We Got Shot

The Garcia family got our flu shots today.

We do every year, because we know that the flu is nothing to sneeze at. While influenza often just means a terrible couple of weeks of cold-type symptoms combined with awful muscle aches, not everyone who gets influenza experiences a mild case. In fact, over the past 10 years, influenza has killed about 35,500 Americans yearly (annual deaths range from 12K in 2011/12, by far the mildest season in the past decade, to 61K in 2017/18).

Post-shot selfie of the whole family
Post-shot selfie. Silly faces are from trying to get Shiloh to look at the camera. She wasn’t amused, obviously.

My own terrible experience with a “mild” case of the flu in college was enough to convince me that I NEVER wanted it again – but even if I was willing to get flu myself, I am aware that me getting the flu doesn’t just affect me. If I get the flu, I can also give others the flu – and others might not be as “lucky” as I was.

This year, it’s even more important that we not get and give the flu. An estimated 442,000 Americans end up in the hospital with the flu each year – and, this year of all years, if we can keep people out of the hospital and off of ventilators we should.

One common objection is that the flu shot is not 100% effective – this is true. Likewise, seatbelts don’t keep everyone from dying of car accidents and not smoking doesn’t keep everyone from dying of lung cancer – that doesn’t make them worthless. Flu shots remain a low-risk way to reduce risk of getting influenza. And, even when the influenza vaccine has relatively low effectiveness at preventing influenza infection, it still results in milder cases of influenza (which means fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths – still a win.)

So get your flu shots, people! Do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor.

The Garcia family did.


The data I shared regarding disease burden is from the CDC website. For science-based answers to common questions regarding the flu vaccine, check out the linked blog post from science journalist Tara Haelle at her blog Red Wine and Applesauce.


PSA: There’s nothing wrong with serving your baby purees

Half of you are shaking your heads and thinking “No duh”. You raised your children on little jars of Gerber and the kids turned out just fine.

But in the years since I was a tot, “Baby-Led Weaning” has taken off, and with it, a whole new set of food rules for babies. One that many crunchy types have latched onto is that purees are not just unnecessary (that one is true, folks – babies can learn to eat without purees) but are harmful. This, friends, is simply not true.

While my older three barely ate any purees as their first foods, Shiloh has eaten purees almost every day since she started eating solids two or three weeks ago. She’s had cream of peanut and butternut squash soup, homemade applesauce, and pureed pumpkin whenever the family has those food items – which, for right now, is almost every day. That’s what we eat in the fall when squash and apples are in season.

Shiloh with pumpkin on her face.

And she’ll be just fine.

What you do want to watch for is that your baby doesn’t ONLY get purees for months on end. The evidence suggests that there is an ideal window for the introduction of texture – babies who don’t get introduced to textured foods by about 9 months are much more likely to become pickier eaters and to develop texture aversions. (References: Delayed introduction of lumpy foods to children during the complementary feeding period affects child’s food acceptance and feeding at 7 years of age; The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months).

So don’t only serve your baby purees, but don’t stress if you find yourself picking up a little container of puree at the grocery store or blending some for your baby: There’s nothing wrong with serving your baby purees.


COVID’s got my back

The last time my Dietetic Registration cycle was up, I was mother to a seven-month-old infant and just eight months out of the dietetics workforce. I had lots of opportunities for continuing education in my working days, when work-related conferences counted as continuing Ed and when I was regularly confronted with questions in need of answering.

This year, I’m up for recertification again, but this time I’m mother to a five-year-old, a four-year-old, two two-year-olds, and a two-month-old. I’ve been momming hard for the past five years… and continuing education has been at the bottom of the priority list.

Which meant my continuing education portfolio looked terrible going into 2020. I had maybe 40 hours of the needed 75 hours still to complete.

My learning log, with its 75 hours of continuing education, was due May 31.

I worked on continuing education some, but nowhere near enough.

I registered for our state conference so I could guarantee eight hours – and then the conference was cancelled by coronavirus (it did eventually get taped and placed online, so it wasn’t a complete bust, but it did mean I had to complete it on my own time while juggling mothering and homemaking versus getting it all done in one day while Daniel holds down the fort at home.)

