I’ve just discovered Leander, and I’m a little bit in love. OK: a lot in love. All the pieces are beautiful: minimalist Scandinavian design in natural woods, light colors and lovely curves. I know I’m a bit behind the curve, so to speak, because they’ve been available stateside for a couple of years, but if you’re also unfamiliar, allow me to introduce you (and your baby) to their line.

The hanging cradle was their first offering and is both pretty and practical. You can suspend it from the ceiling or – better – hang it from the sleek, beech tripod and have the flexibility to move it as needed. It rocks, literally and figuratively. My only reservation – as ever – is that cradles (and all infant beds) have a very limited span of usefulness, so it may be a better use of your baby budget to spend on a crib instead (unless, of course, you plan on having several children, in which case a cradle could be a great investment and space saver.) At $350 though, it’s not completely ridiculous to consider getting one. (You can always re-sell it. Or convert it into the best cat bed ever.)

If you prefer to jump directly to a crib, Leander makes those too, albeit at a considerably higher price point. Their curvy bed converts from a crib to a to a toddler bed to a junior bed. The junior bed transition is a nice feature since most conversion cribs leave three sides of crib bars in place, which might not be welcome reminder of babyhood for older children. It’s also five or so inches shorter than a US standard crib. At $1500, it’s considerably more expensive than most budgets can handle, but if you have generous grandparents who are into design, maybe this will top your wish list.

Their matching changing table – also curvy delicious – has a uniquely small visual profile for this notoriously bulky piece of furniture, and I love that. We chose the Stokke changing table for similar reasons (as well as the fact that it converts to a child’s table) and have been glad not to manage a giant block of a dresser in Astrid’s room. The Leander table also converts to a small desk, but is nearly as expensive (about $1000) as the crib, so again, a big investment.

(I’m still on the hunt for a low profile, high design changing table for a reasonable price. Do post a comment if you’ve found one.)

The Leander high chair is the final piece of the set. We have the Svan, which also converts to an actual chair, and had looked at the Stokke (same deal), but I think the Leander chair has the sleekest profile of all three and, if we weren’t within reach of being out of high chairs entirely, I’d spring for this one.

In amongst the expensive baby clutter in the marketplace, it’s a joy to find such beautiful form and function. You made my day, Leander!

Check out Leander’s store locator for your closest location or websites that carry their line.

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A couple friends of mine swear by this three-section plate for feeding new eaters on the go. The lid keeps the sections’ food separated when you take it with you, plus the included spoon has its own case and clips on top of the whole shabang, so you’re not worrying about lost utensils when it’s time to eat. As someone who either a.) loses the spoon I nearly forgot to bring at all in the bottom of the diaper bag, or b.) routinely stabs herself on the tines of the tiny fork I also nearly forgot to bring along, that encased utensil feature is a big plus.

If you are regularly out for picnics or send little Fauntleroy over to his grandmother’s house for visits over lunchtime, this might be a good addition to your culinary collection for his tiny highness. At about $8, it’s not like investing in fine china you’ll only use for a few months anyway. (It’s a small profile, so not big enough for preschoolers.)

KidCo Baby Steps Feeding Dish, $7-8 on Amazon

Travel Placemat

April 6, 2012

I’m kind of a tidy freak. Not like, “Clorox for everyone!” but still pretty into the orderly. Astrid is too. She asks for a napkin to clean up spills. It’s awesome.

When she started eating table food, I thought a travel placemat would be great/necessary to address the joint issues of not-so-clean public tables / not-so-tidy toddler eating (even though she’s pretty organized, she’s still a toddler). I bought a wipeable rubber placemat with an attached trough (!) that kind of suctions onto a table surface. 

Let’s cut to the chase: it didn’t work out at all.

It was too big for carrying along with the other 100 things in my baby bag (it rolls up but is still big) + it didn’t stay on the table very well + Astrid didn’t like it.

I saw a mom with disposable Thomas the Tank Engine ones glued to the cafeteria tables at the Academy of Science the other day and her boys seemed fine. But it still looked like a lot of trouble.

Am I missing something? Isn’t this why restaurants have placemats in the first place?? Is this a useless product tapping into germaphobic parents’ paranoia? Or do you have one and love it and it totally works and it’s just me? Let me know, would you? In the meantime, I’m giving this a “not needed” rating.

I’ve mentioned before how much – as a new parent and non-cook – I liked Annabel Karmel’s recipe book, 100 Best Baby Purees. I’m not sure I realized it at the time I bought it, but the bowl and masher set I bought when Astrid started solids is also from Karmel’s line. Nice work, Annabel!

It might seem silly to buy a bowl – which you probably already have – and a masher – which you think you already have, aka a fork – but I have to say, I used the bowl/masher instead all the time before we moved on to table food.

Here’s why: mashing a banana or avocado or sweet potato against the side of a bowl with a fork is a pain in the ass. The fork isn’t the same angle as the side of the bowl, the banana might not be super soft (which is how I like them), and so on and so on. Maybe I’m just inept or weirdly particular, but the inefficiency annoyed me. The Karmel set’s masher fits the bowl’s bottom exactly and the grooves in the bowl itself help you along. Voila! Mushed up baby food in seconds. Plus, you can serve your little prince his newly-mashed up dinner in the bowl: it’s plastic and has a grippy bottom and travels just fine.

(The bowl, with it’s handy friction-y grooves, is still in rotation as Astrid, now two, sorts out her food-to-mouth skills.)

