Real Food for Healthy Brain Development

Claire Hoyt-Bastien, Founder of Big Dipper Foods

We all know that our kids should eat healthy. The questions are: how do we get them to actually do it, how do we find the time and how do we do it on a budget? Claire Hoyt, founder of, answers these questions and more.

Full Interview Transcript

Kelly: You’re watching ingenious Baby, a show where we interview leading experts about the latest research, advice and educational activities to help your child reach their full potential. Today, we’re here with Claire Hoyt, the founder of Big Dipper baby food, whose mission is to provide nutritionally balanced food for future generations. We all know that our kids eat healthy. The questions are how do we get them to actually do it, how do we find the time and how do we do it on a budget. Claire is here to answer all those questions. So thank you so much for being here Claire.

Claire: Thanks for having me Kelly.

Kelly: Why do you feel like it’s important for babies and children to eat healthy?

Claire: The way that we eat affects us at our cellular level and it affects everything that we do in our days. It affects our productivity, it affects the way that we sleep at night, and it affects our emotional regulation. It literally touches every aspect of our lives. So, the quality or the foods that we eat have a direct impact on the quality of the lives that we live.

Kelly: Are there any specific food that optimize brain development specifically?

Claire: The healthy fats and the cholesterol are fantastic for brain development. Fat provides a really great energy source since babies are developing at such an astronomically high rate. It’s something that as adults we can’t even really wrap out heads around — just how quickly they’re changing, how much they’re growing and how much their brains are growing.

Kelly: So, are there any mistakes that parents make – they think that they’re feeding their kids something healthy but it really isn’t?

Claire: I think one of the most common mistakes is probably rice cereal. As I mentioned before, their digestive tracts aren’t equipped yet with all of the enzymes required to break down all foods. And the enzymes required to break down grains, are developed later on closer to 12 months. And what ends up happening is that babies eat food, like rice cereal, that they can’t properly digest so they don’t get the nutrients from it and in the long run it can cause allergies.

Kelly: So, what about picky eaters? Are some babies just not going to eat healthy food? I mean, can you get everyone to eat healthy?

Claire: I think that you can get everyone to eat healthy. I think that we probably have in our mind that it can be a difficult task to accomplish because we think of ourselves as young adults or as adults and maybe we’ve picked up unhealthy habits and we’re trying to break bad habits. But if we can start really young, babies mimic what we do and follow our lead in every other way. And I don’t think that food is any different than that. One of the things that I have learned myself as a parent and advise other moms on, is that you don’t give up when your child pushes back around healthy food because they’re going to do that for many years to come. So, stay the course, be flexible, be creative, try to keep it fun. What I learned with my now 10-month old son when he was really he just wasn’t interested in eating.

Claire: And it got to the point where he was eight months old and I began to get really scared that he wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed for his age because he just would only eat a spoonful or two at a time and here I am running a baby food company and I have a baby that won’t eat. The irony was not lost on me. But I checked into a couple of resources to refresh myself because maybe there were some things I was forgetting. I checked with my pediatrician and the recommendations that she made were the things that really ended up working. She suggested changing the timing that I offer him food.

Claire: She suggested adding breast milk to the food because it was something that was familiar to him and it might spark his interest a little bit more. With just a couple of small adjustments he turned into a total eater.

Kelly: So, that being said what are the best first foods to offer?

Claire: First foods to offer again the ones that are easily digested I really like mango as good first food. Egg yolk is also a great first food since it is packed with a lot of great nutrients and bone broth is another one that I really like. You know those are both animal products and when you think about what babies have been eating up until that point they have been fed an animal product whether it’s formula or whether it’s breast milk. So making the switch to something like egg yolk or bone broth is a is a more gradual switch versus doing something like going from milk to rice cereal which is quite a big change in in the type of food that they’re consuming.

Kelly: I’d love for you to show us, you know the best way to prepare for meals for our baby and show us how we can make this at home.

Claire: Sounds good.

Kelly: So, let’s walk through meal planning and preparation for your baby. What do we have here?

Claire: So, here we have a number of tropical fruits that I was mentioning that are really great for aiding in indigestion and some of the foods that I was talking about that are great first foods. So we have mango here which are everywhere right now and seasonal and super delicious. I tend to like these smaller ones. They’re really creamy and yummy although any mango will do. And in fact if you’re in a pinch and you wanted to feed your baby mango, frozen is totally fine. Frozen or harvested in season, flash frozen — it’s one of the oldest methods and most natural methods of preservation. So if you’re in a pinch and you want to get frozen mango that’s fine. We have papaya here which is really simple to prepare. You can literally scoop out the seeds and then you start to scoop out the flesh, then you can throw that in a blender and blend it up and maybe mix it with a little bit of coconut cream and you have a really delicious puree. We have the bananas which are everybody knows what a banana is.

Claire: The one thing with babies that you want to be sure to get ones with lots of brown spots because the brown spots in a ripe banana help with the digestion.