At any rate, when May 31 rolled around, I still had a LOT of continuing education to complete.

But COVID had my back.

Toward the end of March or beginning of April, when it became clear that life would not be back to normal for a good long time, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics extended the deadline from May 31 to July 15.

Which is why I closeted myself in my room on Daniel’s day off for the fourth (on the third) to work on continuing education. And why Daniel took the day off today while I hid away in his office.

Between the two days, I completed 19 hours of continuing education and submitted my log.

Thanks to COVID, I’m going to keep on being a dietitian.

But I’m also DEFINITELY putting a plan in place to make sure this doesn’t happen the next time around!


COVID-19 is a lot more nuanced than you think

Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind – or so it seems.

Scrolling through Facebook reveals the diversity of viewpoints. There are the preppers who are telling everyone “I told you so.” There are the antivaxxers eager to claim conspiracy theories and sell you on elderberry syrup, Vitamin C, and essential oils (sorry folks, not gonna help). There is the “stop freaking out and just wash your hands” contingent who urge common sense. And there are, of course, those who compare COVID to the flu and wonder why nobody freaks out about flu.

I agree wholeheartedly with the advice to not freak out. I agree to wash hands. I agree to stay home when you’re sick. These are common sense measures to be sure.

But with something like COVID, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know how contagious it is. We don’t know when someone is contagious. We don’t even have a clear idea of what mild but contagious looks like. Most of all, we have no idea whether it’s present in our communities and where – and, under current screening guidelines, we won’t know unless someone travels to an endemic area or gets seriously ill.

And that is a problem.

It’s springtime in Kansas, which means it’s the time that Garcia family allergies kick into high gear. Sneezing, coughing, runny noses. Par for the course. But what if this year, allergies and mild or asymptotic COVID (which are reportedly likely in people of our risk profile) are comingled in our family? We could be exposing everyone we see even if I’m taking ordinary “sensible” measures to control allergies.

Thankfully, or not, depending on your perspective, whatever we’ve got is definitely not just allergies. We’ve got fevers along with our coughing. Which means we might have a common cold, we might have influenza (with the flu shots we all got at the beginning of the season explaining our relatively mild cases), or we might have COVID.

Wisdom regarding influenza says stay home until you’ve been fever free for 24 hours without the assistance of fever reducers. But we don’t know much about COVID transmission. We do know that it spreads relatively easily, and in some cases asymptomatically.

So when will it be safe for our family to venture into the wild without putting others at risk? Who knows.

But unless one of us gets seriously ill and has to receive medical treatment (which is less likely since the majority of young, otherwise well people only experience mild cases of COVID), we don’t qualify for testing. Which means we’ve got to assume that it’s COVID and just not do anything?

There isn’t guidance for people like us, people who aren’t particularly concerned for themselves but who would really rather not be a specter of death to their communities.

COVID is just a whole lot more nuanced than the viral Facebook posts and snappy memes would lead you to believe.

There aren’t any easy answers because there’s a whole lot we don’t know.


When labels mislead

I have a deep, dark secret. It’s bound to have other dietitians ready to throw me out of the club.

I don’t read labels.

Honestly.

I generally buy food based on price and count on my general tendency towards minimally processed ingredients for ensuring that I don’t end up with too much sodium or added sugar in our diets (although, who am I kidding, we get plenty of added sugar in our diets – I know it’s there because I’m removing it from my sugar bins by the cup- and spoonful.)

Anyway, there is one item where I routinely read the label (or at least read it when I’m deciding between stuff – then I go on autopilot.)

I read the labels on cans of fruit.

We eat canned fruit almost every day. If we were to try to get our 3-4 servings of fruit per day from fresh fruit alone, it could get pretty expensive (or pretty unvaried during certain seasons); but by using a combination of canned, frozen, dried, and (seasonal) fresh fruit, I can feed my family a good amount of fruit without breaking the bank.

But since I feed my family canned fruit on a daily basis, I have nutritional criterion for what I buy. I want as little added sugar as possible. What’s more, I want as little added sweetener as possible.

