Monday, October 04, 2010

My Baby Food Experience in Egypt

Finding baby food in a foreign country is no small task. Not only are you trying to decipher the language on the jar, but you're also trying to determine whether what's really on that label is what's really in the jar.

Because back home in the States, baby food companies are held accountable for what they put on their jar. If it says organic, it means organic. If it lists the ingredients as apples, water, and citric acid, well, you can trust that those are the exact ingredients in that jar.

Not so in Egypt.

Of course, I had never paid much attention to baby food in either Egypt or the States until I had a baby myself. So why would I care what was available or not?

But after looking around, I realized that there isn't much to choose from around here. There are maybe 3 or 4 companies that make a variety of baby cereals including rice, wheat with milk, mixed cereals with fruit, wheat with corn, vegetable soup cereal, and so on. But everywhere we looked there was only 1 brand of jarred baby food available - Hero. I had heard that stores used to carry the Gerber brand here but we couldn't find it anywhere. Even there were old Gerber baby food stands in stores that were now filled with Hero jars.

Not that we were in any hurry to feed our son solids. At the recommendation of our pediatrician, we waited until he was 6 months to introduce solids. And when he did turn 6 months, the pediatrician started us on a certain vegetable mix (carrots, sweet potatoes/potatoes, and kusa - basically Egyptian zucchini) rather than rice cereal.

These vegetables were not available in jarred form anywhere in Egypt.

So basically I was forced to make baby food in the end even if I hadn't really planned on it. Not that I minded, because every jar of Hero baby food that I could find had ingredients like sugar and corn starch listed (which are big no-nos to give infants in the States).

So the choice was clear.

When it came time to introduce solids, I did what I always do with any new milestone for our son - I researched the topic on the internet until my eyes watered from sitting in front of the computer screen for too long and my mind reeled with the overload of information.

It seemed like such a daunting task to try to make homemade baby food! I thought I would NEVER figure out how to make it, much less get my son to eat it. Everybody out there had different recommendations on which foods to start out with first, how to cook them, how to prepare them, whether to give purees or just pieces of food. I wasn't sure if he was eating solids because he NEEDED them or just for tasting.

Like I said, an overload of information.

But the good thing is that we found one of those baby food making machines here in Toys R Us. These machines basically let you steam the veggies or fruit and then flip the thing over and puree them right in the same container. That put my mind at ease because at least I knew I could make the food.

But how to store it? Was I going to have to make food every day? Could I freeze it?  Should I just make enough for 2 or 3 days and keep it in the refrigerator? What kind of containers did I need for that? How was I going to carry food around with me when we went out during the day?

Like I've said before, it's not so much that things AREN'T available in Egypt, but rather the finding of things and the putting it all together is what makes it so difficult. It takes more time and energy...LOTS more time and energy.

But this is where all that internet research paid off.  I knew I needed certain things, and once I found them it was all downhill from there.

Baby food making machine. I have a steamer and a blender/food processor so basically I didn't really need the machine. But after making baby food now for months, I can definitely say that this was worth the extra money we spent on it.

Ice cube trays. This was something we didn't already have. But I had read that if you made the baby food and then poured it into ice cube trays, that later you could pop the cubes out of the trays, seal them into freezer bags labeled with the contents and date, and then just take out what you need at night for the next day.

Muffin pans. When my son began eating more, I stopped freezing everything in ice cube trays and switched to freezing larger portions in muffin pans.

Small plastic bowls with tight-fitting lids. It took me a while to find the exact size I needed. But I have to say that once I found them, they made my life so much easier by allowing me to take homemade baby food anywhere (even on a plane). Also, now with my son eating more, once I got a few more bowls I began to freeze portions directly into the bowls (skipping the step of freezing in ice cube trays or muffin pans).

We do have Tupperware available in Egypt as well, and they have baby food products like bottles, sippy cups, bowls, and spoons. And there are a number of items available in pharmacies and places like Toys R Us, Spinney's, and Seif stores. So even if these things were a bit pricey, at least they would last until I could bring extras from the States the last couple of times home.

So all in all, I have to say that my experience with baby food in Egypt wasn't as bad as I expected. It was important to lay aside my own expectations of what I needed and just to focus on the end result desired - getting food for my baby (whether I made it or not).

And even this last time to the States and getting to see the wide variety of baby food items available there, I realized in coming home to Egypt that I was more capable of providing food for my son than I realized.  
  1. If I couldn't get a large variety of baby food in jars in Egypt, I still could make all different kinds of purees for him, even making ones similar to the ones he had liked in the States.
  2. If I couldn't buy those cute little applesauce cups in Egypt, I still could make homemade applesauce and freeze it directly into containers to feed him to eat out of. 
  3. If I couldn't buy cheese in convenient individual packs, I still could buy a huge chunk of Cheddar cheese, cut it up into small cubes, and pop a few into a sandwich bag to take with us when we went out (he LOVES cheese). 
  4. I could buy the individual containers of plain whole milk yogurt (something NOT available in the States).
  5. I could steam little pieces of veggies to give to him as finger foods.
Because there's no reason for me to make this process any more difficult by stressing over it and moaning about what we don't have available here in Egypt. Living in Egypt itself and getting around with a baby in Cairo is tough enough. 

It was time to look on the bright side. And time to get creative.

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