Monday, August 30, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family 3: Cereal Isn’t Just for Breakfast

When I began to consider making my own baby food, preparing cereals from scratch for Jake intrigued me even more than all the fresh and pretty fruit and veggie purees that I could dream up. I think it was mostly because baby cereal is just one of those things you buy; you don’t make it. It cannot be made. Like coconut milk. Or hot fudge. Or barbecue sauce. Hey, wait a minute…I do make those things. Ergo….I can make baby cereal! Yes, I can!

So I was off to find recipes. Actually, it was the search for baby cereal “how tos” that led me to the website that I told you about in my first Chef-ing for Baby post (Here it is again, in case you don’t want to be bothered with cross referencing: .) I was a little concerned; after all, I wouldn’t be fortifying my cereal with all kinds of fancy vitamins. Would Jake suffer? Not likely. He is a formula-fed baby, and gets his daily fill of nutrients from his milk. I wasn’t worried about breaking up a Baby Flintstones chewable into his breakfast bowl.

Although there are many kinds of cereal available for baby, it is widely recommended that you begin with rice cereal, because rice is gentle on the digestive system and does not contain gluten, a protein which can cause intolerance or allergic reaction in some individuals. Having said that, rice can cause problems, too; primarily, it can lead to constipation, especially when you feed baby a refined product. As you prepare to make your own food, you may want to consider using brown rice, rather than refined white rice. I have had success using brown rice, and Jake loves it.

Rice Cereal and Oatmeal from Scratch

The recipes that I use to prepare Jake’s cereal are directly from Christine Albury’s website that I reference above. As I said before, I’d be lost without it. I highly recommend checking it out if you plan to prepare any of your baby’s food yourself.

To prepare rice cereal, I grind the rice in small batches, usually about one quarter cup at a time, in a coffee grinder. I also use organic brown rice, since small traces of arsenic have been found in conventional brown rice. To make the rice cereal, bring eight ounces of water to the boil. Whisk in two ounces of the rice powder, stirring constantly (if you are familiar with preparing grits, the method is the same.) Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, adding more water as necessary. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. I always make enough to freeze extras in ice cube trays.

I have found lots of ways to serve the rice. Since I introduced oatmeal to Jake’s diet (more about that in a minute), I often mix an ounce of rice into his lunch or dinner selections. When thawed, the cubes of rice cereal do tend to be a bit spongy and sticky. Normally, I plan Jake’s meals for the next day the night before. I combine the rice and fruit or veggie that I’m pairing with it in a bowl together, and allow them to thaw overnight. Just before serving, I break up the rice cereal with the tines of a fork, add a little formula (breast milk would obviously work, too), and give it a quick stir with my stick blender. This really smoothes out the mix and gives it a consistent texture. As Jake grows, I’ll probably leave the texture chunkier.

So, what do I combine it with? We’ve had excellent results pairing the brown rice cereal with peas and sweet potatoes, neither of which Jake likes alone. I also combine it with an apple-pear-blueberry sauce for a treat that tastes a lot like blueberry cobbler. In the next month or so, as we begin to introduce meats, I plan to combine the rice with chicken and pork as well.

After two weeks or so, I decided to give oatmeal a try. I use a similar method for oats that I use for brown rice, although I don’t use organic oats. I simply grind up old fashioned oats, the same cereal that I make for myself every morning. To prepare the oats, combine one ounce of oat powder with eight ounces of boiling water, and cook over low heat for ten minutes. I freeze the oatmeal in two ounce portions, using silicone muffin cups. The consistency is a little smoother than the rice cereal. Normally, I combine the frozen oatmeal with a cube of frozen banana puree and allow the cereal and fruit to thaw overnight. In the morning, I add a little milk from Jakes bottle, break up the cereal with a fork, heat for 10 seconds in the microwave, and finish combining the fruit and cereal with the stick blender. It’s that simple and it’s delicious! Trust me: I’ve sampled it.

Give making your own cereal a try. It was a revelation to me to make my own cereal. The rice cereal can be used as a natural thickener for your family’s dishes as well, and if you have older children who snub their noses at traditional oatmeal, give the “cream of oatmeal” a try. Who knows? You might just keep on making baby food long after Baby is a baby no more.

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