So, when possible, I try to get fruit packed in water. If that’s not available, I’ll go with fruit packed in its own juice or in extra light syrup. If fruit is packed in some other kind of juice, I want the concentration of that juice to be the same as the concentration of straight juice (so no using half the water to reconstitute fruit juice – that’s the nutritional and flavor equivalent of heavy syrup.) I only buy fruit in heavy syrup as a treat (for instance, you can’t buy canned plums any other way – and I have fond memories of my mom’s home-canned plums so I pick some up a couple times a year.)

Then came Splenda – and fruit canners decided all their dreams had come true. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, Splenda is heat-stable AND replaces sugar molecule-for-molecule. This means that they can use Splenda to get the same results as sugar (sweetness and better fruit texture) without the extra calories/added sugar that consumers don’t want. Perfect. They started using Splenda in their canned fruits.

I am not a fan.

Not to say that I’m not a fan of Splenda in general. It is a wonderful substitute for those who need to reduce sugar and still want to make their own recipes (so, it’s a great choice for diabetics who want to be able to eat their favorite dessert without having to make the rest of the meal completely carb free).

But even in the absence of the calories from sugar, I don’t want my children to grow up thinking canned fruit should be as sweet as it would be if it were canned in heavy syrup. I want to train their taste buds to think that water-packed (or “own-juices-packed”) fruit is “the way canned fruit should taste.”

But then I started using Walmart grocery pickup, where reading labels isn’t as easy as scanning visually while you’re tossing a can into your cart.

At first, I bought the Great Value fruit labeled “No Added Sugar.” But that was packed in Splenda. No go.

I switched to fruit “With 100% Fruit Juice”. It contains an extra 3 grams of sugar per serving (that’s 3/4 teaspoon) than fruit canned in water would.

But last week, I saw that there was a new item available: Great Value canned fruit packed IN WATER.

“Hooray! At last!” I thought, as I added it to my favorites and ordered some cans.

My hooray turned to disappointment when I looked at the label before I opened the first can of peaches.

These were not peaches packed in water. These were peaches packed in Splenda. They’d just changed the name of the “No added sugar” variety.

Grr.


Book Review: The Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block

Feeding a family. Raising healthy eaters. Topics I’m passionate about. Even while I was still working on my degree, I knew that helping mothers feed their families and raise healthy eaters was what I wanted to do as a career. I made that the focus of my graduate work. After a stint in long term care, I moved to WIC, where I was able to live my dream (at least as far as career goes.)

Subtitled “Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World”, Betsy Block’s book should be right up my alley, right?

Wrong.

I should have known from the blurb on the back cover:

“A harried mother of two, Betsy Block is in pursuit of the perfect family meal: local, toxin-free, humane, and healthful.”

But the book was in a Dewey Decimal category I was trying to close and I figured “how bad can it be?”

Pretty bad.

Betsy Block’s The Dinner Diaries is basically a manual on how NOT to feed a family or raise healthy eaters. In order to save you the work of reading it, allow me to summarize the main points.

Tip 1: Start with all the wrong priorities

It’s no mistake that “healthful” is last on the list of Block’s priorities a la the back of the book. In reality, her definition of “healthful” is suspect enough that you might as well knock it off the list. Block is all about the local (which has very little impact on health), toxin-free (the American food supply, with the exception of methyl-mercury containing fish, is actually one of the safest in the world), and humane/sustainable (an ideological issue but not a health one.) Her couple of concessions to actually health practices include trying to eat less sugar and (at the very end of the book) attempting to eat more whole grains.

If you’d rather actually have some success at feeding a family or raising healthy eaters, I recommend starting with priorities that will actually help you achieve health. Try: increasing fruit and vegetable intake (no, it doesn’t have to be fresh – frozen or canned are fine), increasing variety (of protein sources, vegetables, starches, you name it – variety is good), sitting down together as a family to eat (even for snacks), having sweets around less frequently and subbing fruit instead, or experimenting with forms of cooking other than frying. I can give you more suggestions if you’d like, but those are some of the biggies.

Tip 2: Lecture your children about food

There’s nothing like a good guilt trip to help kids form a healthy attitude toward food, amiright?

Okay, no.

