It should come as no surprise to my long-time readers that I tend not to agree with the “common” American philosophies surrounding introducing solids. You’ve heard me discuss new guidelines for introducing allergens, recommend adding spices to your own baby food, and address other common myths surrounding baby food.
One myth that really bugs me is the general assumption that baby white rice cereal from a box should be little one’s first food. Whole grains can be wonderful for baby, but instead of using the highly processed boxed varieties (with absolutely no nutrients!), today’s blog will tackle the topic of making your own whole grain baby cereals.
When I’ve asked parents why they use baby rice cereal from a box, they cite two main reasons: food allergy concerns and high iron content.
If you’ve read the 2008 revised AAP Guidelines surrounding introducing solids, you’ll see that they now recommend introducing a variety of foods in the first few months, and in no particular order. There are better alternatives if allergies are your concern.
And on the iron front, guess what folks; the fortified iron added to boxed rice cereal is not easily absorbed by your little one, so you’re better off cooking up iron-rich foods like meats, leafy greens and red beans for your baby food.
Remember, babies need a variety of foods, so make these whole grain cereals, but blend them with fruit, veggies, and meat for optimal nutrition. Many of the baby food recipes at Little City Kitchen Co. have a whole grain component, but it’s never the star ingredient.
Making Your Own
Making your own baby grain cereal is relatively simple and fast if you’ve done a few things to prepare.
- You buy a whole grain of your choice
- Grind it into a powder using a coffee grinder
- Add some liquid and cook for about 5 minutes on the stovetop
Which Whole Grains?
Get creative people! You can use just about any whole grain that you can find to make your own baby cereal. Find them in the bulk sections of your natural grocer. Whole Foods usually has a good selection, but my pick is Rainbow Grocery if you’re in San Francisco.
My favorites grains to use are:
Brown rice – I use exclusively Massa Organics, but brown basmati is a great too.
Red quinoa – a great source of protein; try toasting it in a dry skillet before grinding for even better flavor.
Black rice – I use Lotus Food’s Forbidden Rice, lots of antioxidants and a pretty lavender color.
Farro – an Italian version of spelt, very nutty and creamy
Other whole grains to consider trying: spelt, kamut, buckwheat, wheatberries, millet, amaranth, the list goes on.
The Daily Grind
Next, you need to grind the whole grain into a powder, and for that, I recommend buying an inexpensive coffee grinder. If you wanna splurge a little, my favorite one is this one from Kitchen Aid at $35.00, but Capresso makes my value pick, a great one for only $20.00 at most Bed Bath & Beyonds.
Add ½ cup of your whole grain to the grinder and grind until you get the consistency of fine sand. For brown rice, this can take 2-4 minutes, for softer grains like quinoa, it’s only 20-40 seconds. Finer grind = smoother puree, so adjust according to your little one’s age and preference.
The Secret to Smooth Cereal
Most baby food recipes tell you at this point to heat up the water to boiling and just throw in the rice cereal. I did that the first time…and it was not pretty. The cereal formed these very unattractive lumps that were gummy and undercooked. It’s sort of like making gravy at Thanksgiving; you can’t just throw in the flour and expect a smooth consistency.
I recommend reversing the process; chefs will know this as making a “slurry”. Heat the water up until you can stick your finger in for only about a second (around 170 degrees, give or take). Have your ground cereal in a separate bowl. Pour the hot water over your ground cereal and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Then transfer the mixture back to the stovetop and stir constantly on medium heat until it’s cooked, usually about 5-7 minutes.
Rice: Use a 1:6 ratio (1/4 cup of rice powder + 1 ½ cups of water)
Quinoa: Use a 1:3 ratio (1/4 cup of quinoa +3/4 cup of water)
Farro: Use a 1:4 ratio (1/4 cup of farro + 1 cup of water)
Feel free jazz up baby grain cereal with ¼ cup of coconut milk, dried spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom, or a fruit puree. You can also blend with savory ingredients like vegetables and meats.
So my parting words to you: stay away from the boxed rice cereal and get creative with whole grains. And for the record, it’s not just for kids! My breakfast this morning was homemade coconut quinoa cereal with peach puree, cinnamon and clove. It was a recipe I made for the little ones, but it was too good to resist eating myself!