Sardines are so crucial to your child’s development, that little tins of the stuff should be included in the baby gift bags that the hospital sends you home with. There are some aspects of motherhood that truly embody the concept of self-sacrifice. Feeding your baby sardines is at the top of this list. And while sardines may be at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, they’re the ultimate brain food for your baby.
Many moms don’t go the sardine route though. They simply don’t think of it; they can’t stomach the thought, or they figure that because it’s not something they would necessarily eat themselves, they don’t see a point of feeding it to their baby. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sardines can actually make your baby smarter.
Almost 60% of our brains are made up of fat (Essential Fats, not the type of fat that makes your jeans too tight). Our brains (and the brains of our babies) are critically dependent on these Essential Fatty Acids. Simply put: your brain cannot work without them. And your baby’s brain cannot grow without them. But here is the greatest spanner in the works: your body cannot produce these Essential Fatty Acids on its own. Bummer. They unequivocally have to be obtained from dietary sources.
So listen up: Unless you are feeding your child foods that contain Essential Fatty Acids, your baby’s little growing and developing body will not make this chemical on its own. Luckily, breast milk and formula take care of this, but as babies gradually drink less milk, the foods they eat will need to step up to the plate. Literally.
AND THAT MEANS BRAVING THE SARDINES… MAKE NO MISTAKE: IT IS REVOLTING
I won’t even try to sugar coat this. I literally gag every time I open a tin. #babyjake on the other hand cannot swallow these little fishies fast enough (he sampled his first sardine around 8 months). I consider this to be my greatest act of motherly self-sacrifice, even more so than getting up at 3am or cleaning up projectile pools of puke. So brace yourself. Because the first time your baby burps sardine in your face, you may reconsider the whole thing. But feeding your baby sardines is just another one of your must-do mommy duties.
BONES AND ALL
The bones in sardines are very small and soft, and dissolve when crushed. The only part of the sardine that I discard for #babyjake is the tail (just typing those words makes me nauseous). From the bones, to the skin, and even the little egg sac (yes, I actually cried real tears the first time I discovered this lurking inside the inner cavities of the sardine carcass), it all gets mushed up. I panic if a fleck of sardine actually makes skin-to-skin- contact with me. So much so that I considered wearing gloves to prepare Jake’s lunch. But the calcium benefit of the bones cannot be overlooked, so just suck it up and brave it.
THEY’RE CHEAP AND CONVENIENT
While recommending Wild Alaskan Salmon as the ultimate source of Omega 3’s would be affordably unrealistic, you have no excuses to steer clear of sardines. R20 – R30 per can, and they last over 3 days. You don’t need to cook anything. Just open a tin (gag reflex will kick in), mash them up with some avo and cream cheese (2 of my other favourite no-cook ingredients that create a nutritious meal in seconds).
NOT ALL CANNED SARDINES ARE CREATED EQUAL
So opt for the more expensive brands. I like King Oscar, available at Pick n Pay. Also be sure to buy sardines in oil, not sauce. Don’t buy a boneless variety – remember you want the calcium from the bones. Opt for olive oil rather than soybean oil. And check the ingredients for added preservatives. Some tinned sardines do have added salt, so just rinse them off before mushing.
DISGUISE THE SH*T OUT OF IT
Babies don’t get bored of tastes, so once you find a way to get them to swallow the sardines, stick with it. And don’t give up if your baby doesn’t seem all that eager. Persevere! #babyjake’s best sardine concoction consists of sardines, avo and cream cheese (you could even mix them in with banana and yogurt, if your baby prefers their food on the sweeter side). You may want to add some pureed veggies or fruit, just to make it more baby friendly in terms of texture and taste. You can totally cheat here, and throw in some organic jar food rather than stressing about using freshly steamed stuff, or defrosting from the freezer. Opt for simple flavours like butternut, apple or sweet potato. The Olli range is completely free of preservatives, and is a great supplementary ingredient to add to your home-made meals. If I deem it fit for #babyjake, you too can use it rest assured.
ONE CAN PER WEEK WILL MEET THE QUOTA
Open a tin. Take out three or four little fishies. Rinse, mash and mix with other ingredients. Store the remaining sardines in their oil, in a Tupperware, in the fridge. Use over 2 -3 days. So I open one can per week, and use it within 2-3 days. #babyjake therefore eats sardines for 2 or 3 days in a row (per week). That takes care of his weekly Omega 3 quota.
BEYOND THE BRAINY BENEFITS
Sardines also contain Vitamin B and iron, and are very low in mercury (often a concern with other types of fish). And believe it or not, they’re a great immune booster.
SARDINES VERSUS PILCHARDS
FYI: Sardines and pilchards are the same thing. Sardines are the smaller fish, whereas the larger, older ones are referred to as Pilchards.
SUFFICE IT TO SAY THAT SARDINES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BABY. BUT FOR THE MOMS WHO ARE INTERESTED, HERE’S MORE TO THE SCIENCE BEHIND SARDINES (AND HOW CRUCIAL IT IS TO FEED YOUR BABY OMEGAS):
Infant brain growth occurs most drastically during pregnancy and the first few years of life. In fact, your child’s brain really only starts to reach maturity around 5-6 years of age. During these years of rapid brain growth, infants and children have the greatest need for Essential Fatty Acids. Their role is to literally build the brain structure.
(I came across one scientific theory that explains why “Preggy Brain” is a real phenomenon. Your foetus’s growing brain is so reliant on these Essential Fatty Acids, that it literally sucks your own brain dry, leaving mommy with a less than optimal functioning brain. So the foggy headedness of pregnancy is actually a genuine chemical reaction. Your baby’s brain grows at the expense of your own.)
I hate to get technical. But considering that there are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, things are bound to get tricky. In the Essential Fatty Acids family, you get Omegas: namely, Omega 6 and Omega 3. Omega 6 fats are usually plentiful in the diet, so the worry here is mainly around making sure your child is getting adequate Omega 3’s (a.k.a the brain growing chemical).
But it’s not as simple as just eating Omega 3 rich foods. Because there are 3 main types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Before you zone out, just hang five. This isn’t as complex as it sounds.
ALA is plant based. Still very important. But not first prize. You’ll find ALA in flaxseeds, walnuts, kale and soybean oil. That’s why I give #babyjake ground flaxseeds with his breakfast. But now for the big guns. EPA and DHA – which are only found in fatty fish. Salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and of course, the star of the show: sardines.
And DHA is the chemical compound we are most concerned with. It is critical for brain and eye development. The retina and visual cortex cannot reach optimal functional maturation without DHA. DHA accumulates in your baby’s brain during late pregnancy. And will be sustained through breast milk and formula.
BUT AFTER THAT, IT’S UP TO US MOMS TO KEEP THE SUPPLY GOING BY FEEDING OUR BABIES CORRECTLY.