But Block seems to think it’s a great idea. She lectures about all those wrong priorities, lectures when kids won’t eat something, lectures when kids do eat something. She sets up learning opportunities for herself (like going to see a pig that she’s later going to eat) and leaves the children behind lest it be too tense for them – not that she won’t lecture them about it when she gets home. When her daughter asks to help cook, Betsy asks if that means her daughter will eat what they prepare. When her daughter says “probably not”, Betsy declines the offer of help.

If you’d like your children to actually develop a healthy attitude toward food, start by modeling healthy attitudes towards food yourself (by the way, Block’s obsessive interest in “perfect” food isn’t healthy.) Eat in moderation. Eat a variety. Don’t obsess over food (either in a “I must have sweets now” or in a “my diet must be absolutely healthy all the time” way).

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, involve them in selecting and preparing food. Preschoolers will love searching for a red vegetable at the supermarket. Kids can learn to cook early on. Gardening or going to a farm to see how food is made is a great activity for kids. BUT…not as a way to coerce your kids into eating something. That’s Betsy’s mistake. She read that when kids cook with their families, they’re more likely to eat what they make – so she thought she could coerce her daughter into eating by letting her help cook. Letting your child cook isn’t a one-time magic bullet to healthy eating. Instead, it’s a process by which children develop positive associations with food, take ownership of food (in a healthy way), and learn skills that will help them eat well when they decide that they’re willing to try eating asparagus.

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, move the conversation from nutrition to habits. Dina Rose’s excellent website It’s not about nutrition is a great resource for changing the way families talk about food. The gist of Rose’s message is to start talking about proportion, variety, and moderation (Check out this article for more info.) Changing the conversation makes a real difference, both in helping kids eat healthfully, but also in helping them think healthfully about food.

In the very first chapter of Betsy Block’s book, she writes of a nutritionist who refused to work with her because of her emphasis on organic foods. Block was shocked that organic foods were controversial. Except that to call the “health benefits” of organic controversial is putting it mildly. Despite many attempts to prove otherwise, there is no compelling evidence that organic foods are more nutrient-rich or more safe than conventionally grown ones. It’s fine for people to eat organic, but they’re fooling themselves if they think that organic = healthy. Block’s choice to focus on secondary issues instead of primary ones meant that her memoir is a recounting of an exercise in frustration, accomplishing next to nothing in terms of changing her children’s habits and attitudes regarding food.

The nutritionist who ended up working with Block (although we only hear about her in the first chapter) did a good job of trying to get Block to focus on some actually beneficial eating practices (unfortunately, she did not address the task of how to communicate with children about food) – but it was all for naught. Block would not be dissuaded from her ill-informed search for dietary perfection and from her agenda of changing her children’s eating patterns by coersion. I think the first nutritionist made a wise choice.

Please, people, don’t be Betsy.


Rating: 1 star
Category: Food memoir
Synopsis: Betsy Block tries to make over her family mealtimes.
Recommendation: Ugh. No.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans summarized

Remember how I said (back before I stopped blogging) that the Guidelines aren’t written for the general public? The reality is that the five guidelines can sound like mumbo-jumbo to the average consumer. My goal here is to translate the guidelines into more average-person-friendly language.

1. Your entire eating pattern is more important than specific foods or nutrients.

Eating a healthy diet isn’t about vilifying a food group (i.e. grains or meats) or an individual nutrient (i.e. fat or carbohydrates). Nor is it about consuming the current super-food fad (i.e. quinoa or coconut oil).

It’s about your whole pattern of eating and the balance of food groups and nutrients.

2. Choose a variety of the most nutritious foods in the quantities you need to stay healthy.

Variety. You should eat foods from all the food groups (i.e. not just meat and grains). You should eat a variety of foods within each food group (i.e. not just potatoes and lettuce in the vegetable group.)

Nutritious. This means with lots of vitamins and minerals without many empty calories. This means choosing whole grains more frequently and white flour less frequently. It means choosing fresh fruit over fruit drinks. It means choosing a steak (preferably lean) over a hot dog. It’s choosing the grilled chicken over the nuggets.

Quantity. Eat the amount you need to maintain a healthy weight. Eat until you’re satisfied instead of until you’re stuffed.

3. Decrease sugar, solid fat, and salt intake.

Drink less soda and more water. Eat fewer fruit snacks and more whole fruit. Eat less meat and more fish and beans. Eat less cheese and more low fat yogurt. Eat less processed food and make more meals from scratch.

