Thursday, August 05, 2010


Japanese Baby Food

Here's what I don't understand (and non-baby people, just skip this post as it will likely annoy you as much as it would have annoyed me when I was a non-baby person).

New mothers have this incredible pressure on them to breast feed and even to breast feed exclusively. The ones who breast feed exclusively--heretofore known as EBF, as it is referenced on message boards--can, at times, lord their perfection over others. Somewhere I read that baby formula ought to be available by prescription only. This debate rages and continues and new mothers get together and slowly figure out who is supplementing with formula and who isn't and who might be "cool" with the whole issue of formula and who might not and are relieved to find non-judgy kindred spirits. Dr. Sears, the current baby guru, spends pages and pages on breastfeeding, reminding us that "breast is best," and citing studies which correlate breast milk with everything from IQ to obesity (studies which others are ready to challenge). Most mothers I know--and this is anecdotal--suffer some sort of guilt or insecurity over breastfeeding and this is made all the more annoying when some paragon of female perfection, aka Gisele Bundchen comes out and declares that breastfeeding ought to be THE LAW.

So, this goes on and on . . . and then around 4 to 8 months, depending on who you are, you realize that your baby actually has to eat. Food. And then the debate switches to safe foods and textures. And that's kind of it.

There's a big part of me that wants to say, wait. What? The debate was over breastfeeding versus formula and now it's over? Didn't anyone read the article about how we literally are what we eat? As a country, we are about 30 percent obese and 60 percent overweight. And this, mind you, is despite the fact that breastfeeding rates are rising. Breastfeeding. That activity which is supposed to just maybe prevent obesity.

I don't understand why we aren't talking about what babies eat after the initial milk only phase is over. I don't understand why there is a paucity of material on what to feed your baby and how to do it correctly.

What's more, I'm starting to think that we really as a culture don't love food all that much, or at least, that we can't seem to tell the difference between what is good for us and what supposedly makes us feel good.

Here's the list of foods that Dr. Sears recommends for a 6 month old baby.
rice cereal

What is rice cereal? It's cooked rice that has been sapped of all moisture so you can reconstitute it with breast milk or formula. It's like instant oatmeal.

From 7 to 9 months, baby may eat:
sweet potatoes or yams
mashed potatoes
barley cereal
teething biscuits
pear and apple juice

No meat. A lot of sweet foods. The prepackaged baby food companies oblige, and go along with this kind of food progression. When I went to look at some organic jar foods to see if there was something I could take for Ewan on a trip, I found lots and lots of sweets and fruits. About the only non-sweet thing for a young baby was a jar of peas.

Here are the foods the Japanese baby food book recommends for babies aged 5 to 6 months:
rice (cooked and reboiled and mashed)
bread (again, softened and mashed)
soumen noodles (see above)
shirasu (white anchovies, which must be rinsed of salt and mashed)
plain yogurt

Around 7 to 8 months, the Japanese baby food book recommends adding:

soybean powder
egg yolk
cottage cheese
chicken breast
egg plant

There are recipes too, in the cookbook, on how to make a broth with kelp and fish, so you can season rice and potatoes and virtually anything else. The instructions are clear: aim to give your child carbs, protein and veggies with every meal. Sound familiar? Sure--that's what you want your child to eat as he gets older. In other words, the whole idea behind Japanese baby food is that your baby is eating. He is eating your food. He is not adapting to texture. He is eating and enjoying the things that you already love.

The cookbook is gorgeous. The photos appetizing. I taste the baby food and think that if I were a baby, I'd eat what I am making. Would I eat jarred prunes and spinach? No. Yes, babies have to get most of their nutrition from formula. But how can you eat a healthy diet as a baby when you have to chow through a container of prunes? I find, too, that by following these instructions, I think about what I should eat. If he is eating some egg, I'll eat some egg. If he can now eat spinach, I'll eat spinach. These are all things I should be eating anyay.

