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A homemade treat for baby

When Cathy Miller had her first baby, a friend with a gourmet flair gifted her with jars of frozen baby food. She didn't realize what a treat it was for her son until the supply ran out and she made the switch to store-bought. Her son's protests inspired in her a commitment to make her own baby food.

"Kids don't have that many taste buds, but they definitely seem to prefer homemade," says Miller, who is a registered dietician at Providence Medford Medical Center.

Miller found it easy to make food ahead and freeze in small jars. Using a small blender and the ingredients of her own meals - pot roast, soup, meat and potatoes - "was easier for me than buying all those little jars," and probably less wasteful, she says.

However, there are guidelines to follow before you introduce such fancy food. Mary Shaw, M.Ed., food educator with Ashland Food Co-op, suggests feeding meat after babies have the teeth to chew it. She says solid food shouldn't be introduced until a baby can sit up unattended, pick up small objects independently and can swallow without the tongue pushing food back out-all signs that muscles and organs are ready for food. Babies should also be interested in your eating, says Shaw, even mimicking your chewing and reaching out for food.

For first foods, choose soft fruits or even vegetables like avocados, cooked beets or carrots mixed with breast milk or formula. Mash with a fork or use a baby food mill. A teaspoon is enough, offered separately from regular meals. You can offer the food straight from your finger, letting the baby take it. "The baby will let you know when he's ready for more than a teaspoon, but start with that tiny bit at first," says Shaw. Each food should be offered for five days before introducing a new item. After a couple weeks, introduce a second item.

Alan Kadish, naturopathic physician at Center of Health in Medford, hopes food can be offered with genuine pleasure and anticipation. Offer unusual foods. "Make it a fun experience," says Kadish. "Everyone has to be part of the program." Let everybody taste the food and no funny faces, he counsels.

Eating the same food as the rest of the family is a thrill for babies, so mill your baby's food right at the table and bring your food mill when you eat at restaurants, suggests Shaw.

As baby begins to be able to eat more variety, think color, says Kadish. Nutrients contribute color to food, so a colorful diet is one with a variety of nutrients. Speaking of color, Miller recommends against combining meat and green vegetables-that combination tends to turn an unappetizing gray. Try meats with potatoes, or even sweet potatoes or banana squash for a more appealing dish.

Other suggestions of Miller: strawberries and bananas, "like a smoothie;" vegetables with potatoes; and cottage cheese (after the first year) with fruits like berries, peaches or cooked applesauce. Cottage cheese helps insure babies get enough protein, she says. Meat is hard to make palatable and children often refuse to eat enough. Her greatest culinary success was when she blended the meat, potato and carrots of her pot roasts together. Meat and mashed potatoes is another good combination. Any meat intended to be turned into baby food should be moist-oven roasts and barbecued meats are too dry, she says.

Once you see how easy it is, you'll be making your own, says Miller. When a child expects food to taste good, mealtimes are bound to be happier and healthier for the whole family.

Choose one of the following:

1 cup short-grain brown rice

1 cup millet

1 cup quinoa

Place the grain in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse and drain. Place the washed grains in a large skillet on a burner set at medium heat, stirring constantly, until the grains give off a nutty aroma. When the toasted grain has cooled, grind it in a small electric grinder like a coffee grinder or you can use a food processor.

For a baby-size portion of the cereal, mix together 2-3 tablespoons of ground cereal and 1/2-3/4 cup water and a pinch of salt in a small pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 5 minutes. Cool to lukewarm before serving to baby.

Store toasted grain in the fridge for up to a month. Grind only what you need for one meal. Recipe courtesy of Mary Shaw, culinary education specialist, Ashland Food Co-op.

A homemade treat for baby