4. Trade healthier foods for less healthy ones.

Is this starting to sound like a broken record? Use brown rice instead of white. Eat fruit instead of drinking juice. Drink low fat milk instead of whole milk. Choose fish as your protein more frequently. Have a spinach salad instead of an iceberg lettuce one. Choose a baked potato instead of fries.

**And here’s where I need to remind us of the first recommendation again. Your entire eating pattern is more important than specific foods or nutrients. Neither I nor the DGA is recommending that you NEVER EAT white rice, iceberg lettuce, or French fries. Juice is fine on occasion. For that matter, a full-sugar soda is fine on occasion. It’s the overall pattern of your eating that makes the difference.**

5. Everybody is responsible for helping Americans eat healthier diets.

It’s easy to want to play a blame game when it comes to nutrition and health. Some say the poor dietary habits of Americans are each individual’s fault. Others blame food manufacturers or school lunch ladies or food deserts or supersized meals at McDonald’s.

This Guideline doesn’t point fingers, but it does say that everyone can play a role in improving the dietary habits of Americans. Workplaces and schools can make healthy options more available in their cafeterias. Food manufacturers can work to reduce the sodium in their food products. McDonald’s can offer to sub a salad for the fries in a value meal.


A couple things to know about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

1. The Audience determines the message and the method of communication

A good question to ask yourself when reading anything is who is the intended audience?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) make clear who their intended audience is. The DGA website splash page states

“Intended for policymakers and health professionals, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines…”

In case that isn’t clear, the introduction to the Guidelines reads

“The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public.”

Why is this important? (That is to say, why do *I* think this is important?)

This is important because the intended audience determines what information is shared and how it is shared.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms in the popular media complaining that the 2015 DGA aren’t consumer-friendly or that they contain awkward language. But the DGA aren’t intended for the consumer. They’re to be used by professionals to craft consumer messages. That means they are going to say things like “Americans should limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories” – leaving the “Americans should consume less soda” to those professionals who are creating consumer messages (such as MyPlate – The federal government’s consumer food guidance graphic.)

2. What the media focuses on is not necessarily what the guidelines focus on

What have you heard about the recommendations?

Let me guess: Cholesterol is okay now. Sugar is the bad guy. Women who drink more than one alcoholic drink per day are binge drinkers and unhealthy. Men need to eat less meat.

The media focuses on these items because they’re new (absence of cholesterol restriction, insertion of sugar restriction) or controversial (alcohol and meat intake in general). They make good stories.

But to focus on the new and the controversial misses the bulk of what the guidelines recommend: Americans need to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and need to consume fewer empty calories.

Does that feel boring? I’ll bet it does. You already knew that you were supposed to do that. But the reality remains that Americans are NOT doing that – and that those dietary changes (regardless of your views on the new or controversial stuff in the recommendations) are what is most important for improving the dietary quality of Americans.

If the message you got from the news coverage of the guidelines was “cholesterol is no longer the bad guy, sugar is”, you got the wrong message. If your application is to go out and eat a much beef, pork, and eggs as you can while eschewing everything with “sugar” on its nutrition facts panel, you’ve made the wrong application. But I fear that is the sort of messages people are going to be getting from the media coverage of the guidelines.


A Taste of Sore Throat Relief

Our family has had colds this week, which means mama has been pushing lots of fluids and encouraging lots of rest. I hate colds like these, ones where you’re exhausted but can’t sleep thanks to the postnasal drip and where your throat feels like it’s on fire from the aforementioned drip.

With colds like these, you have to pull out the big guns for sore throat relief. That is, if by “big guns” you mean standard-variety home remedies.

As I was contemplating my options for sore throat relief, I realized that the spectrum of relief includes all five of the basic tastes.

Say what?

While we typically refer to the “taste” of something as being whatever gives it its characteristic flavor, this is an incorrect understanding of taste. Taste is one of our senses, experienced through the “taste buds” located on our tongues. There are just five basic “tastes”: Bitter, Salty, Sour, Sweet, and Umami.

And it just so happens that you can try a sore throat remedy in every taste.

