Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.
This week, it's all about texture.
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Texture is a hot topic for the baby feeding crowd. Some believe that until your baby has a full set of teeth, you should only give her the softest of purees. Others say the fear of choking has been blown out of proportion.
Before we started Clara on solids Peter Steinberg, Charlie's dad, sent me a link to this fascinating blog post about baby-led weaning, which shows a video of an 8-month-old (also named Clara) cheerfully feeding herself apple slices. We weren't sure about starting out by letting Clara feed herself entirely, but it gave us some ideas.
For the first few weeks, I pressed cottage cheese through a sieve so that she wouldn't struggle with the curds. Pretty soon, though, it was clear that she was developing a sort of half-chewing technique, mushing the cottage cheese around in her mouth before swallowing it. When I gave up the sieve Clara quickly and enthusiastically adjusted, curds and all.
The same was true with the vegetables I cooked for her. I went from pushing slow-cooked carrots through a sieve to mashing them roughly with a potato masher, and Clara seemed to like the challenge of gumming the veggies now that they had a little more heft.
The real payoff, however, came when we moved onto meat.
If you haven't pureed cooked meat before, I don't recommend it. Basically, you end up with cat food. But ground meat can be browned and simmered slowly with a little olive oil, garlic and plain stock or water for a baby with a few weeks of eating under her belt. A couple of important guidelines:
• Make sure to break up any large chunks while you're browning the meat
• Use a cut that's not too lean (dark meat chicken rather than light, chuck rather than sirloin) so that it gets tender as it cooks, rather than tough
Recently I added tomatoes to the mix, and Clara had her first Bolognese. Because we didn't need to puree it, we were able to enjoy the Bolognese with rigatoni, while she ate it with pastine (those adorable little pasta stars you're always looking for an excuse to buy).
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).