I always like to be on top of food and nutrition trends and while doing research to find out what's hot for 2014, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most, if not all of the predicted trends are steering us in the right direction nutrition-wise. I was very happy to see that people are turning to organic, local and non-GMO foods more often and that convenience processed and packaged foods are being traded in for whole fresh foods. Kids nutrition steps into the spotlight (which I am thrilled about), especially when it comes to restaurants and fast food chains. And it is not surprising that more gluten-free options are popping up as well, as the trend away from gluten—which we have seen in the past few years—will continue into 2014.
I absolutely love lemon. Whether you're using the zest or the juice, lemon adds a freshness and tang to any dish and brightens up any meal. This simple and often underappreciated citrus fruit is naturally detoxifying and is a great source of Vitamin C. According to the Sterling-Rice group, lemon will be the "flavour of the year" and you'll likely see lemon as a preserve, added to yogurt and as the main pastry ingredient. Try out this Lemony Broccoli recipe — you will not be disappointed!
With more people being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, wheat allergies and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, it is no wonder that gluten/wheat-free foods are becoming more popular and plentiful. Although the gluten-free diet has become more of a fad than anything, often mistaken as a weight loss diet or as a miracle solution to whatever ails us, I'm happy to see that those who genuinely need to steer clear of gluten and wheat have more options. A few years ago, the gluten-free pasta options were very limited, but today, non-wheat based pastas are becoming available such as quinoa pasta, corn pasta, buckwheat pasta and rice pasta. I'm happy to see the trend towards higher fibre gluten-free pastas (such as buckwheat and quinoa) as many gluten-free grains starch options offer little to no fibre.
Hooray! Egg yolks have finally made a come-back after many years of thinking that they raised blood cholesterol levels and caused heart disease (which they do not). Gone are the days of egg white omelettes, as we welcome yolks back with open arms—and mouths. The yolk houses most of the egg's nutrition, including protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Vitamins A, D, E and B12, Folate, Selenium, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Choline, which are all important nutrients for optimal health. In the culinary world, chefs will be experimenting with egg yolks by using them in place of cheese, cream and other dairy to add richness to dishes and create sauces.
Thankfully, the trend towards healthier foods for babies and children continues to grow in restaurants and among food manufacturers. A variety of organic nutrient-rich baby and toddler foods have made their way into most major grocery stores, and restaurants as well as fast food chains have started offering healthier kids' meals, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and whole grains.
The trend towards buying local and organic foods continues to grow, but what I'm seeing more buzz around is the non-GMO movement. Genetically Modified Organisms are organisms (like seeds) that have had their genes (DNA) altered in a way that is not natural and/or contains genes from another organism. For example, some genetically modified soybeans contain a gene that allows the soybean to grow well even when it has been sprayed by an herbicide. And some genetically modified corn contains a gene that produces a toxin that kills off a certain type of insect so that the corn does not become damaged. The problem is, that there isn't enough research to show what kind of negative long-term effects GMO's have on humans, so many people (including myself) try to avoid GMO foods as much as possible. Look for foods that have the Non-GMO project label on them to make sure that they have do not contain GMO's.
Seaweed has been an underconsumed nutritional treasure. All sea vegetables are great low-calorie sources of most B vitamins, calcium, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and K. Most varieties also contain large amounts of lignans (the cancer and heart-disease preventing compounds found in flaxseeds) as well as potent antioxidants and phytochemicals. As a bonus, seaweed is also a great vegetarian source of EPA nad DHA (Omega-3 fatty acids) which are essential to our health. You will now find that seaweed extends beyond sushi and miso soup, and is now offered as a healthy snack (dried nori strips), as one of the main ingredients in soups and salads, and as an umami seasoning in many dishes.
Snacks made from whole, nutritionally dense ingredients are all the rage, such as dried and naturally-flavoured chickpeas, seaweed snacks, exotic-flavoured hummus and snacks made with seeds like chia, flax and hemp. Consumers are asking for healthier options that are still convenient and food manufacturers are listening. This is great news. We all know that a good old fresh piece of fruit with some nuts is likely a better option than any packaged food, but a healthy packaged food is better than an unhealthy packaged food. Although these more healthful options are now out there, continue to be weary of food labels and claims. "Fat-free" or "Source of fibre" does not mean "healthy." Always read the ingredients list (which is way more important than the nutrition facts table, in my opinion). If the ingredients list is long and you don't recognize most of the ingredients, put it back on the shelf!
My daughter is two weeks shy of her six-month birthday and I think that we are just about ready to introduce her to one of life's true pleasures — food! I have no doubt that she is ready. She watches with intent as we eat our meals, she's sitting up and she reaches for food when I'm having a snack. As a second-time mom, I feel much more relaxed about weaning her than I did with my son. I think that most first-time Moms can agree — introducing solids for the first time is a nerve-wracking process. What should you introduce first? How thick should it be? Should you use organic foods? Homemade or store-bought? What if he hates it?!?!
The second time around, it all seems a little more manageable and not as big of a deal.
Although I would have never even entertained the thought of letting my son have finger foods right off the bat three years ago, after a friend of mine told me that she used the "baby-led weaning" approach to starting solids, I was both intrigued and slightly confused as to how it was even possible. More recently, "baby-led weaning" (BLW) has gained popularity and created a buzz among nutrition experts and Moms. Most Moms who follow this approach are huge advocates and swear by it. Some die-hard baby-led weaners even go so far as to declare spoon-feeding unnatural and forceful—something that will doom a child to a life of picky eating and/or emotional eating issues. There is no evidence to support this though, and knowing what I know about nutrition, feeding and emotional eating, I believe it is much more complicated than whether a baby was fed with a spoon or not.
