket. That was the easy part! The fruit combinations, however, that's where I started experimenting with the types of things to introduce to her in helping form her taste buds. It's also important to note that a baby's gut is sensitive too and some foods will have a different effect on it, just like ours. Giving a baby too much of apple, banana or rice may make them constipated. You should also not feed babies rice more than once a day, as the levels of arsenic can vary (it's actually higher in brown rice because the hull is left on). Giving a baby too much fiber, as from pears, can have the opposite effect.
Some foods I introduced at 4 months:
Papaya puree (good for mama, too. Helps with milk production!)
Apple and banana puree
Mixed berries puree
Sweet potato puree
Carrot and pea puree
Chicken soup: Literally took a basic chicken soup and pureed it (Recipe below!)
Even though I stayed at home for Kahlo's first year, I did not want to have to make food from scratch every day. I would usually cook batches of food a couple times a week, so I added a few things to make for Kahlo as well.
Before introducing some whole solids in 6 and then 8-9 months, everything was pureed and sometimes eaten with either rice cereal or oatmeal. I would cook all veggies to their peak softness without losing its color, then puree using my magic bullet. I would pour the puree into ice cube trays (as seen above) and then freeze them. Once frozen I would pop the cubes out and place them in large freezer bags, label them, and date them. Freezing would not only keep the food fresh for 3-4 weeks but it also allowed me to vary the types of foods she was eating within a day or week, without having to make new things too often. Dating them helped me to know when to test them for freezer burn or overall freshness. After 4 weeks, they would definitely start to show signs of freezer burn.
(Pro tip: Any fruit cubes that were getting a little old, I'd make them into smoothies for myself. Waste not, want not!)
My combinations and whole foods changed up at the 6-8 month mark:
"Apple pie" puree (apple with spices)
"Banana bread" puree (banana with spices)
Mango and peach puree
Pieces of avocado
Pieces of banana
Pieces of cooked carrots
Pieces of green beans
Whole white rice
Pasta (without sauce; with sauce at 10 months)
At 9 months: Mixed berries with beets puree
If she ate whole foods, it's because I was eating them too. I would usually give her small portions of things I was already eating. One of the things that became a mainstay in our kitchen -- from the time she was an infant until she became an older toddler who wanted all her food separate -- was chicken soup. Here I offer my recipe for Sopita de pollo para bebe, or Baby's First Chicken Soup, which is, of course a puree. It definitely has a lil Latin influence with the cumin and cilantro added in there. Once past the 6 month mark, the babes can start eating small pieces of whole foods in the soup, making this the easiest thing in the world to make! My Kahlo would gobble soup anytime of the day.
What made my baby food Latin American? It comes down to the seasonings mostly, but also to the types of foods I would expose her to like fruits (like papaya,man go, guava and pineapple), grains (quinoa) and legumes (beans). I have tried to expose her to Latin American the "forms" of food (like empanadas or tamales), Have fun with it and make it your own! Buen provecho, amiguit@s!
Sopita de pollo para bebe - makes 3-4 cups
3 cups water
1/2-1 chicken breast or 1-2 thighs (skinless, boneless), cut into small cubes (This amount can be adjusted depending on taste)
6 baby carrots, cut into small rounds
6-8 green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup cooked rice (More if you want it thicker)
1/8 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, whole, smashed
Large pinch of cilantro leaves, whole
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
The easy way (shown above): Put everything in the pot with cold water. Bring to boil. Drop heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool. Puree until very smooth.
To develop more flavor: Add salt, cumin, onion, garlic, carrots and chicken in first. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rest of ingredients and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes to ensure you're not over cooking the vegetables. Let cool. Puree until very smooth.
Note: For very young ones, to make sure the aromatics do not cause tummy aches, you can pull out the onion and garlic and discard before pureeing.
Another note: Tasting pureed chicken, or any meat for that matter, can be a little off-putting for an adult palate but the little ones are not quite as picky. Once hitting the 6 month mark, varying texture males food more interesting for the developing taste buds and the new teeth that having start growing in.