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TODAY

Sunday, May 19

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Airbags

Your friends with a baby have gritted their teeth and asked you to babysit while they run around playing S-A-N-T-A. You've tried to make them feel more at ease with talk of books you'll read and promises of not letting Junior watch Sex and the City, but you see the resignation in their eyes. You may not be able to convince your friends that you're the best babysitter ever, but I'll help you feed their 10-15-month-old and maybe you'll become the pre-toddler's favorite babysitter.

If you're new at the babysitting thing, here are a few tips about what to expect:

They're not able to have a conversation. Unless you're taking care of Doogie Howser, don't expect more than "mama", "dada", "baba", and maybe "cat".

  • Expect some crying, and wailing, and shrieking which will hopefully be followed by some sleeping.
  • Just because they can't talk, doesn't mean they aren't studying the finer points of manipulation. "If I scream louder, I get picked up."
  • If they aren't walking, they're trying to. You can keep them entertained for hours by just holding their hands and letting them "walk" all over their home.
  • Expect them to be fussy at this age and want to feed themselves (with their hands and a spoon which they may also try to swallow, so beware).
  • Expect them to want food, NOW. Spend some of that naptime getting a bottle ready.
  • Hopefully you're not nervous, because babies are like wild dogs; they can smell fear. Relax a little, get ready to spend time with someone who's attention span is 30 seconds or less, and have meals planned ahead of time. You'll also want to make sure you get food approval from the 'rents, stay away from nuts, and save the jalapenos for yourself.

    There are a few more foods suitable for this age group.

    • Two servings of fatty fish per week are recommended for this age group. Studies have been done that correlate fish consumption with higher IQ levels. Wild fish is usually better than farmed fish. Organic is always better.
    • Onions, garlic, and leeks provide necessary vitamins and minerals and get kids introduced to flavor. Garlic has been linked to the ability to fight infection. It's cold season and you're hanging out with a baby, so you should have some, too.
    • Now is the time to begin introducing fresh herbs. Fresh parsley, cilantro, oregano, and basil all provide oils which aid in digestion. They also introduce new flavors. Get them used to these flavors now and the picky toddler years might be made a little easier. The longer you keep them away from over-processed sugars and simple carbs, the better they're going to eat.

    Super-easy No-cook Breakfast
    This takes all of 30 seconds more than pouring a bowl of cereal, but it is so much better for you and the baby and it tastes durned good as well.

    2 tablespoons rolled oats
    3 tablespoons milk
    3 tablespoons water
    1 tablespoon plain yogurt
    1/3 cup finely chopped dried fruit
    1 small apple

    Combine everything but the apples in a covered bowl and store overnight in the refrigerator. Just before serving, cut the core from the apple and grate. Stir into the oat mixture. Serve chilled in hot weather, or microwave ‘til lukewarm. Serves 2 pre-toddlers, or 1 adult. Refrigerate for up to 48 hours.

    Pasta With Creamy Mushroom Sauce
    Kids love pasta. It's texture is wonderful because it lets them use those newly grown teeth. It absorbs flavors well, it's versatile, and it provides carbohydrates which kids really need cause they're little calorie-burners. Just make sure to use small pasta so there is no danger of choking.

    1 teaspoon olive oil
    1/2 small onion
    6 small button mushrooms, finely chopped
    1/2 small garlic clove, minced
    1 small chopped potato
    2 tablespoons milk
    3 tablespoons water
    1 tablespoon small pasta shapes
    1 teaspoon fresh parsley

    Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and saute the onion, mushrooms, and garlic until they're soft. After about 5 minutes of cooking, add the potato, milk, and water to the pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a separate pan cook the pasta according to package directions and drain thoroughly. If everything is cut small enough, the baby should be able to eat everything, if the baby doesn't like lumps you may have to puree it, or mash everything with a fork, or use a potato ricer. Add the parsley and a little more water if necessary, pour over the pasta and serve. Makes one serving and can be stored for 48 hours in the refrigerator.

    Polenta Snack Cakes
    Kids like to snack. Like all the time. More, more, more is their mantra. They don't have very large tummies, but they always want them full.

    1/2 pint plain yogurt
    1/4 cup whole wheat flour
    1 egg, beaten
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 cup of polenta or cornmeal
    Enough butter or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan

    Mix all the ingredients except for the butter in the order listed, and stir until the batter is smooth. Lightly coat the bottom of a skillet with oil and warm over medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the batter into the pan and fry like you were making a pancake. Fry about 2 minutes on the first side and another minute on the second. Transfer to a plate to cool and repeat with the remaining batter.

    Makes 10 snack cakes. Store for 2 days in the refrigerator or up to 4 weeks in the freezer. You can also reheat one of these, sprinkle some cheese on top, maybe spoon on a dab of tomato sauce and you get a messy but good lunch. With a side of veggies and a little piece of fish, you've got a full and balanced meal.

    Baked Nanners
    Baking fruit makes it sweeter and easier for younger babies to digest. Simple baked fruit makes a great dessert for you and them.

    1 whole unpeeled banana that is ripe, but not over-ripe per person
    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bananas on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool so you can touch it. Peel it. You can serve with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Makes 1-2 servings for a younger baby. These need to be eaten immediately.

    If you're a parent of a young child, you know how expensive those little jars of baby food can be. I know your time is at a premium now more than ever, but let me suggest one tool which you may find indispensible. A potato ricer is perfect for making just about any food into baby food. It won't work for very young babies who are just developing the muscles needed to swallow, however for kids over the age of 8-10 months who like smooth food it will become a great tool. Throw in everything you have cooked, give it a quick plunge, and you've got their dinner ready to spoon feed. It also works great for making mashed potatoes, making soft butter easier to work into dough, or smushing anything else you might need for grown-up dinners, too.

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