Table manners… Healthy eating habits… Self-control. We all want our children to develop these abilities, but it’s hard for parents to know how and when to start! Did you know that children have the potential to develop these qualities from the time they start showing interest in solid food?
While you might think it’s impossible to instill these qualities in your baby or toddler, it’s really not that hard if you have the right expectations and tools. Click here to learn more about Montessori mealtimes and then watch a short video!
Recently I’ve been getting requests from readers for pictures and measurements for the weaning chair and table my husband built for Zach. We got the measurements from a dear friend and Montessori consultant, Jeanne-Marie Paynel of Voila Montessori. She has graciously made these resources available to parents everywhere at this link. Please consider donating to support her efforts and help her continue to share her amazing knowledge. I hope this helps!!
We’re at this great stage where Zach is beginning to eat just about everything we do (although sometimes I have to mash it up a bit because he only has 5 teeth). A couple of nights ago he devoured copious amounts of homemade garlicky baba ganoush, followed by mahi mahi with shitake mushrooms and grapefruit reduction! He’s also finally figured out how to drink out of a glass (more about that in another post), but he’s not crazy about the concept of plain water. I’ve successfully transitioned him from the soup to solids, but this meant a decrease in his liquid consumption. Enter the most glorious of foods… Sesame seed milk!
Seeds are Mother Nature’s powerhouse of nutrition…
Seeds are the “eggs” that contain the nutrients needed to nourish the growth of a new plant. So their high nutrient content shouldn’t come as a surprise. What’s surprising is that we generally relegate these nutritional wonders to the occasional snack rather than making them staples of our diet…
With their gold mine of healthy minerals and their niacin and folic-acid contents, seeds are an excellent nutrition package. They are among the better plant sources of iron and zinc. In fact, one ounce of pumpkin seeds contains almost twice as much iron as three ounces of skinless chicken breast. And they provide more fiber per ounce than nuts. They are also good sources of protein.
Sesame seeds are a surprising source of the bone-building mineral calcium, great news for folks who have trouble tolerating dairy products. And seeds are a rich source of vitamin E. The only drawback: Some seeds are quite high in fat. Sunflower and sesame seeds provide about 80 percent of their calories as fat, although the fat is mostly of the heart-smart unsaturated variety. (Source: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/fresh-ideas/healthy-dinners/health-benefits-of-seeds-ga.htm)
Here’s how I make Zach’s milk:
1/2 cup unhulled sesame seeds
2.5 cups of water
3 pitted prunes or dates
Put everything in a blender.
Blend on highest setting for at least 1 minute but preferably more, until you don’t see any chunks of prune whirling around.
Use a spoon to push the liquid through a colander or strain through a thick cheese cloth, making sure you get all the liquid out (very little pulp should remain).
Refrigerate and use within 48 hours.
Note: You might have to score the nipple in your baby’s bottle because this milk is pretty thick and hearty! Yum!
Zach drinks two or three 6-oz. bottles of sesame milk each day. The nutritional value is mind-blowing and he loves the taste!
During the past few months, I’ve given Zach many opportunities to explore eating with his fingers. On several occasions I’ve offered him small pieces of fruit or steamed vegetables that he can grab with his hands and bring to his mouth. I thought he would find this enjoyable, since he loves to eat, but it’s actually been super-frustrating for him!
Because he’s only 8 months old and hasn’t developed fine motor control yet, he can’t grasp the pieces with a coordinated pincer grip. He manages to use his thumb and index finger quite well, but then the food gets stuck to his hand and he ends up putting half his fist in his mouth in a desperate attempt to get some food. This frustrates him greatly and sends him into crying mode, so I decided to stop for a while and wait for his coordination to improve. I’ve also tried giving him large pieces of fruit that he can hold in his hand and munch on, but he ends up taking huge bites that he can’t mash with his gums, and he freaks me out when he starts to gag and turn red, so that’s not working either. He does very well with bread rolls and veggie puffs, and we can see how happy he is when he’s feeding himself, but the fruit isn’t working well just yet.
Today I received some amazing white peaches from our CSA. I wanted Zach to experience the joy of biting into a super-sweet late summer peach, so I cut up half a peach into small bite-sized pieces and placed them in front of him after his meal. He tried grabbing one piece, it got stuck on his hand, and he wailed in frustration. I pulled the sticky piece off his hand and he grabbed my wrist to lead my fingers to his mouth! This gave me an idea…
I took out a small fork, speared a piece of peach and fed it to Zach. He was delighted! So, I speared another small piece but this time I left the fork sitting on the edge of the plate. Zach immediately grabbed it, brought it to his mouth, and expertly pulled off the piece of peach with his lips. We repeated the process and Zach happily ate the rest of his peach with his fork! Not once did he poke himself, and he had a great time feeding himself with minimal intervention.
I’ve read on mainstream parenting websites that you shouldn’t introduce the fork until after 12 months of age because babies can poke their eyes or hurt their gums. I had used the fork to feed him fruit before, and it was clear that Zach knew exactly what the utensil was for. He didn’t wave it near his face, nor did he stab himself in the mouth. A little trust goes a long way when working with babies, I feel.