So why is the debate about what we feed children not more charged? Why don't we worry more about what we are eating from a very small age? Why is there no gorgeous baby food book that makes cooking fun and eating fun? And I guess that last statement sort of answers the question--people in Japan love to eat. It's fun. It makes sense that you want to share what you love with your child. If you don't value food or what you are eating, then how can you pass on healthy habits to your own children?

*steps off soap box*

1. The Petit Appetit Cookbok (lots of nice varied easy purees, if you lean that way)


2. Baby-Led Feeding/Weaning (it's called both; i think the book uses "weaning")... (give 'em a hunk of apple to gum, safely, if you lean that way)

and remember,

3. For the first 15 months or so, solids are for practice. They're getting all the nutrition they need from your body, or formula, or some combination of these.

4. Variety is good. Dr. Sears is very helpful in many things, but quite narrow on foods. Just make sure if E's not getting rice cereal (T hated it too) he's getting some iron somehow otherwise. If you're doing formula that's for sure; if you're nursing and you're not me [freaky iron transmission issues] you're fine as well; once he's old enough, egg yolks rock.

5. Try avocado, pumpkin, cauliflower, corn, nectarine, spinach, basil, oatmeal... a wee bit of cinnamon or ginger in purees... etc.

sorry so telegraphic. You won't break him - he'll grow up among food lovers and be fine (though evolutionarily-driven pickiness from ages 2-4 is hard to avoid in toto).

xoxo l.
I actually The Petit Gourmet, and I think it's okay. I just like the Japanese book so much better! Le Petit Gourmet seems to stick with pureeing, and doesn't offer too much variety.

And I know they say that the first 15 months is for practice--but I don't believe them!

Did you get an invite to Ewan's secret site? That's the good stuff . . .
This sounds like a good article for publication...
I know that you are right. It would make a good article.

I'd also have to spend lots of time researching it properly . . .

Sigh. I do so love food.
As a confirmed non-baby person I can say this subject is not only interesting to baby-people. Just wait until you're dealing with school lunch-halls and reading about government contracts and junk-food kingpins.

Important stuff for everyone, of all ages and stripes.
Oh my goodness. School lunch! Right you are.

I do love the name legrandezombie. And I admire your adventuring spirit . . .
I just got back from Taiwan and my cousins's 12 month old twins were eating plain congee, tofu, cut up fruits etc. In addition to formula. Just goes to show, the American way isn't the only way. Then again, Taiwanese are food lovers , too.
Oh gosh, i'm going crazy about Japanese baby food. I have a 5 1/2 month baby boy and i'm trying to follow recipes in japanese style. I live in sourthen california and there is a japanese supermarket named Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa, i found some baby cookbooks but ...i can't read. I want to cry out loud b/c i want to be able to understand how to make the food so bad. I can only guess from looking at them gorgeous photos!!!
If only they have english version, i'll buy in a heartbeat. I want to buyalll those books too even tho i can't read the language lol, just to satisfy the look. Gorgeous photos, excellent recipes and information, i just love Japanese food for baby.
Is there a Japanese cookbook that's in the English language? I'm really interested in this, as it's along the lines of what I'm trying to do. Thanks so much for this post, it's my thoughts exactly!
Erin--I don't think there is a book in English on this subject. But it's funny how many people find this page on my blog and then write me emails to ask for more information.

I'm going to try to upload the Excel spreadsheet I created (English) so people can reference it. The Japanese book also includes recipes for two "sauces" and I'll try to include those. Hopefully that will help a bit.

But I agree that this subject is so important--I wish that there were more and better resources out there for mothers. With the rise in obesity in the US, I feel like it's extra super important that we feed our children with care to give them the best possible shot at health.
Hi may I know what is the cover of the Japanese cookbook you got? And where is the excel doc you uploaded? Trying out food with my LO and chance upon your website.
Hi may I know the cover of the Japanese cookbook you are using? And where I can find the excel reference you mentioned. Trying out Japanese cuisine with my LO as it is healthier and easy to prepare.
I feel so terrible! I have not posted the spreadsheet, in no small part because my computer completely died, and I did not get everything off of the old hard drive. I am so sorry. This is one of many things I hope to address in the new year.
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