CNN photojournalist Jeremy Harlan is based in Washington D.C. This is the third installment in a series on what to cook for a pregnant spouse - and now, a newborn. In this instance, beast is a loving term. Read the first and second installment.
You don't ever want to meet Mungry. Trust me.
My wife and I have been super blessed with the most unfussy, spirited and sleep-loving baby. Lucy has truly been the model infant. But, when that lower lip begins to quiver and Sophie the Giraffe is flung head over hoof from the Bumbo perch, we know Lucy has left the dining room. We are now face to face with her very angry alter-ego: Mungry (Her scowled face looks as if she's howling, 'Mmmm, Hungry!"). These genes came from her dad. An unfed Harlan is a very unhappy Harlan.
As a new parent, it's been hard to know when it's time to transition your baby to new things. They develop so quickly. Just when you're used to a routine, it's time to move on to something new. Food is no different. But where in the world do you start?
"Your best place to start with a child is the very first spoon. You’ve got to start fresh," believes Tyler Florence. "Your child is a blank palate that will literally taste anything."
Florence, the famed Food Network chef, has saved my spatula on several occasions with fantastic recipes from his cookbooks. I mean, who doesn't love bourbon peach cobbler in a cast iron skillet? But, as a new dad wanting to do right for his daughter, cobbler doesn't make Mungry's menu.
So Florence, himself a father of three, has championed the cause of making fresh food for kids' developing taste buds. He's created a simple cookbook for baby meals, co-founded an organic baby food company and takes time to interact with parents via social media.
"The best thing you could ever do for a child is to make homemade foods from scratch," he says. "The simplicity of just pure carrot puree, it’s one of the most useful flavors in the world. I think it’s just gorgeous and something your child will absolutely love. They’ll lick a bowl clean."
Mungry does like her carrots.
There are so many reasons to make food at home for the whippersnappers. Clearly, it's much healthier. We've found it to be cheaper and, it's really been pretty simple from the get-go; it doesn't require a laundry list of ingredients and kitchen appliances.
Obviously the first step is finding a wide variety of fresh produce. Kids like anything sweet tasting. We started with apples, pears, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
If you make something and they don't like it, try something else and come back to it another time. Lucy has tried everything listed above plus broccoli, asparagus, mango, avocado and banana. She seems to like every one of them (her day care providers weren't too thrilled the day after she ate asparagus).
The mango, avocado and bananas are great finger foods to practice her dexterity, too. When she really wants that mango, she finds a way to pick it up and put it in her mouth. Mungry will not be denied.
Next is how to cook the veggies. Florence hammers home the point that roasting and steaming are the absolute best ways to prepare fresh produce.
"When you boil, you’re not going to develop the sweet natural flavors in vegetables. So that means you need to roast and steam,” he stresses.
So far, we've only steamed the fruits and veggies. If you don't have a pot with a boiler insert or some kind of steaming contraption, you can always take a large pot, fill it partially with water, set a colander on the rim (above the water), drop the veggies in the colander, cover it with a lid and steam away.
Once the produce is soft, transfer it to a blender with some of the leftover water in your pot and flip the switch. The beauty of a blender is that it will puree the food to a very smooth consistency, so much so, we don't even peel apples or pears before steaming. The skins eventually disappear during blending.
We usually pour the puree into small four-ounce containers and store them in the fridge or freezer. If you put it in the fridge, the food is only good for 48 hours before you have to discard it or freeze. On average, two steamed apples makes about 12 ounces of puree. Do the math and that's cheaper than jars of processed baby food you'll get at the grocery store.
While cost and ease are important to us, it really comes down to the health of our daughter.
"When they get a taste for the sodium level and artificial ingredients and fat embedded in fast foods and that's their kind of preference, get ready for a fight because they'll give you one,” says Florence. "When you feed a child food, you have to understand that you’re in charge. You have to understand you’re the parent. You really have to provide a healthy nutritious environment for your child to grow up in.”
Hopefully that's an environment with more tasty vegetables and fewer flying giraffes.