Claire: Kiwis are nice when babies are starting to want to feed themselves so, kiwis are a nice to cut up into little small pieces and when they’re practicing with their fingers and getting their pincer grip this is a good one. It’s also soft enough for them to be able to break up with their little gummy mouths but gives them something firm to hold on to and grab for. And I’ve added a few other things here to add to simple blends a little ginger root is great.

Claire: It’s really great immune support root and anti-inflammatory and it helps with digestion. So, ginger is really nice to add to the mango and the papaya. It’s really simple to prepare. You can use the back of a spoon or the back of a knife so, you don’t cut yourself and you just sort of scrape off some of the some of this outside peel. It’s funny because actually the back of a spoon and I feel like words even better than a knife. And when you’ve scraped off the outside there, you can take a microplane and you literally just grate it into your baby’s food before you blend it. It doesn’t take very much—you want just like a teaspoon or half a teaspoon.

Kelly: And babies like like the taste of ginger?

Claire: You can just do it to taste. You don’t have to put too much in there so it doesn’t become like really fiery or spicy.

Claire: A little goes a long way and yes it’s delicious. One of my favorite blends is the mango with coconut cream and a little bit of fresh grated ginger or fresh grated turmeric. Super yummy delicious.

Kelly: Yeah.

Claire: And then we have bone broth here which is another great first food. If it’s a little gooey and kind of gelatinous that’s a sign that you have a lot of gelatin and the gelatin is where a lot of the nutrients are that are really good for babies and help line their intestinal track. Over here we have some really delicious oven roasted veggies. These were all done on the same sheet pan. These are two different kinds of roasted sweet potatoes.

Claire: Just throw them into the oven a hot oven like 415 degrees for about an hour. And what you get is this really delicious super gooey naturally caramelized flesh and you can scoop this into a blender and puree it. I like the orange sweet potato pureed with a little bit of broth. Really good. My favorite sweet potato these days is the Japanese sweet potato. And the outside skin looks very similar to the yam. But the inside is this creamy yellow color and this mixed with the coconut cream or coconut oil maybe a little bit of cinnamon is just delicious. I’m crazy about this Japanese sweet potatoes.

Claire: This is butternut squash. It was tossed with a little olive oil. You could also toss it with coconut oil for a healthy fat. Throw it on the sheet pan and you can see that it’s got a little bit of golden there. It’s delicious. It just adds to the flavor and I like roasting instead of steaming. The roasting concentrates the flavors and brings out some of the natural sugars and caramelizes it and it really just concentrates the flavor. So, you end up with a single ingredient product that’s really healthy for your baby and that tastes delicious. So, you’re helping with palate development and you’re introducing your baby to foods that are really great for them and that are really delicious tasting.

Claire: This guy is now a very wilted apple. But again you just put this on a sheet pan in the oven – a whole apple – and you cook it in the oven until they’re splitting on the sides and all of the juices are running out. And with a hot towel you squeeze it and it’s really, really soft. And, now you have this really delicious big apple that literally tastes just like apple pie filling. But you haven’t actually added any sugar to it. It’s just it’s own thing. After I’ve let it cool, I just sort of peel off the skin. You can also core this ahead of time. You could core the apple and make this process even simpler. But you peel back some of the skin off this apple and you have this apple that it’s almost applesauce as it is. You can cut it into little pieces. This would be a really great little finger food again for a baby. They can mash it up with their little gummy mouths and that’s great. I like the apple also combined with the butternut squash or parsnips.

Kelly: Do you have a basic shopping list for parents that they can use when they are first buying food for for their baby? Where do they find? And what should they look for when they are shopping?

Claire: Thanks to customer demand finding good organic produce and meats has become fairly ubiquitous and you can find it even at large mainstream retailers like Safeway and Luckies. Almost everybody now carries great organic food, organic produce and organic meats. My basic shopping list something that I always have in the house – I always have a banana, I always have avocado, I probably always have the apples and when the mangoes are around I’m crazy about those. And then I always have a couple of sweet potatoes in my cupboard. I keep the coconut oil and I tend to have stock on hand also because just our family eats probably a roast chicken once a week which means that we’re making stock once a week.

Kelly: Okay

Claire: And so we tend to have bone broth and even if you make it once every two months it makes so much that you can break it into small bags and freeze it. One chicken will give you enough stock to last your family quite a long time.

Kelly: Your stock is coming from the food you’re making. Can you actually buy quality bone broth too?

Claire: Yes! You definitely can. Bone broth is made this like huge resurgence and that you can kind of find it everywhere. People have really made an effort to make higher quality broth than what we found just a few years ago in the center aisle of the supermarket which was like cans of cans of chicken stock. And now, you can generally find it in the refrigerated section from small purveyors which is really fantastic. So, if you don’t want to break down your own chicken carcass and boil it for 18 hours you can definitely go to the store to buy it. That’s probably going to be more of a Whole Foods purchase or a Molly Stones where you can find the higher quality bone broths in the refrigerated section.

Kelly: Why stay only in the refrigerated section? What’s wrong with buying something in the can?

