Stephanie Middleberg knows how hard it is to find time to cook healthy meals for both your kids and yourself, in addition to everything else you’re trying to do. As the mother of a 14-month-old boy and founder of her own company, Middleberg Nutrition, she found herself in need of practical solutions as much as her clients.
With her first cookbook, The Big Book of Organic Baby Food, out Oct. 18 on Sonoma Press, the NYC-based dietician tackles the time crunch with more 200 quick and healthy recipes for infants through the toddler years, as well as meals for the whole family. Over the phone, she shared her tips for how to best plan out a week of meals, what to look for on labels when you’re shopping, and how to get kids to eat their veggies.
What are some tips for new parents who are just getting started home cooking?
If you’re making the same foods for you and your little ones and you have all the tools and ideas to make them relatively quickly, it shouldn’t be as much of an undertaking. It’s stressful enough getting food on the table, even more stressful when you have to be a short order chef and make separate meals. In the book, the recipes [should] appeal to both adults and kids. If you have them eating what you eat early on, you can take the foods you're making for yourself and then put them in a blender and feed [that] to your baby.
Much of it is based on cooking in bulk and freezing the purees, so you have it for the week and all you have to do is defrost it. It might take an hour longer on a Sunday, [but] once you get all your produce chopped and steamed or roasted and blended, it will end up making your weekday life so much easier.
When it comes to shopping, what should parents look out for on labels?
Anything that’s longer than five ingredients, or has ingredients that you can’t pronounce, I say to limit that in your child’s intake. USDA Organic is the best label to look at, and foods that are non-GMO. When we talk about certain foods, like eggs, they should be pasture-raised vs. cage-free: they’re not just roaming the cage, they’re roaming the land and feeding off the grass vs. grains that just fatten them up. For meats, ideally if we can do grass-fed, that’s the gold standard there.
Each year the Environmental Working group releases the Dirty Dozen, which lists the 12 fruits and vegetables that are going to have the most pesticides, so those are the ones you want to make sure to buy organic. Sugar is something to look out for on labels. Even a lot of baby foods out there, even if they say “kale and apple,” a lot of times fruit juice is the first ingredient on the label, and that means it has the most.