Bitter: Baking Soda Gargle

The Technique:
Add 1/2 tsp baking soda to 1 cup warm water. Gargle in throat and then spit out.

Why does it taste bitter?
Baking soda (chemical name: sodium bicarbonate) is basic (with a pH above 7) and basic compounds taste bitter.

The Claim:
Bicarbonate kills bacteria and other bad bugs that colonize your throat.

Evidence:
Tenuous. This is a commonly recommended home remedy – and if it provides you relief, great. It’s cheap and not likely to be dangerous. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that it’s actually killing anything bad. Any relief is probably from having warm water on your throat. Sorry.

Salty: Salt Water Gargle

The Technique:
Add 1/2 tsp salt to 1 cup warm water. Gargle in throat and then spit out. This technique is often combined with the above (1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda to 1 cup water).

Why does it taste salty?
‘Cause it’s salt (chemical name: sodium chloride) and salt tastes salty :-)

The Claim:
Salt kills the bacteria and other bad bugs that colonize your throat.

Evidence:
Also tenuous. See the evidence for the “bitter” solution.

Sour: Lemon or Orange Juice

The Technique:
Mix a little lemon juice (with or without honey) into warm water and drink. Or just have some orange juice.

Why does it taste sour?
Citrus fruits contain citric acid – and acids give foods a characteristicly sour taste.

The Claim:
Vitamin C in lemon or orange juice stops cold viruses in their tracks, either by killing the virus or by boosting your immune system so it can kill the virus.

Evidence:
While many super-smart people have posited the above claim, scientific study has failed to support this claim. The relief you experience when you drink lemon water or orange juice is more likely thanks to the soothing effect of the water itself (numbing when cold, relaxing when warm). The water also helps by loosening secretions so you don’t get stuffed up (and since stuffiness promotes things like sinus infections and uncomfortable headaches, the water can help you avoid some of those complications.)

Sweet: Honey

The Technique:
Eat honey from a spoon, or add it to your warm lemon water or tea.

Why does it taste sweet?
Honey is primarily made up of the simple sugars glucose and fructose (the same two sugars that are linked together to form table sugar). Both sugars taste sweet – fructose is a little sweeter than table sugar, glucose is a little less sweet than table sugar.

The Claim:
Honey keeps you from coughing, which keeps the sore throat from getting worse. Also, if your sore throat is caused by allergies, locally grown honey will contain pollen proteins that will desensitize you to common allergens.

Evidence:
The anti-cough properties of honey are borne out by moderately good quality research studies. So if your sore throat is because you’ve been coughing a lot, honey will help it out. If you put your honey in water, especially warm water such as if you were making a warm lemon water or tea concoction, you’ll get even more benefit because the water will loosen any secretions so they can flow into your digestive system instead of hanging out in your throat to get coughed up. The allergy thing? I wish it were true, but there isn’t any clinical evidence to suggest that it is – and its theory is also tenuous since most of the things people are allergic to are wind-pollinated rather than bee-pollinated, so the honey is unlikely to contain the offending allergens.

Umami: Chicken Noodle Soup

The Technique:
Make chicken noodle soup (or have grandma make it for you :-P) Eat and enjoy.

Why does it taste umami – or, hey wait, what on earth is umami?
I’m so glad you asked! Umami is a meaty or brothy taste that we experience when we eat meat or broth (I know, right?) It is caused by the amino acid glutamate, which is found in most meats, mushrooms, and in that ubiquitous Chinese food additive monosodium glutamate. Chicken – and chicken broth – contains glutamate and therefore tastes umami

The Claim:
Chicken noodle soup fixes a sore throat because Grandma said so.

Evidence:
The majority of the benefit of chicken noodle soup is probably psychosomatic – most of us include chicken noodle soup in the “comfort food” category. But even if it isn’t a comfort food for you, it’s a warm water-filled food – which means it loosens up those secretions and it soothes your throat on its way down.


My preferred sore-throat treatment is warm water with lemon and honey, not so much because it confers medical benefits (although the anti-cough properties of the honey are sometimes welcome), but because it tastes great and it makes sure I’m getting that much needed water while I’m battling a cold. (Tirzah Mae gets breastmilk – the ultimate wonder-drug. Honey could contain botulism spores that a baby’s immature immune system can’t shed, resulting in life-threatening respiratory illness, so never give honey to a baby under age 1.)

