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Spice, Spice, Baby!

By Jessica LehmannRegistered Dietitian-Nutritionist

“Chili for babies – WHAT?”

My friend looked at me, confused. I had told her that I was testing baby-friendly chili recipes in honor of National Chili Day, the fourth Thursday in February. I assured her that “baby-friendly chili” is not an oxymoron, though it may sound as contradictory as “jumbo shrimp” or “clearly confused.”

Perhaps I should have called it a “savory veggie and protein stew.” While some chili aficionados might insist that the dish must include chile peppers and meat, there are many variations. Modern baby-friendly chili doesn’t need to be spicy-hot; it just needs to be spicy-yummy.

Celebrating National Chili Day is about enjoying a bowl of simple, healthy comfort food. My basic formula for baby-friendly chili is simple. First, sauté onions, vegetables and minced garlic with dried cumin and oregano. (The chili powder is optional.) Let the veggies take a starring role: start with aromatics like onions and garlic and add finely diced bell peppers, butternut squash, and root vegetables like sweet potatoes and turnips. Brown some lean ground beef or turkey; think of meat as a flavor accent or a garnish. Add beans or lentils, tomato sauce, and adjust the seasonings. Add a bit of sweetness if desired.

Vegetables, beans, spices, and lean ground meats contribute important nutrients to your little one’s diet. Chili is rich in iron, zinc, protein and fiber, plus vitamin C, potassium and other important disease-fighting substances.

It’s never too early to expose kids to a variety of flavors. Research shows that babies learn to prefer flavors of food that mom ate while she was pregnant or breastfeeding. In Western culture, when babies begin eating solids, they often take a gastronomic step backwards to bland and sweet flavors. Parents rarely offer infants the foods containing the complex spicy, bitter, and sour notes that were sometimes present in amniotic fluid and in breast milk. The absence of these flavors in the diets of infants and toddlers leads to the rejection of many nutritious foods that happen to be rich in taste dimensions other than “salty” and “sweet”.

Many other cultures around the world introduce richly flavored foods to babies and toddlers without hesitation. For example, in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, there is no taboo against introducing babies to the foods that adults eat, as long as the texture can be adjusted for the child’s age and stage of development. Consider the potential for spicing up the family diet with sambal, jalapenos, salsa, curry or Sriracha!

The use of spices, herbs, condiments, and vinegars to build flavor during cooking allows us to cut out or reduce the amount of added sugars and salt. The use of warm, sweet spices, such as cinnamon and cardamom, create a flavor profile of sweetness that eliminates the need for excess sugars. Savory, balanced flavors satisfy the taste buds without a lot of salt.

Spices yield other health benefits. Traditional uses for cumin and oregano include boosting the immune system and easing digestion, for example. Most herbs and spices are anti-inflammatory, promoting overall health.

If you’re in a rush on National Chili Day, just look for chili at the grocery store. Look for a low-sodium, mild version. You can try plain chili beans (pinto beans) which come with a mild chili sauce. If you find a product you like and you’re not sure if it’s too intensely flavored for your child, then try mixing a spoonful of it with a spoonful of plain chili beans or other beans.

If you have more time, try this recipe:

White Bean & Root Veggie Chili

Serving size: ¾ cup

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 cup onions, finely diced

1 tsp garlic, minced
1 cup roasted root veggies, finely diced

½ cup tomato sauce

2 cups cooked white beans or 1 15 oz can white beans

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp oregano

1 Tablespoon olive oil

 

Instructions:

  1. In a saucepot, heat the olive oil to medium. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute.
  2. Add the cumin and oregano and continue to stir.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, beans and the roasted root veggies. Stir well to combine.
  4. Season to taste. For more sweetness, add a pinch of brown sugar.
  5. Turn the heat down to low and cover. Continue to cook for 30 minutes.

This is the kind of meal that tastes even better the day after!

Tips:

  • If you’re worried about canned beans causing digestive upsets, drain the beans and rinse them in a strainer first. This step will cut back on the starch that produces gas as well as up to 40% of the sodium.
  • Mix in pureed vegetables or fruits if you have any extra. For little ones, puree to the desired consistency in a food processor or blender.
  • Offer plain yogurt to offset any spiciness. The lactose in the yogurt is sweet and creamy enough to counteract the heat.
  • Crackers, bread, cornbread, and rice are baby-friendly accompaniments to chili.

Super Valentine Cookies

By Tammy of Musing of a Working Mom 

Over the summer, we visited my sister-in-law in Chicago, and downstairs from her apartment was a comic book store. Somehow, we never made it down there during business hours. We walked by it before it opened or after it closed, and every time, Pumpkin (my 5-year-old) would stand and stare in the window and ask why we couldn’t go in.

She has taken quite an interest in comic books and superheroes in general, and Superman specifically, all on her own. (She gets upset when the boys at school tell her she has to be Wonder Woman or Bat Girl when they play superheroes because she wants to be Superman.) 

Given her interest, and considering we’ve been to a few superhero events lately, I thought it would be fun for us to make Superhero Valentine cookies for her and Peanut to share with their friends in our neighborhood. We selected Superman and Batman cookie cutters, and got to work.

Typically when the girls decorate cookies, I make a spreadable frosting and they add sprinkles. When we did this over Christmas, Peanut dipped her fingers in the sprinkles, then in her mouth, then back in the sprinkles. She was a mess, and her germs were all over everything. I wasn’t terribly concerned about this considering the cookies were just for the four of us and Santa, but for gifting cookies, I decided to rein this in and use royal icing for the girls to color with food-safe markers.

 

I am by no means a royal icing master – I’m not sure I have the patience for it. But I did give it a shot, piping the outlines of the shapes on the cookies, and flooding the center with thinner icing. Pumpkin did a great job taking her toothpick to carefully guide the flood icing to the edges.

We let the icing set overnight, and then the girls decorated them a variety of ways with their food-safe markers. Once dry, we packaged the cookies in Superman and Batman snack bags, and my little caped crusaders delivered them throughout the neighborhood!

Getting Organized...Working Mom Style

By Tammy of Musing of a Working Mom 

One of my goals in the new year is to get more organized, and one of the ways I’m doing that is to have all the supplies I need at work, well, at work.

I’m not talking about paper clips and notepads, but more of the personal items I need during the day that I may or may not have. 

There once was a time when I carried everything with me in my purse. After having kids, I switched to a clutch for the basics – keys, wallet, phone, lip balm – which I can throw into my laptop bag or the diaper bag, depending on where I am.

This method leaves me without a lot of things that I need from time to time, so I stocked up on some essentials to keep in my desk drawer so I don’t have to go from cubicle to cubicle to hunt down a hair tie or hand lotion or safety pin.

 

Small Travel Bag (teeth!)

  • Toothpaste
  • Tooth brush
  • Dental floss

Medium Travel Bag (beauty!)

  • Brush
  • Comb
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair ties
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Nail file
  • Nail clippers

Large Travel Bag (everything else!)

  • Deodorant
  • Unscented hand lotion
  • Lip balm
  • Lint roller
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Sewing kit
  • Safety pins
  • Pain reliever
  • Lactaid (you never know when there might be an ice cream emergency)

Small Snack Bag

I used this bag for feminine supplies for discretion.

I tried to be strategic about what items I would need together so I could grab them and take them to the restroom or wherever I need them. I occasionally go from the office to an evening event, so keeping the items in travel bags makes it easy for me to freshen up at work, or take them with me. I recently went straight from the office to a photo shoot, so I grabbed the bags I needed and brought them back to the office the next morning.

I think the one thing I’m missing is a compact mirror. What else would you add?