Review: ‘Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family’ by La Leche League International; London: Pinter & Martin, 262 pages, RRP £20

11 Sep

Book Review, Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family, La Leche League International, Pinter and Martin

This is a very pretty book: lots of pink and bright colours with many full-page photos of delicious-looking food and healthy happy families of various ethnicities.

The book is divided into five sections of about 50 pages each: pregnancy, the first few months post-partum, the new normality between 6 weeks and 6 months, starting solids, and family life with a toddler. It is a La Leche League book, which means it obviously takes into consideration the nutritional requirements of breastfeeding mothers, and is pro-breastfeeding throughout. Its premise seems to be that by breastfeeding your child you are giving them the best possible start in life, so once they start solids it makes sense to continue this by providing healthy meals and snacks, and demonstrating a healthy attitude towards food.

While the book might seem like an indulgent glossy-paged tome which only first-time mothers can find enough time to read, it does not forget the challenges of returning to work by including helpful tips on how to manage pumping and sorting out your lunch at the same time. La Leche League is a mother-to-mother organisation, so perhaps that is the reason the book solely seems to address mothers, and I suppose women grow babies and breastfeed them, so the final responsibility for their own nutrition during pregnancy and exclusive breastfeeding rests with mothers. Nevertheless, the title seems to imply that feeding one’s family is exclusively a mother’s domain, even after exclusive breastfeeding.

It felt really strange to read the first chapter as it seemed to assume mothers will be absolutely ravenous during early pregnancy: there are frequent references to wanting to eat all the snacks at the shop till, buying energy bars while out etc., which is of course what some women experience I, on the other hand, spent the first half of my pregnancy avoiding food to the extent that I was hospitalised three times with Hyperemesis, and four years on, the idea of feeling hungry while being pregnant is still incomprehensible to me. But if that is not your experience (which I hope is the case!), this chapter contains useful advice when you are bombarded with ‘don’t-eat-this-eat this-instead’ advice from all angles and trying to stick to a sensible diet.

The chapters are full of common-sense reminders: rather than presenting parents with fixed guidelines regarding their child’s nutritional requirements, the book takes a relaxed approach. From common worries like when to wean, to how much and what babies are supposed to eat, the book encourages its readers to look at the whole picture, so wean when it’s right for you and your baby, “don’t fret about fat”, and take the emotion out of eating. At the same time, it’s full of informative facts: did you know the size of a mother’s heart increases by 12% during pregnancy?! This is just one way in which we gain weight during pregnancy, so don’t worry too much if you’ve been putting on the pounds.

There is also a table which tells you why you need certain nutrients and how to eat the recommended amounts. This looks a bit daunting at first, but it’s reassuring to have this information in a handy format from a reliable source (all recommendations in the book are based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others), just in case you ever want to check if you’re meal-planning along the right lines.

At the same time as providing reliable science-based advice, the book is also written in a friendly, warm, approachable tone, and seems solidly grounded in real life: there is an emphasis on easy-to-prepare meals which take into account the pressure under which mothers are pretty much constantly, and many recipes are fine to cook in the slow cooker, make ahead or freeze. In addition, the book also contains plenty of all-round advice, e.g. safety considerations when looking after your small baby while cooking, how to include older siblings in cooking, which food to take for quick energy bursts when you go out, how to get exercise when you have little baby-free time etc.

This generally friendly and easygoing approach extends to the recipes. There are those which have the potential to become family staples (such as the versatile La Leche League Baking Mix which can be turned into muffins, pancakes, corn bread and waffles!) as well as recipes for each season (stir fries, quesadillas, soups, various pot pies). The recipes encompass a range of cuisines, including curry, different kinds of salsa, pasta accompaniments, even a split pea soup for the Germans among us. I would say that there is something in there for everyone, vegetarians (Quinoa Pilaff, anyone?) and meat fiends (e.g. Pork Tenderloin and various chicken and fish recipes), and easy treats have their place too (One Bowl Chocolate Cake, clearly thinking of frazzled and tired parents here).

I haven’t tried many recipes as a result of being thoroughly stuck in a food rut at the moment in combination with lots of uni work, so this book arrived just in time. However, the recipes I did try out, such as the Homemade Macaroni Cheese, Celeriac and Potato Puree, the aforementioned Chocolate Cake, and Apple-Pear Sauce, were very easy to follow. Most of the recipes seem utterly simple, and many of them are what I would call modular: you can substitute your own choice of vegetables if you want to mix things up and the recipes function as suggestions as to how you could prepare them to make them more interesting.

What I really like about this book is its no-nonsense ‘don’t panic’ message. There are so many books out there urging mothers to stick to routines and strict guidelines, from how much weight they should gain during pregnancy to how much their children should eat at what age, and when they absolutely must wean. Feed yourself, feed your family reiterates throughout the five chapters that as long as you employ common sense and practise moderation, it’ll all be fine. It is a very comprehensive book, regarding both the information and the recipes: if you have this book, you won’t need another nutrition-related or recipe book.


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