Do you have a favorite sore throat remedy?


Book Review: The Baby Food Bible by Eileen Behan

Face it, feeding a baby is hard work. Whether at the breast, from a bottle, or at the table, infant feeding takes time, energy, and savvy. (And don’t even get me started on the cleanup!)

For the health savvy mom, feeding a baby can be even harder – there’s so much conflicting information, so much advice, so many different ways to go. Start at four months or six? Rice cereal or avocado as a first food? Wait 3-5 days between foods or introduce mixtures at will? Cut grapes into quarters or sixteenths? Jarred or homemade baby foods? Or maybe baby-led weaning is the way to go? Should I choose organic foods or are conventionally grown foods okay? Should my baby eat salt? Sugar? Dairy foods? Soy foods? Wheat? Peanuts? The list of potential questions goes on and on.

I wish there were a good quality book that addressed all these issues (and addressed them the way I do – because, of course, I know it all :-P), but unfortunately, to my knowledge, no such book exists.

Eileen Behan’s The Baby Food Bible does a pretty good job though as a basic resource for moms. Behan, a dietitian who works with families, does a decent job summarizing general infant feeding recommendations as of 2008 when The Baby Food Bible was published.

The largest section of the book is a list of healthy food items (from all the food groups), discussing how moms can make them into purees for their infants and how they can incorporate those foods into family meals. She gives easy “recipes” for the purees, including how much water to use per unit of food and both stovetop and microwave cooking times. For the mom who’s going the puree route (which you don’t have to, by the way – Tirzah Mae ate purees maybe twice), it’s a good resource. The next largest section is a collection of multi-ingredient recipes that can be pureed to be fed to babies, as well as to the rest of the family. Again, if you’re going the puree route, it’s a good resource.

Now, every so often, Behan says something about a specific food that reflects traditional infant feeding biases that I don’t agree with (and that don’t have research to back them up) – like when she says that cucumbers are “not recommended for infants”, but are “a good snack food for older toddlers.” It’s true that cucumbers do not puree well, but I don’t see any reason why an infant eating stage 3 or 4 foods shouldn’t have little chunks of the inner portion of a cucumber (Tirzah Mae does whenever we’re eating cucumbers). Likewise, Behan writes that “onions are not a baby food” and suggests only that they can be included in recipes for older children because they add flavor. I’ve never seen any reason to avoid onions with babies (except cultural biases against it) – and we eat sauteed onions (or sauteed onions and zucchini or onions and peppers or…) rather frequently.

Other recommendations Behan makes are outdated – the most notable being that she gives the (then current) recommendation to avoid potentially allergenic foods in the first year. Pediatricians and dietitians had been giving that advice for years based on a “better safe than sorry” principle while research was being conducted to determine whether it made a difference. Well, in the past 2 (maybe 3?) years, the research has come out and indicates that holding off on potentially allergy-causing food has the exact opposite effect than the one we’d hoped for. We now know that introducing potential allergens between the ages of 4 and 6 months has a protective effect against the development of food allergies.

And then there are the philosophical questions that don’t necessarily have scientific evidence on their side – organic foods, local foods, humane foods, etc. Behan generally jumps on the bandwagon with each of these, although she does acknowledge to some degree that parents may have different priorities.

So… now for the difficult part. Do I recommend The Baby Food Bible?

If you’re a mom with a baby younger than 8 months, you intend to go the puree route, and you want to learn how to make your own baby food, this is a great resource. If you’ve got a baby older than 8 months, you should be working on introducing textures (which Behan doesn’t talk a whole lot about but which I consider a very important step in ensuring healthy eating patterns into adulthood – something I believe the research supports). If you intend to skip purees – hey, I did too – wanna compare notes? If you intend to just buy staged baby food from the store, the bulk of this book won’t apply to you.


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Infant feeding
Synopsis: Behan discusses then-current recommendations for infant feeding and gives a giant list of foods and how to prepare and puree them for your baby.
Recommendation: Worthwhile if your baby is under 8 months, you intend to feed your baby purees, and you want to learn how to make your own baby food.