Starting Solids

June 18, 2012

I was pretty concerned about Astrid’s transition to solids. First of all, I wasn’t a cook. I’m a big cold cereal girl. Providing balanced nutrition – and in the form of purees no less – was daunting. (Just to be clear, I was starting from the assumption that pureed Corn Pops was probably a bad idea.)

I figured I was on the hook for introducing her to a range of foods (most of which I’d never cooked), so she could establish a broad palette and not end up hating mushrooms or being the kid who will only eat crustless pizza. And finally, Astrid turned six months old while we were in escrow on our house, so I was managing a move right about the time I was also supposed to be changing all our routines to get some solids into her.

Here’s my two cents, from the other side of the transition: it’s not that big a deal. Really.

Annabel Karmel Carrot Puree

When to start

The general guideline is to start babies on solids at about six months old.

That said, if you’re a month or two late, that’s fine. Also, if you want to kick things off earlier (or your pediatrician recommends it), in 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics OK’d starting at four months old. Don’t stress about making this decision: a little earlier or a little later won’t make a big difference as long as Baby is eating well. Just pick a week when you’re not traveling or moving or varnishing your canoe or whatever, and have at it.

What you’re shooting for 

Bertrand eating a range of foods (protein, veg, fruit, carbs) three times a day by a year old.

Don’t freak out. You won’t be making three special baby meals and measuring nutritional content on Day 1. You’re going to work up to three meals a day gradually, so on Day 1, you’ll be trying a  single “meal” which will probably consist of one ingredient. Once little Guillermina masters that, you’ll introduce some multi-ingredient foods (still purees) and bump up to “eating” twice a day at eight or nine months (soft foods and finger foods). By the time she’s a year old, she’ll be eating table food on an adult schedule (albeit cut up into small pieces).

If Baby is still breastfeeding (or drinking formula) at a year, that fine: you’ll just balance food intake vs. milk accordingly. But you still need to get her on solids so, you know, she learns to chew.

What foods to start with

In the US, the recommendation you read and hear everywhere is infant rice cereal mixed with formula or breast milk. The up sides are that it’s mild so most babies tolerate it well, and that it’s filling which means it might make for better overnight sleep. The down sides are that it tastes like pulverized cardboard and, since it’s heavy, it can be constipating (which leads to another whole set of problems and solutions).

I followed that recommendation, mostly because I would have tried nearly anything to get Astrid to sleep longer at night, but the experiment lasted about two days. She was having none of the pulverized cardboard thing, and I could see her point, so we moved on to steamed and mashed sweet potatoes and we were off to the races. Mashed up avocado is another great starter food.

Starting with mashed veggies has the added benefit of instilling an interest in healthy whole foods early rather than trying to introduce them after carbohydrates, which made a lot of sense to me. (It’s also what they do in Europe, so you can consider yourself sophisticated and worldly.) I know this won’t be true of every child, but vegetables are still Astrid’s preferred food and I attribute it to her first foods experience.

Jarred vs. Homemade

The choice between bought vs. homemade baby food is not a big deal these days. Yes, as with everything baby-related, there are militant moms who would never feed their child anything not grown organically at a local farm where they know all the goats’ names. They cook and jar and can their own baby food and  follow books like Super Baby Food to the letter, watching the nutritional content of every meal like a hawk. That’s awesome and you should definitely join them – if it will make you relaxed and calm and a happy parent.

If you don’t have that kind of time or zeal, skip it. Your baby will be fine. In my view – and this is where I come down on pretty much everything baby-related  – healthy and easy moderation is the best path for you and your baby. Save your fanaticism for the things you love to do. That joy will be a great example and environment for your child. If this isn’t your area of interest however, stressing yourself out to follow someone else’s rigid guidelines will just make you and everyone around you tired and crabby.

There are lots of healthy jarred baby foods on the market. They’re labeled by age, so you don’t have to worry about mashing to the right consistency or introducing a potentially allergy-inducing ingredient. If you are super concerned about Baby eating all-organic, there are lots of options there too: Earth’s Best, Plum Organics and Sprout are just a few of the many choices.

If you’re at all on the fence between jarred and homemade, I’d suggest giving the cooking a shot, at least early on. It’s ridiculously simple – and that’s coming from someone who didn’t cook really at all – and you’ll save some money. This isn’t Julia Child: it’s a mashed up avocado half once a day. If you have a steamer basket in your kitchen and one sweet potato, you’re looking at two minutes of prep (peel it, cut it up into cubes) and ten minutes of waiting while it steams. Oh – plus 30 seconds of smushing it up. No seasoning, no such thing as overcooking. Failure is pretty much not an option. And if it all get’s to be too much after that short experiment, it’s fine: you can always cut over to jarred food later.

