Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

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Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

Easy Homemade Chocolate Spread

My latest MEN post features a recipe for homemade chocolate spread that is delicious, easy to make, and far better for you than anything store-bought. It contains exactly four ingredients, and one of those is water.

“Do you like chocolate spread on toast, pancakes or waffles? My kids are ready to eat it by the spoonful if we would only let them, but the kind of commercial junk that passes for chocolate spread in the industry doesn’t have a place on our pantry shelves (Nutella, for instance, contains about 55% sugar and 30% oil, leaving only 15% for anything else).”

The detailed recipe is here.

Home Remedies In Your Kitchen

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“I love exploring various home remedies, and am a strong believer in everyone raising a patch of medicinal herbs in the yard, on a balcony, or even in a row of pots on the windowsill. Mint, rosemary, sage and lavender are all easy-to-grow, delicious-smelling herbs with a variety of uses, both medicinal and culinary.

But are you aware of the fact that not just herbs, but many staples which you almost certainly have in your kitchen, can also be used in a variety of safe, effective and healthy home remedies?”

These humble health-promoting compounds include black tea, salt, baking soda, and more.

Read the rest in my Mother Earth News post here.

Also, there are now two more places where you can follow me: Pinterest and YouTube. I plan to upload regular video snippets of our daily projects, so stay tuned! You can watch my first little video here:

How to juice a pomegranate

The pomegranate is a delicious fruit with many health benefits, but it can get really messy. When I want to treat my family to fresh, antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice, I seed and juice my pomegranates in the following easy, low-tech way:

1. Cut the pomegranates in half (as shown in the picture, bottom right).

2. Hold the pomegranate halves above a large bowl and seed. I do that by knocking on the outer peel with the handle of a heavy knife – a technique taught by my father-in-law. You can also just remove the seeds with your hands.

3. Once you have the bowl of pomegranate seeds (see picture, top right), mash them with something flat and heavy. I use a beer stein for this purpose – put it on top of the seeds in the bowl, bottom down, and press. The juice will flow.

4. Strain the juice by placing a strainer over a second bowl and pouring the contents of the first. Often, you will have residual juice after the first straining, so press some more.

The fresh pomegranate juice should be consumed as soon as possible so that its unique properties aren’t lost. It gives an antioxidant boost and is also an astringent, great for upset stomach and diarrhea.

The peels go on the compost pile and the remaining seed pulp to the chickens, who love it, so nothing is wasted!

Tell lice to get lost

It's either cry or laugh..we hope you laugh

Our first encounter with lice happened a few years ago and, thanks to not being part of the mainstream educational system, we have only caught these creepy-crawlies twice since. Nevertheless, if your kids don’t live in a bubble, and if they have any contact at all with other children, odds are that some time or other, they will have lice.

As of now we’re battling these nasties again, with the drawback of Israel having a huge aversion to anything that includes washing or combing hair. Naturally, sometimes there is just no choice, and so I find myself facing, on top of lice, a screaming, thoroughly unhappy kid.

I’ve tried several over-the-counter remedies, and read many tips for home treatments – including smothering your hair in anything from mayo to olive oil to Listerine (by the way, if anyone has a good strategy to share, I’ll be most happy to hear it). I came across this article, which not only made me almost choke on my cup of tea with giggling, but also contains some really great tips on thoroughly de-contaminating your children’s heads and your home.

I think a huge factor here is how serious the people around you are about treating lice. When I was a child, back in our “Old Country”, lice was considered something to be treated ASAP. Once your parents found some on your head, they freaked out and you were isolated and kept at home (no seeing anyone) until there was no sign of lice or nits and every strand of hair was squeaky clean. Think children spent most of their time in neat little sterile boxes? Nope… hardly anyone ever had lice, because they were always treated on time. Lice were associated with terrible unsanitary conditions, such as in concentration camps or prisons. In Israel, the attitude is comparably very lax.

I’ve actually met some parents who have despaired of ever getting rid of lice completely, and settle on keeping their population down (just so they won’t crawl all over the child’s face and become a public shame). Their children always have lice, and they rationalize by saying “so what? Everyone has them!” The Israeli Ministry of Education isn’t very helpful, with its guidelines which forbid teachers and daycare workers from checking kids’ heads (so as not to “shame” anyone), and which declare that no child will ever be sent home because of lice, even if they are live, multiple, and untreated. If one of your children’s friends has head lice, it doesn’t take much to get an infestation. If left uncontained, it will spread to every person in the house.

By this time, I have given up entirely on over-the-counter treatments containing dimethicone, as they include a warning that one must not use them if pregnant or breastfeeding. Moreover, the cost of these does add up. So here is my preferred strategy at the moment:

1. Buy the biggest, cheapest container of hair conditioner you can find.
2. Wash your kids’ hair (and your own, if needed) with conditioner until quite sleek and easy to comb.
3. After going through the clean, wet hair with regular comb, take up lice comb (always have one in your parenting emergencies arsenal – metal, not plastic!). Remove all lice and nits you can find. Don’t obsess, though; a single treatment won’t cut it anyway.
4. Next day, repeat process with washing, conditioner and combing. Be tenacious, and keep at it as many days as necessary until you don’t find a single louse. It usually takes up to a week.

Tips:
* Once in every couple of weeks, do a lice check just in case. You never know, and you don’t want an infestation to go untreated.
* Sometimes, shortening girls’ and women’s hair is necessary in order to make thorough combing feasible and not tortuous, but there’s definitely no need to go to extremes and shave heads.

More on Herb Gardening

Luckily for me, I live in an area where the earth never freezes, and thus, every season is a good season for digging! Now contemplating options of enlarging my herb patch (in ways that won’t encourage the chickens to dust bathe and upturn every single one of my young plants).

Read more on herb gardening in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My herb garden is my favorite, most useful, most versatile and easiest to maintain green patch. Once herbs get going, they’re extremely easy to grow and only require minimal care. They don’t need a lot of space or water, and can be tucked into nooks where you can’t grow much else. Many herbs boast of wonderful medicinal properties and a whole array of culinary uses. In fact, for someone just establishing a garden, I’d recommend to get started with herbs.”