Baby-led weaning (a term coined my Gill Rapley, a former public health nurse and midwife) essentially means that you skip pureed foods all together and your baby self feeds right from the start of weaning (around 6 months of age) with breast milk or formula "on tap." According to the Baby-Led Weaning website, babies are developmentally capable of feeding themselves proper solid foods by the age of 6 months, so there is no need for purees. Just real food that the rest of the family is eating. You offer your baby suitably sized pieces of food at the table (presumably the same food that the rest of the family is eating) and it is up to baby whether he or she eats it or not and how much.
This is a stark contrast to the tried and true spoon-feeding method of introducing babies to solids, where babies start with thinly pureed foods first (which are fed by the parent with a spoon) and then gradually, over a period of months, move towards thicker consistencies, and eventually finger foods. Higher iron foods such as pureed meats or iron-fortified infant cereals are recommended as first foods, progressing then to vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, eggs, and more.
I like the fact that baby is ultimately in control of how much he or she eats right from the very start, which seems to be in accordance to what childhood feeding expert Ellyn Satter teaches about the Division Of Responsibility Of Feeding (parents are in charge of the what's, when's, where's of feeding and kids are in charge of whether and how much the eat) which I absolutely love. It also seems like less work for the parents, which as a second-time mom, seems appealing. Just think- no pureeing, no ice cube trays, no separate meals and no defrosting little cubes of baby food. You feed baby exactly what you and the rest of the family is eating.
Spoon feeding allows a gentle and slow transition into the world of solids and although it may be a little more work, it is (for many) less nerve wracking and less stressful. Iron is such an important nutrient for babies 6 months and older (babies this age are prone to iron-deficiency anemia), and spoon feeding makes it easier to get those high iron foods into baby earlier (pureed meats, iron-fortified cereals etc.). Some parents who follow BLW would argue that their baby gobbled up whole t-bone steaks at 6 months, but I'm skeptical about this, considering the fact that my son gagged on infant cereal at 6 months.
Although some hardcore BLWers would disagree (likely using anecdotal evidence), I believe that spoon feeding may be a safer approach overall. I think that some, too quickly, dismiss the possibility of choking with BLW, saying that babies will gag, not choke. Regardless of this, knowing myself and how I reacted to my baby gagging on purees, I probably wouldn't fair well if my daughter started gagging on a hunk of meat. I think too that it really depends on the individual baby, as they all develop oral-motor skills at different rates.
Ultimately, I think that both methods can work really well—I don't think one is superior to another and I certainly don't think that you should be made to feel guilty about the way you choose to introduce solids. What is most important is that you, as the parent, are comfortable with it and are in tune with your baby. Both methods can be "baby-led" as long as you watch your baby carefully, forget the "airplane" trick and honour your babies hunger and fullness cues. And let's face it, all of our kids will learn how to self feed within the first year or so. Whether we encourage this at 6 months or 9 months, in my mind, really doesn't make a huge difference.
I personally plan on using a combination of both methods. Every baby develops at a slightly different rate, so perhaps my daughter will gravitate more towards finger foods than purees, or vice versa. If there's one thing that I've learned from being a Mom, it's to not plan too much or assume that things are going to go a certain way. Finger foods or mush, introducing solids should be fun and relatively stress-free. Try not to be influenced too much one way or the other, but instead go with what feels right for you and your baby.
If your home is anything like mine, meal times are chaotic. We try to have family meals most nights, with our baby in her bouncy chair in the middle of the table (so that she's part of the action) and our three year old in his red "big boy chair" which, admittedly, is a glorified high chair that attaches to our table—it keeps him somewhat contained, otherwise, he'd be up and down a zillion times during our meal.
My son's "big boy chair" needs to be washed almost every night because it is covered in food, much like his clothes, the table, the floor and sometimes the walls. Unless he throws his food (which, for me is unacceptable), I've always encouraged (or, I guess, not "discouraged") my son to play with and explore his food. Stacking, smushing, feeling, and squishing was his way of getting to know and becoming comfortable with new foods. Once he had a chance to familiarize himself with it, he usually became fairly accepting of it (whether there is a connection or not, I don't know). I admit- there were (and still are) nights when I just wish he was a bit of a "neater" eater, because who wants to scrub the walls, floors and chairs after a long day? But according to this study out of the University of Iowa, messy mealtimes may actually have long-term benefits.
In a study out of the journal of Developmental Science, researchers observed a group of 16-month old toddlers who ate while sitting in a highchair or at the table. What they found was that the children who ate in highchairs, were able to learn the names of non-solid foods and other objects better than those who sat at the table (in chairs I'm assuming). More importantly, those children who explored and played with their food (as opposed to those who didn't) were more likely to correctly identify specific non-solid foods (such as applesauce) when shown in various shapes and sizes. Apparently, according to the researchers of this study, non-solid foods are generally harder to identify for kids because they don't have a consistent shape.
This study not only highlights the fact that kids are highly influenced by the context of their everyday activities (like meal times in a highchair), but also the fact that messy eating is our kids' way of becoming familiar with their food and being able to identify what they're consuming. As a dietitian who specializes in babies and kids, I find this study fascinating, and as a mom, encouraging. Perhaps there is now concrete evidence to support that the hours spent cleaning up after mealtimes have not been wasted!