According to Rena Coyle, author of "Baby Let's Eat," the best thing you can do when feeding your child is to calm down.

"Kids eat when they're hungry, so don't torture yourself," says Coyle. "They'll eat a tablespoon of this and that. They're not going to eat a bowlful of food, they're going to eat little bites."

It was a lesson Coyle -- a restaurateur, chef and cooking teacher -- learned when she had her baby, Catelyn, and became terrified her daughter wasn't eating enough to survive. Once she realized, however, that her baby was thriving on what seemed very little food, she sat down and wrote "Baby Let's Eat" to alleviate other mothers' fears.

"It's something that answers all the questions I had when I first started feeding my daughter, Catelyn. I couldn't believe what I didn't know about feeding children. Here I was in the cooking business, feeding 100 adults a day and I realized I couldn't feed one little baby."

"Baby Let's Eat" is organized like other books about babies, divided into six-month chapters up to age 3. Nutritionist Patricia Messing offered expert nutritional advice.

A rule of thumb to follow, says Coyle, is to serve one tablespoon each of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains per meal for each year of life. "It's better to give small portions and let your child ask for more."

She suggested not trying to balance babies' meals daily at this very young age. Over a week, she says, parents will notice that children tend to balance themselves nutritionally if offered a variety of foods, though they may concentrate on one at a time.

Important also for Coyle was the idea of eliminating any extra steps in the preparation of the child's food. "I tried to show how to take food out of your own diet so as to not make one extra step for yourself. There is not an extra process. The book shows how to take leftovers from the night before and make them into lunch the next day, how to freeze so that every time your child wants to eat, you're not starting from scratch.

"For me cooking was very easy; for a lot of people, cooking is not that simple and the concept of making baby food seems like an awesome responsibility with hours spent in the kitchen. In reality it's not."

Her recipes include no salt or sugar. And although eliminating salt was not difficult, eliminating sugar was another story. "It's so easy to give them sugar; everything has it. Our adult palates are far more attuned to sugar, but with a child you are trying to develop good habits."

"Your kids don't eat that much, so you want to maximize their calories." Instead of chocolate and sugary snacks for dessert, Coyle suggests brown rice pudding, which offers fiber and dairy products and is sweetened with apple juice concentrate.

Coyle's graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, was pastry chef for Windows of the World and later consulting chef for several of the restaurants in the World Trade Center. Since then she has owned her own catering business (seven years) and written two books, "Glorious American Food" with Christopher Idone and "My First Cookbook" (Workman, 1985). She is now at work on "My First Baking Book," which will come out this spring.

"Baby Let's Eat" includes a list of what is not safe to serve to children, a chart indicating the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables and, among the more than 90 recipes, such taste treats as Pure'ed Sweet Potatoes With Peaches, Pure'ed Steamed Butternut Squash With Grapes, Cider House Fish, Cheesey Tuna Casserole, Milk-Free and Vegetable Fettuccine, Brown Rice Pudding.

As for the book's aim, to calm the worried parent, Coyle explains, "It's amazing when a baby grows, you just don't know what to do, but don't worry -- it gets there."

And below, for a festive and entertaining dish, is Bowtie Pasta Salad, which requires just oil in your cupboard before you dash through the express lane.

Express Lane List: pasta, peas, carrot, broccoli, tomato, cider vinegar, apple or orange juice concentrate, mint leaves and orange zest


(4 servings)

2 cups bowtie pasta

1/2 cup soft-cooked peas, mashed

1 medium carrot, peeled, diced, and cooked

1 cup cooked tiny broccoli flowerets

1 small tomato, cored and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon frozen apple or orange juice concentrate, thawed

2 tablespoons safflower oil

8 mint leaves, thinly sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried mint

Grated zest of 1/2 orange

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the bowtie noodles and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; rinse the pasta under cold water; drain again. Put the pasta in a bowl with the vegetables.

In a separate bowl, mix together the vinegar, juice concentrate, oil, mint, and orange zest.

Toss the vinaigrette with the pasta and vegetables. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.