Foreword from 'Feeding Little Tummies'
Feeding little tummies was originally published under the title Cooking for your Child (Craig Potton Publishing, 2006). When the book stocks ran out last year and I continued to receive regular requests for copies, I contacted my publisher to discuss reprinting. We decided to not only reprint but to revise, update and include new recipes, following feedback from readers of the original book about what they liked and didn't like.
I wrote Cooking for your Child while I was cooking for families with young children and working as a healthy cooking and nutrition educator, but before I had children of my own. In the five years since then, our daughter Mika has arrived on the scene, allowing me to put the book through a rigorous test while introducing first foods to her. In fact, I was revising the original first foods section (a slow process with baby in tow!) as my daughter was going through each stage, enabling me to add extra information and recipes I found useful as I went along.
Our daughter is now 15 months old, and I can certainly say I have learnt a lot in the last year. Although she loves food and eats most things we put in front of her (sometimes with some coaxing), it hasn't always been easy and there will be times to come when her determined personality will push the boundaries. During the challenging times when everything offered is rejected, perseverance is the key. It can be all too easy to slip into the habit of giving in and letting them have their favourite foods. However, as I have observed while cooking for families, this simply creates a larger problem because it puts the child in control of their food choices. I once heard a wonderful comment from a father at one of my child nutrition talks: 'Until my children can get a job and buy their own food, we [the parents] decide what they eat.' And that is the way it should be.
Being a good role model yourself, with a healthy attitude towards food, is also important. In my eight years working in the area of nutrition and cooking education I regularly came across people who improved their own diet when they became new parents. This may be in the form of preparing more home- cooked meals, buying organic fruit and vegetables, or simply reducing added salt in their diet. However, it isn't always easy and even as a trained chef, I have been challenged at times when introducing food to our daughter. Luckily, nature is kind in allowing us time as new parents to accustom ourselves to feeding babies. First foods are introduced slowly over a period of six months, starting with simple purées and finger foods to eventually eating the same food as the whole family at around 12 months.
The First Foods section in this book is arranged into three stages (stage 1: around 6 months; stage 2: 7–8 months; and stage 3: 8–12 months) to be in keeping with the national guidelines (at this date) from the Ministry of Health and Well Child providers such as Plunket. However, I must point out that since I first researched this material for the original book, the recommended ideal age for introducing first foods has changed from 4 months (2005) to around 6 months (2010). And this could change again with shifting nutrition trends, so use the stages as a guideline but not necessarily as a given. Every child is different and has their own individual needs — you, their parent, are the best judge, but if in doubt talk to your health professional as they will be able to accurately assess the needs of your child.
Over time as you venture into feeding your child you will gather a repertoire of recipes and quick meals to make preparing food for babies and toddlers easier. Providing your child with a healthy diet during their first years helps support their high nutritional needs. Good nutrition will also assist in building their immune system so they can overcome common childhood illnesses effectively. Good nutrition also supplies the brain and nervous system with the fuel they need to think and learn, and provides their rapidly growing bodies with strong building blocks to create a healthy foundation for life.
Meal planning and preparing food in bulk will help save time and stress in the kitchen. As a family we set aside a few hours a week to prepare foods such as vegetable and fruit purées in bulk, then freeze in meal-sized portions; dips and spreads including pesto, hummus and mayonnaise; and baking to fill snack and lunch boxes. We are a busy family — both parents working — so I know this is possible and very rewarding. As we work together as a family it reminds me of the 'old days' when a whole family worked together to grow, harvest, prepare and preserve food. Now it is all too easy to pop down to the supermarket and pick up a ready-made meal or snack, but at what cost to our health in the long run?
As early as possible include children in meal preparation. Even though our daughter is too small to help, I still involve her by showing her the food I am cooking on the stove or mixing in a bowl and giving her slices of vegetables to taste as I prepare dinner. Knowledge of cooking and food preparation is the gift of a lifetime. My love for cooking was ignited in my Nana's kitchen during our Thursday afternoon cooking sessions when I was eight. This sowed the seed for a passion for cooking real food — no packets or barcodes — just natural ingredients combined with a little magic and love to create food for my family.
This book begins with an introduction to the basics of nutrition, including information on food allergies and intolerances plus a section on nourishing food for when your child is unwell. It then covers how to introduce food in the First Foods section, before sections on Breakfasts, Snacks & Lunches (including celebration/party food), Dinners, and Desserts & Drinks. Many of the recipes include alternatives to gluten, wheat, dairy and/or eggs to be user friendly for allergen-sensitive children.
This is not just a book about cooking for babies and toddlers, and feedback from the original Cooking for your Child confirmed again and again its usefulness for years to come for family meals and as a quick reference guide for nutrition. If there is one thing becoming a parent inspires in you, let it be an appreciation for cooking real food that you can share with your children, that they in turn share with their children.