Claire: That’s a great question. My rule of thumb these days is that the shorter the shelf life the more nutritious the food. Food that is really living doesn’t and doesn’t last for as long. So those foods are generally found in the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where you get your fresh produce and your fresh meats. That’s also where you get your fresh bread. It’s all stuff that’s found in the perimeter of the grocery store order to give food a really long shelf life in the center aisles. It needs to be pretty heavily processed. A lot of times that means high heat processing which kills off a lot of the vital nutrients and it also requires additives. In order to make all of that food taste good after processing, you have to add a lot of sugar and salt. So, it’s kind of just a good rule of thumb to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. You’ll find fresher foods there.

Kelly: So, this looks a little bit expensive buying all organic food. What about people who are on a budget? If they want to keep their kids healthy but they need to do on a budget, can it still be accomplished?

Claire: Well, I think it definitely can. And if you think about a single pouch of a baby food blend you know if you’re getting organic pouches of baby food blends from the center aisle you’re spending about a dollar fifty. You can cook a single one of these potatoes which will run you 75 cents to a dollar and you’ll probably get two to three meals out of that. So, I think that it’s actually less expensive to go ahead and cook your own food. The flipside of that is the time that it takes to do it.

Kelly: Yeah, a lot of moms are busy, really busy, and this looks like you need to spend a lot on chopping and so forth. What do you recommend a mom to do who has no time?

Claire: Definitely! And that’s what led me towards this baby food company was that I loved making this food but I was running out of time. So, I think a couple of things one of them is plan just like you plan to work out. You have to sort of schedule that into your routine. So I think scheduling something realistic into your routine maybe that means once a week you’re going to cook food for your baby, say on Sunday. That means Saturday you do some grocery shopping, Sunday do some meal prep. Make sure that you make it in large batches so that you can freeze in your ice cube trays. Also, keep on hand a couple of really simple foods that you can just make that don’t require any cooking and something you feel that you can make them last second in your home, like Tuesday night when you come home from work and you’re tired. For me, that’s often the mango with the coconut cream. And to mix it up and help my baby develop his palate, I’ll add fresh herbs. This is mint which is super yummy to add to that blend, the ginger the turmeric. So I would just keep a couple of really easy-to-break-down fresh foods on hand for the week and then commit one day a week to making a larger batch of food you can keep in the freezer.

Kelly: So a lot of the stuff you can cook and freeze and then it tastes and keeps well.

Claire: Yes it does. There’s nothing on this table that you can’t freeze. Everything in here you could blend and you could freeze. And I recommend doing that. What you’ll find is that one week you’ll make sweet potatoes and you’ll have a large batch of that. And then the next week you’ll do apples and you’ll have a large batch of that. And then two weeks later you can combine the two. You can defrost the apple and defrost the sweet potato mix them together. Maybe you have a little cinnamon on hand and can add a dash of that in there. Now you have this really yummy homemade nutrient dense dish.

Kelly: What are your favorite resources for cooking these foods?

Claire: Well one of my favorite resources is “Super Nutrition for Babies”, which is really like a deep dive into what I feel like is really good for babies and not what we’ve been told commercially is good for babies for like the last 60 to 80 years. This brings in a lot of traditions that have been around for quite a long time.

Claire: They have stuff in here about how to make a great stock, about starting off with proteins and the best veggies and fruits to start with. They talk a lot about when to start introducing grains and dairy—all of that. So that’s one of my favorite books. The other one is Mark Bittman’s book, “How to Cook Everything”. I chose vegetarian because a lot of parents talk about the struggles that they encounter once their children start to pick their own food and eat their own food and, that a lot of times, they just want Cheerios and pastas and they struggle to get vegetables into their diet. So, this is a really great book because he provides tons of really tasty vegetarian dishes that are easy for the beginner chef all the way up through like an advanced chef. So, that’s one of my favorite books, as you can see, I’ve used it quite a bit.

Kelly: So, I would like to talk about what are some of your favorite blends and tell us more about where we can find more information about where to find your products.

Claire: Great.

Kelly: So, I hear your favorite taste tester is here. I’d like to hear more about what his favorite blends are?

Claire: Excellent! Well let’s bring Thatcher on now! This is Thatcher and his favorite blends are Marrow Mood—this one has apples, roasted parsnip, bone marrow and cardamom. And then the other one is the Spinach Sublime and this one has roasted pears, spinach coconut oil and fresh mint. We are all over Northern California growing sort of week by week.

Kelly: Do you have a website people can go for more information?

Claire: Definitely. It’s That will have a list of our blends and the stores where you can get us.

Kelly: Well thank you so much for all this. That was very informative. I really appreciate you coming on to share all your insight about preparing healthy food for your baby.

Claire: Thanks for having me Kelly

Claire Hoyt interview about Food for Brain Development
About Claire Hoyt-Bastien

Claire Hoyt-Bastien is the founder of Big Dipper Foods. She has created and brought to market a line of refrigerated, organic, minimally processed baby foods using HPP Cold Pressure Technology with an emphasis on healthy fats and proteins. Passionate about making healthy foods approachable and delicious she also teaches an Introduction to Solids class for new parents with an emphasis on nutrient density and palette development for baby's first bites as well as a newly launched series, One Table, which aims to help busy families prepare and share homemade meals.
Big Dipper Baby Food

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