If you’re looking for a great starter cookbook, try Top 100 Baby Purees


I was bejesus scared that Astrid would have a food allergy that I would find out about because she went into anaphylactic shock while I was home alone 0r, worse, asleep at night. Since Ramon and I have no food allergies, this was probably a little bit of an edge case, but we all have our paranoias, right? According to BabyCenter, only about 6% of young children have food allergies and 90% of them are to milk, eggs, nuts (peanuts or other), soybeans, wheat, fish or shellfish.

It seems like allergies in children are everywhere, and, as a result, recommendations tightened about what foods to introduce to kids early. However, research indicates that waiting to introduce the most common allergy foods until later hasn’t decreased the number of kids who are allergic, so the AAP has backed off again. I’ll leave it to you and your pediatrician to have the specific conversation that will calm your fears and lay out a comfortable process for you to follow, but these are the highlights:

  • No tree nuts or peanuts until age one. (These are a choking hazard too, so that makes sense.)
  • In the US, it’s also recommended to wait until age one to try eggs and cow’s milk. (In Europe, eggs don’t make the list to wait.)
  • Shellfish is now on the OK list for six month olds, although it wasn’t until 2008.
  • No honey until age one (it’s a bacteria risk, not an allergy concern).
Keep in mind that allergic reactions happen quickly. (I discussed this with an EMT because I was afraid Astrid would have an egg for lunch and then not manifest symptoms until that night when I might not hear her on the monitor.) If your baby is allergic, you’ll see it pretty much right away. (More mild, delayed symptoms, I’ve been told, like a slight rash around the mouth, are a sign of intolerance, not allergy. Talk to your doctor. What ours told us is that the intolerance can pass and you can try that food again in a few weeks.)
For more details, Baby Center has a section on specific food safety questions.


  • Quantities. Your baby is small and doesn’t know how to eat yet, so a serving is pretty damn small. A quarter to a half an avocado is a lot of food. Buy and prepare accordingly.
  • Note to self: no matter how cheap they are, do NOT buy flats of baby food until you know Junior loves that specific brand and type. Trust me.
  • Fruit. Mashed up bananas are tasty and sweet, but you may want to wait to introduce those and other fruits until Baby has acquired a taste for the less-sweet veggies. It’s easier to introduce fruit after veggies rather than vice versa.
  • Variety. Don’t push the same food more than three days in a row. Move on and try another food before Murgatroyd gets tired of something he liked at first.
  • That said, wait three days before introducing another new food to the rotation so you’re not over-taxing your baby’s system. She’ll need a few days to process the new food + in case she does have a reaction to a particular food, you’ll want to be able to isolate which food it is that’s causing the problem.
  • Rejection. If Philomena rejects a food, that’s fine. Just double back and try again in a few weeks. Babies’ taste buds are very sensitive and are developing preferences as you go, so don’t assume she’ll never eat mango just because she doesn’t go for it after the first few tries.
  • Time of day. Most babies are at their friendliest and least tired in the morning, so that’s a great time for that one-meal-a-day stage. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get lots of food into him before he goes down for the night, you can try for dinnertime as mealtime. Just be prepared that a tired baby is more likely to lose patience, so feed him well ahead of when he usually starts to power down for the day.
  • Trust them. As with breast and bottle feeding, your baby will let you know when she’s done or full. Don’t push too hard: this is a learning stage. She’ll still be getting most of her nutrition from milk or formula, so don’t stress about getting specific quantities of food or a balanced diet into her yet. Just let her get used to eating and new tastes and textures.
My usual disclaimers apply here: I’m not a pediatrician or a doctor or an accredited expert of any kind. These recommendations are based on my personal experience, lots of conversations with other moms and the advice I’ve gotten from doctors and experts. If you are in doubt about any of these notes or subjects, ask your doctor. 

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

Blackout Curtains

May 15, 2012

I posted about blackout curtains over on Minimalist Mama Expecting, in case any expectant parents were redecorating pre-baby. We didn’t even have a dedicated room for our baby when she arrived, so we came to the cause of darkness kind of late after we realized Astrid wasn’t going to be a power sleeper. Here’s what I advised:

Unless you have those awesome European interlocking blinds that can turn your baby’s boudoir into a room fit for developing film, you might want to consider investing in blackout curtains. They’re not absolutely essential, no, but if you have a baby who has trouble falling or staying asleep, or if your nursery is sunny – which is otherwise lovely but might not be the best for naps and early bed times – blackout drapes are one of the things that will help.

There are two types:

  1. Curtains with a built-in light-blocking backing.
  2. Panels of just the light-blocking material that you can hang behind your existing curtains.

Pottery Barn Kids Gingham Panel with Blackout Lining

The former are easier to manage since they’re all one piece, but the options in design and color are limited. The latter won’t require the cost of re-purchasing curtains you might have already, but they will hang heavier on your curtain hardware (so you might need to keep an eye on how it’s holding up with the added weight), plus you will get a few more gaps that let in light because you’re arranging two layers.