It’s gotten a little hard to find the set online, but at last check, you can pick it up at Giggle or buy the cookbook, the bowl and masher and a few food storage containers from WalMart for the price of the bowl and cookbook alone.

Annabel Karmel Baby Food Prep Starter Kit (BPA-free), including Bowl and Masher, $19.95 at WalMart.com

Snack Cups

January 28, 2012

A mom came up to me in Seesaw this morning and asked about Astrid’s snack cup. She was trailing after her one year old carrying the little girl’s snacks in a cute but screw-close Oxo snack container. Open-top, non-self-serve is not the way to go with a grazing toddler. We have 3 or 4 Munchkin Snack Catchers in rotation in the car and the house, three with goldfish, one with the fruit puffs that every couple weeks Astrid decides she loves only to reject them again a day later.

The Munchkins are simple and work well keeping the snacks in – unless Junior Rocker shakes the cup violently. Yes, then the pulverized goldfish will fly out in little crushed bits. But it’s still better than all of them flying out all the time. It’s the best solution I’ve found so far.

(The smaller, lighter alternative, Made for Moms Snack Trap, in my opinion is less sturdy and the lid fits less well, but give it a shot if you prefer the smaller profile.)

Munchkin Snack Catcher, $5.50 for two on Amazon, $3.99 for one on Diapers.com, $8.99 for four at Target or available in the kids’ section of Target, Safeway or your drugstore if you’d like to see it up close  

Cookbook Round-Up

January 11, 2012

I posted a little while ago about how much I liked Top 100 Baby Purees when Astrid started solids, and I’ve got a couple more things to say on the subject of cookbooks, so here goes.

After the holiday crash of eating on the fly amidst the wrapping paper and consuming too much sugar, I decided we needed to get back on the bandwagon of a healthy eating. Well, regular eating really. Healthy would be nice too! So I pulled out my stack of kid cookbooks and realized again how crap I think a couple of them are. I know, I know: it’s not nice to be negative. But really, honestly, I’m just trying to help: I researched and bought a couple that just have never worked for me, and I want to save you the trouble. So that’s good new year positivity, right?

First up on the no-go list is the Organic Baby & Toddler Cookbook by Lizzie Vann. I so wanted to like this one because, in general, I love DK Publishing. They have fantastic pictures in all their books (travel guides and kids’ books too) and a British tone of moderation I really like. Sadly, though, I haven’t liked any of the recipes in this cookbook. When I made the first few and they tasted bland and weirdly unbalanced (too much of some ingredients, too little of others), I thought it must be something I did wrong because I’m not really a cook. After a while though, I realized that it’s because I just don’t really like the recipes. They’re not particularly flavorful and they’re not particularly easy to make (number of steps and number of ingredients). So I’m calling it quits. Annabel Karmel’s recipes are just better and easier.

The other cookbook I want to un-recommend is Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes. I know cooking for a baby can be daunting for a new mom or a new chef, but really? A recipe for “Baby’s Beef” that has one ingredient? “Lean ground beef, 1/2 lb,” + instructions on how to fry half a pound of ground beef. Really? REALLY? Of course there are other more complex recipes, but I have yet to find any of them appealing, even on the page. Plus: very few pictures. Which is probably understandable, given that half a pound of ground beef just isn’t that photogenic all on its own. The most useful part – the reason I bought it – were the tips pages, like how to make food fun. My first tip? Buy a different cookbook with better recipes.

If you’re looking for a baby/kid cookbook that will cover you for a few years, try Annabel Karmel’s First Meals, which incorporates some of the baby purees from Top 100 Baby Purees plus at least a dozen recipes for each stage after that up to preschool. They all taste good and if one looks too complicated, just skip ahead to the next one.

Bon appetit!

Cookbook: Top 100 Baby Purees

November 16, 2011

If you’ve decided to take on making your own baby food all the time or just occasionally, I think you’ll like this cookbook. It’s the only one I had for a while and the other ones I bought paled in comparison. And let’s be clear here: I don’t cook. Or rather, I didn’t cook. Now I cook, partially thanks to Annabel Karmel convincing me it would be hard to screw up a recipe with four ingredients. That lulled me into enough of a sense of security in my kitchen skills that now I’m actually making food adults will eat. So thanks, Annabel!

The recipes are simple, straightforward and taste really, really good. Honestly, the sweet potato, apple and chicken puree was the best thing I’d eaten in a while when I made it. (I had my bit pre-pureeing.) Another favorite of Astrid’s was the tuna and tomato pasta, and I took to making the fish with cheese sauce (without the veggies she suggests because Astrid wouldn’t eat carrots) as my go-to quickie dinner when I’d forgotten to shop or run out of time to prep. (You can buy frozen fish to have on-hand and defrost it quickly.) Most of the recipes are freezer-friendly, so I’d cook three times a week and freeze enough to be able to rotate through several recipes without cooking every evening or boring the pants off the baby with the same thing every night.

Couple of things to keep in mind when using the cookbook:

  • Annabel is British and I think some of the vegetables there must be anemically sized, so if you make a recipe that calls for a “small butternut squash” and it tastes more squashy than you like, cut it in half next time. Same for potatoes.
  • In the US, it’s not recommended that you give your little one egg whites until she’s one. In the UK, the recommendation is younger. So if you’re sticking with the US guidelines, skip the recipes with egg until you cross the one-year mark.

This slim cookbook saved me from the marketplace of super-restrictive, overly directive tomes on what you MUST and MUST NOT make for your baby. (Are you listening, Super Baby Food??) It’s a great place to start for the novice mom or the novice cook.

Top 100 Baby Purees, $12 at Amazon