We tried it again in the evening with my husband and I took some video of the process. I’m really excited that Zach is exploring yet another facet of independent eating. His eagerness and focus let me know that we’re on the right track.
I had a hard time finding small spoons for Zach that were made out of metal. Apparently, most manufacturers believe that a baby will hurt himself if they don’t coat the spoon in soft plastic. For a while we used the Nuk spoons because at least they were a good size and the handle was metal. Then, I found these spoons on Amazon. They are perfect for little mouths and little hands, and yet they are the real thing, made of stainless steel with a nice weight and finish. Zach didn’t even blink when I changed from the Nuk spoons to these!
If you’re preparing to introduce solids to your little one, I really recommend these spoons (they also make forks and knives, which I will test out in a few months).
Why is it that doctors warn you about the dangers of having a vaginal birth after a C-section, but never explain the risks of repeat C-sections?
Why is it that you’re forced to sign a waiver warning you of the dangers of NOT vaccinating, but are never told about the dangers of vaccinating?
Why is it that parents worry about letting their kids out of their sight, but don’t think about the damage they’re causing by being helicopter parents?
Why is it that parents and doctors freak out about feeding babies organic vegetables, and yet they happily pump them full of chemicals, sugar, and reconstituted hormone- and antibiotic-filled cow’s milk (aka, formula)?
“These people who are victims of suggestion prepare their consciousness for such an adaptation… [In these people] there exists henceforth only what has been established by suggestion. This state of affairs is perpetrated from generation to generation… What is believed to be good is in reality disguised evil.” – Maria Montessori, The Formation of Man
Last week I wrote about our experience with the Jaramillo Soup. The beauty of this soup is that you can make it with whatever you have in your fridge, so it’s economical and uncomplicated. When I started making it for Zach, I began by giving him 2 oz. three times per day, mixed with breast milk (plus nursing on-demand the rest of the day). This meant that I was making about 1/3 of the recipe featured here. I gradually increased the amount of soup based on his demands and hunger level. By six months of age, he’s drinking four 9-oz. bottles of soup each day (plus purees for lunch and dinner made from other things like sweet potato, corn & spinach, etc. to practice spoon feeding).* When you see how much he eats you’ll find it shocking and cruel that anyone would expect THIS big baby to be on a breast milk-only diet until he turned six months.
*Since I started this post a week ago (hello, busy life) I have weaned Zach from the bottles and I’m spoon-feeding him 100%. This is described at the end of the post.
1 chard leaf
1 kale leaf
1 lettuce leaf
5 green beans
1 large broccoli floret
1 celery stalk
1/3 sweet potato
Legumes & grains (soak all legumes and brown rice the night before)
1 tbsp. mung or azuki beans (or any beans you have)
1 tbsp. green lentils (or yellow or brown)
1 tbsp. brown rice
1 tbsp. quinoa (doesn’t need to be soaked)
Animal protein (a portion approximate to the size of your baby’s palm)
Dark meat chicken, grass-fed beef, chicken livers* or fatty fish (i.e. salmon)
*Liver can cause constipation but it’s a great source of nutrition, so play it by ear and go easy at first.
1 sliver of papaya (approximate size = three of your fingers)
five chunks of mango, 1/2 peach, handful of blueberries, OR any other seasonal fruits without the peel (note: NO bananas, strawberries, or citrus)
Optional: DHA cod liver oil for babies (2-3 ml) or a tbsp. of quality olive oil
Water: Ideally use spring water or reverse osmosis water, but at least use purified water (no tap water!!)
Equipment: pressure cooker (or regular soup pot, but it takes longer)*, blender, ceramic or glass bowl, glass bottles, cross-cut nipples (use a sharp knife to cut a cross in the nipple so the soup will go through).
*I have a T-Fal pressure cooker; it’s affordable and works really well.
The night before, measure out the legumes and grains and leave them soaking in two cups of purified water in a glass or ceramic bowl (no plastic, even if it’s BPA-free!). You can
also prep baggies with washed and pre-measured veggies for the whole week (note: if your veggies are not organic, make sure you disinfect them with grapefruit seed extract). Do the same thing for the animal protein; portion the meats, wrap them in parchment paper and then put them in baggies to freeze.
In the morning, pour the legumes and grains into your pot with the water they soaked in, and add the vegetables and animal protein. DO NOT put in the fruits or oil, and DO NOT use any sweeteners or seasonings.
Cover the pressure cooker and turn on the heat as hight as it will go. When it has built up pressure and starts steaming, turn down the heat to medium-low (just enough to maintain pressure) and set a timer for 15 minutes. Alternately, you can pressure cook the grains and legumes for 10 minutes, bring down the pressure, add the veggies and protein, increase the pressure again, and pressure cook for five more minutes (I just find this to be more of a hassle). If you are using a regular pot, you will have to let the grains
and legumes cook for about 45 minutes, then add the veggies and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the fruits and oil in a blender. When the timer goes off, quick-release the pressure and transfer all the soup ingredients from the pot to the blender. Blend on the highest setting for at least 30 seconds, or until everything has been perfectly pureed because little chunks of food can clog the nipples. (I bought a $15 Oster blender with a glass blender jar, and it works great on
“liquify” mode). If the soup is too thick, add a little more water or some 100% organic fruit juice (I like prune, pear, or apple). It takes a few days to get the consistency just right; have a toothpick handy to unclog the nipple if necessary.
