Baby Food 911

November 08, 2010 5:13 PM by

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Tyler Florence in his home kitchen with Dorothy, 2, and Hayden, 3.

Interview by Abigail Tuller
Photography by Mark Madeo

As the co-founder of Sprout Organic Baby Food—among many other ventures celebrity chef Tyler Florence has a mission for new moms: Tackle the nation’s food crisis in your own kitchen by starting your little one on fresh, healthy purées. Baby will eat well for life.

A bit about Sprout: “Sprout Organic Baby Food came along because there wasn’t anything like it. I remember feeding my child a few jars of things that were out there, and it was very discouraging. It was just very flat and had a lot of filler and a lot of starch. At Sprout, we actually roast our purées, which makes them tighter and thicker with a naturally sweeter flavor. And it comes from a really sincere place. Your children should be fed really great food right from the beginning.”

On making baby food
Making baby food yourself is the best—there’s a deep connection between what you’re cooking and what your child’s eating and nothing is going to be fresher or taste better.

When children go running and screaming into the arms of “the clown” the first time they taste a French fry, it’s usually because it’s the first time they’ve ever been introduced to anything that has a palate-pleasing sensation, because they’ve just been eating flavorless mush their entire lives. So the goal in making it yourself—or using a great baby food like Sprout (see “A bit about Sprout,” p. 56)—is to reverse that and give children fresh, healthy vegetables that actually taste good. Create things and they’ll taste good, shocker!

Family meals
Our children are 2 and 3, so it’s kind of an interesting challenge as far as feeding them things that they really like. So we cook every night at the house and we shop at the farmer’s market.

I always think it’s funny when parents say, “I hope my children make smart choices in their food decisions.” We don’t have anything at our house that wouldn’t be a smart choice. We just don’t. We’re driving the boat. We’re responsible for our children’s nutrition, and we’re going to make sure they’re going to get healthy food. If it’s their only choice, guess what? They’re
going to eat it.

A little perspective
If you take a look at the cost of baby food in a jar at .33 a unit—wow. The pet food that I feed my dog costs more. You just want to feed your children the best, purest food out there and it may cost a little bit more, but it’s worth it.

Start ’em early
It’s a natural, human instinct that children have when it comes to food: If they haven’t been exposed to a something before the age of 3, they’re not going to eat it, because they’re afraid it will hurt them. And you can imagine the same instinct in the wild, because we’re all animals at the end of the day. If your mother doesn’t show you what to eat as a small child, everything else is off- limits because it can hurt you. That’s why it’s very important to give children a diverse menu at a young age.

Tyler’s picky eater
Our youngest son Hayden is 3, and when he was 2, it was tough. He basically cried through every dinner for a year. We would cook and he would just sit there and yell, “No!” and push it away. He’d put his hands in his folded-up arms on the dining room table and cry—sob. And we would wait it out and we’d say, “It really hurts our feelings when you won’t eat your dinner and we’re very sad.” And then we would just talk over him—”Yeah, honey, how was your day?”—and let him cry it out. And then he’d pull up his head, he’d wipe his tears, he’d pull his plate toward him, and he would eat.

A little tough love
With picky eaters, you just have to tell yourself, I’m in charge. Children will be children and I’m not going to let them get to me. I’m just going to wait it out, and I’m going to win. Tell them, “This is all that we have for dinner. You’re not going to starve. You’re not going to die and it’s delicious. I’m responsible for your nutritional well-being, and that’s that. If you don’t want to eat it, go to bed!” They’ll come around. You have to determine, do you want to be their parent or do you want to be their friend? You give them really good healthy choices and they will come around because they’re hungry.

It starts with you
Parents need to step up and say, “You know what? This is my child and I have a choice here. I’m not a victim. I’m not going to just sit here and let the world of consumerism dictate how I feed my child. I’m going to feed them fruit instead of a fruit snack. I’m going to buy whole-grain bread instead of white. I’m going to feed them natural stuff. I’m going to shop at the farmer’s market. I’m going to cook with organics. I’m going to actually cook three nights a week.”

A side benefit
To have a house that actually smells good because you’re in the kitchen and you’re cooking something is a great way to communicate with your children. That is a very, very strong sense memory children will take with them for the rest of their lives.

Multi-grain cereal with fruit

Makes 2 quarts

  • 2½ quarts apple juice
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 2 apples
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 4 cups of peaches

Bring apple juice to a simmer in a saucepan. Place another pan (wider, with shallower sides) on the stove over medium-high heat. Add barley, wild rice, and a few ladles of the hot apple juice; stir until juice is completely absorbed by the grains. Repeat this process until the grains are cooked, but still have some tooth left to them. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°. Chop peaches into chunks, toss with blackberries, and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until fruit is caramelized, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut apples into chunks; purée in a food processor until fine. Add the grains and roasted fruit and purée until smooth. Serve immediately or store airtight (3 days, refrigerated; 3 months, frozen). Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

Roasted butternut squash with cinnamon and fresh ginger

Makes 2 cups

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. grated fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 350°. Halve ­butternut squash and remove seeds with a large spoon. Slice onion into thick rings. Place onion and squash, cut-side up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for around 15 minutes, until onion is caramelized. Remove onion from baking sheet and return squash to oven for 20 more minutes, until tender (the tip of a knife should go into the squash without resistance).

Remove the flesh from the squash with a spoon. Add to a food processor with onion, cinnamon, and ginger; purée until smooth. Serve immediately or store airtight (3 days, refrigerated; 3 months, frozen). Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

Sweet peas and green beans with mint

Makes 1½ cups

  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas
  • ½ cup green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1 sprig of fresh mint

Place ingredients and ¼ inch of filtered water in a ­saucepan over medium heat. Steam for 3 to 4 minutes, until beans are just tender. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and purée in a food processor ­until smooth. Serve ­immediately or store airtight (3 days, ­refrigerated; 3 months, frozen). Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

Tools for Making Your Own

A gadget that cooks and blends is pretty slick, but a food mill is the simplest way to purée.
LEFT: OXO Tot Baby Food Mill in White/Green, $50, www.amazon.com.
RIGHT: The First Years BabyPro All-in-One Baby Food Maker, $59, www.amazon.com.

Tools for Making Your Own

Tyler’s not the only chef who supports the freshest food for your little one.
LEFT: Baby Love ($20, www.us.mcmillan.com), by chef Geoff Tracy, husband of NBC’s Norah O’Donnell, focuses on quick and easy preparation for busy parents.
RIGHT: Full of globally inspired recipes, The Baby ­Cuisine Cookbook and DVD ($20, www.birthandbeyond.com), by chef Shane Valentine, encourages a truly varied palate.

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