Since I liked our existing curtains, we opted for the panels and here’s my advice: absolutely, 100% get the panels that are the same width as your curtain panels. You want them to hang exactly behind your existing panels. Trust me on this.

I thought I was brilliant saving money by buying the narrow-slice panels that add up to the width of a single panel of our curtains. The site claimed that hotels buy these: the narrow widths allow you to buy however many you need to match any width of curtain panel. After falling for this marketing, my conclusion is that they are jerky liars. I can’t imagine a hotel dealing with the annoyance of these mini panels: they separate when you breath on them and let streaks of sunshine into the room at every seam which ruins the whole point of having them in the first place. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Gargh!

So just spend the extra money and get the nice Pottery Barn Kids ones which line up with your curtain panels. Seriously.

Blackout Panels, Pottery Barn Kids $39-$59 per panel, depending on width

Blackout Curtains in nursery-friendly designs and colors, Pottery Barn Kids $49 – $229, depending on size, or anywhere else that carries them, e.g., $40 and up

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

Lift the Flap Books

March 8, 2012

Why am I a big pop-up book fan? Because they’re awesome, that’s why. Awesome for me, that is. Not so awesome for curious small children. Correction: awesome for them too, but not for the book itself, which might last one session in the hands of a curious toddler.

Much better – and fantastic for travel and self-serve entertainment – are lift-the-flap books. I either didn’t know about this genre or had forgotten about it in the glare of my pop-up-book enthusiasm but am so glad I ran across a tip to get them for Astrid to entertain her on plane trips. Excellent, tried and true idea.

They’ve also served us well in the mornings: I put a few books at one end of A’s crib at night and she “reads” them for half an hour on her own while we get some sleep. The lift-the-flap ones are her favorites, which is understandable since, even after the surprise factor has worn off, they have moving parts.

There are basically two categories. The first is board books for littler kids where the whole page is a flap. (You’ll still end up mending these when you leave them with little Harrington on his own, but he won’t completely destroy them.) The other is for older kids (2+) who have more self-control re: tearing off the exciting flaps: the flaps are little windows within the page. (You can get these for littler ones too, but save them for reading time together.)

In a pre-flight panic last summer, I ran out to a local bookstore to find some of these and was glad I did the shopping in person. Some of the lift-the-flap books, especially for babies, are a little bit lame: not very dynamic or dense illustrations, which you’ll want, since there aren’t really story lines to follow. In San Francisco, the Books, Inc. branch in Laurel Village has a fantastic selection of books for kids, including these. Don’t worry about paying more for shopping off-line – the prices on Amazon for these board books are the same list prices as in stores + you’ll be supporting your local business and getting ones you like better anyway.

Our favorites so far for the two and under crowd: DK Publishing’s Baby Loves Peekaboo and Flaptastic Animals, about $7 on- and off-line.

For older little ones, Gossie and Friends First Flap Book, about $10 on Amazon, is adorable and accessible. 

In deference to my – and therefore my child’s – sanity, I swore we would keep electronic and noise-making toys to a minimum. We’ve done pretty well so far. No drum sets for Christmas, please!

We do have instruments though, namely bells and a xylophone and a piano. OK, so the piano’s mainly for us. But the bells are all hers. Astrid fell for some colorful Hohner bells at her playgroup when she was about six months old. All the kids did. Lots of tiny competition for the bells. It’s the holidays: have some bells!

Hohner Kids Cage Bell, $9.95 at Amazon. Or the 4-piece set for $16.50

Tip for Pacifier Lovers

December 3, 2011

Some babies won’t take a pacifier. Some suck their thumbs. But some babies love their pacifiers. And some of us parents didn’t follow the sleep training advice to get them off them during sleep training. (I still don’t understand the logic of the recommendation to take away something that soothes them while trying to get them to learn to self-soothe…) Anyway, if, for whatever reason, your little one still takes a pacifier and is in that phase where he wakes up a little (or a lot!) trying to relocate it after it’s fallen out of his mouth, here’s the tip: get a breathable bumper.

No matter how many pacifiers we put within Astrid’s reach in her crib at bedtime, she somehow managed to knock most of them out between the slats of the crib overnight. Imprecise motor skills + darkness = pacifier fumbling. I had my first real conversation with my brilliant friend Lucie at a mom’s group when she leaned over and suggested the breathable bumper as the solution (vs. taking on the daunting task of getting A. off the pacifier completely.) I’m grateful to this day. Spend $20 on a mesh bumper, tuck it most of the way down by the mattress all the way around, and voila! A breathable wall that keeps the pacifiers in the crib!

Thanks, Lucie! You rule!

Breathable Baby Universal Bumper, about $20 at Amazon