Pour the soup into the bottles, screw on the nipples, put on the caps and put the bottles immediately into the fridge. Try to put them on a bottom shelf, not in the door racks, so that they’ll stay very cold. If your fridge isn’t very cold, put ice in a large container and nestle the bottles among the ice, and then put the whole thing in the fridge. Failure to cool down the bottles can cause your baby to have gas, especially with the afternoon and evening feedings.
It sounds like a huge hassle to make the soup, but it’s actually quite quick once you have a system. It takes me about 30 minutes each morning, and I can rest assured knowing that my child has wholesome, healthy, and home-cooked meals for the rest of the day.
CAVEAT: You MUST makethe soup fresh each day. This soup should not be stored overnight nor should it be frozen. Your child deserves fresh food to get off to a healthy start!
To heat up the bottles, you can use a bottle warmer (I have the Dr. Brown’s warmer and it works great if you set it for 5:30 minutes). Always make sure to shake the bottle thoroughly to even out the soup temperature and test the soup on your hand before giving to baby. The soup should be served warm.
If you are going out, take the soup in a thermal bag with ice and make sure it stays as cold as possible. To reheat on the go, ask for a large cup half-filled with hot water and immerse the bottle for 5-7 minutes, then shake.
It is also possible to make the soup thicker and spoon-feed it to baby. Now that Zach is eating really well with a spoon, I am making three separate purees from the items I cook (I still cook everything in one pot but I use less liquid during blending to ensure a thicker consistency):
A puree made from legumes, grains, a 4-minute egg yolk and some pastured butter (this is for breakfast and mid-afternoon meal)
A puree made from veggies, animal protein, and cod liver oil (this is for lunch and dinner)
A puree made from the fruits and avocado (this is “dessert” after each meal)
In just two days, he successfully weaned from using the bottles, which he had been using since he turned 3 months. He LOVES to eat with a spoon and has made great progress in that department.
This soup has changed our lives for the better. Our child is happy, healthy, strong, and sleeps like a champ. It’s never too late to start making it! If you have any questions on how to make it, please e-mail me or leave a comment.
When Zach was around 4 months old, we started noticing that he was extremely interested in watching us eat. He would follow our fork from plate to mouth, opening his mouth in imitation of our actions and salivating madly! We knew the time had come to begin the weaning process.
The word “weaning” strikes fear in the heart of many parents. It is associated with the end of breastfeeding and connotes depriving the child of the nourishment and affection he has come to know and love. However, Montessori weaning is done with respect, always following the initiative and drive of the child. It starts around the age of 5 months (but takes several months to complete) because that’s when the child shows physical and psychological signs of readiness:
His iron reserves are decreasing;
Digestive enzymes are present in his saliva;
The child can move in his environment (rolling, creeping, etc.);
He controls his hands well and uses them with purpose;
The child is able to sit with some help;
He shows a strong interest in the eating habits of those around him.
Weaning is a long process; the breast is still the main source of nutrition for several more months. Weaning is less about nutrition and more about physical and psychological development. (To learn the details of the weaning process, I recommend you read “Understanding the Human Being” by Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Director of Assistants to Infancy [0-3] training).
My husband and his sister made Zach a beautiful weaning table and chair when I was still pregnant, but any LOW table and chair will do for weaning (you can even buy an IKEA-style kids’ table and chair and cut the legs to make them lower to the ground). We placed a pillow on the chair to support Zach’s back because he still tipped sideways a little bit on occasion.
I pureed steamed zucchini and placed it in a ceramic bowl (if it were to fall it would have real consequences and would provide an important lesson to Zach, which plastic would fail to do). My husband sat across the table from him and slowly began to feed him with a small spoon. As recommended in the A to I training, we gave Zach another spoon to hold, but he was not at all interested in it. He wanted to grab his daddy’s spoon and from the first bite was very active in his own feeding process.
The video below shows how excited and focused he was. Note how the food is brought close to his mouth, but the spoon is not inserted until Zach willingly opens his mouth. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, and nothing ruins this for a child more than an obsessive parent who forcibly shovels food into a child’s mouth against his will.
Zach was delighted with his newfound abilities; we were thrilled at his development. For us, nothing is more important than helping Zach in the road towards functional and psychological independence. I love nursing him, but I also love knowing that I am satisfying his developmental needs.
My husband asked me if I was proud of our son. Actually, every normal child is capable of doing what my child is doing, so I don’t believe he’s achieved anything mind-blowing. Those who I am proud of are my husband and myself, because we put his developmental needs before our emotional attachments, which can be challenging for any parent.
As Dr. Montanaro says in her book, “The road to independence is both biological and psychological and as one helps the other we must never separate the two.” If we miss the opportunity to wean (or support any other milestone) when the child shows signs of readiness, “physically and psychologically we are preparing a difficult future.”