By Emily Nichols
As a working mother of two, I have discovered that some of my ambitious parenting goals have been challenging to maintain, while others are much easier. While cloth diapering, homemade soap, and custom diaper rash ointments are certainly worthwhile endeavors, making my own baby food tops my list of easy, economical, and healthy ways to care for my children.
When it was time for our first daughter to eat solid foods, my husband and I decided we wanted to feed her all organic; on a limited budget, however, we realized that many of the pre-made jarred foods were just too expensive. While store-bought baby food has an appealing convenience factor, when you break down the cost per ounce, that dollar you spend for five ounces of baby food could buy you a pound of carrots, a pound of apples, or two pounds of bananas. We found that making our own baby food didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it might, and storing large batches leaves us with healthier options on even the busiest of days.
It’s worth spending some time doing research—especially talking to other parents and your healthcare provider—and creating a plan before diving in. I borrowed the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron (FJ Roberts, 1998) from a friend, and soon Yaron’s ideas were the basis for creating a collection of recipes that best met our family’s needs. The book offers various timelines and suggestions for introducing foods (from five months into toddlerhood), and has a plethora of recipes and tips to ensure a successful transition for your baby into to the culinary world. There is even a smart phone app!
Helpful resources online that can help you along in your baby-food-making quest include Mommy-blogger websites (listed on page 37), nutritionist and pediatrician sites that have links to practical and healthful ways to feed your baby, and Pinterest links for visual inspiration and fresh ideas.
Tools of the Trade:
Many intriguing "baby-food-making" tools are on the market these days. They include specialty steamers, grinders, mashers, food processors, jars, freezing containers, and even squeeze packet filling machines designed to help the baby-food-making process go more smoothly (pun intended). However, all you really need for a successful endeavor are the following:
• A knife and cutting board;
• A saucepan with a steaming basket;
• A roasting pan for the oven;
• A reliable blender, food mill, food processor, or hand blender;
• Ice cube trays or small containers to store the prepared food (recycled baby food jars, canning jars, or purchased storage containers).
Consistency of first foods for your baby are as important as taste, both for acceptance and for your baby's digestive system. We were fortunate to already have a nice food processor and a decent blender. You can hand mash foods with a potato masher or fork, but our success hinged on the capacity to pureé large batches in a food processor. Keep in mind that while soft and smooth foods are best in the beginning, it is important to introduce variety and texture when your child is ready.
The process of cooking first foods for your child like squash, pears, yams, or carrots is pretty much the same:
• Boil water in a pan, with or without a steaming basket.
• Add peeled and diced vegetables or fruit and steam until a fork easily pierces the food.
• Remove food from the stovetop and discard most of the water. Retaining a little extra fluid will help the puree process.
• Puree the cooked vegetables or fruit with food processor or blender until they are smooth in texture. If it seems too thick, you can add some water to help thin it down, or choose to leave it thick and thin it down with breast milk or formula before serving.
• If you make larger batches, you can freeze or can a portion at this time. I recommend using ice cube trays to freeze small portions. Once the food freezes, simply pop the portions out of the tray and put them in a freezer-safe container. If you prefer to can your baby food, be diligent in double-checking instructions for canning perishable food online or on canning jar packaging.
• Warm and feed! Warming up food to just above room temperature is more pleasing to babies. Make sure you always check the temperature yourself before feeding. Beware of microwaves that heat food inconsistently (as well as potentially kill precious vitamins, defeating some of the good you’ve done making the food yourself!) You can pop a freezer cube in a glass jar and immerse it in warm water or a bottle warmer, or the fancier packaging specifically made for baby food processing allows for immersing it directly in warm water before serving.
For Best Results:
• It is generally recommended to wait until your child is one year old before introducing honey, dairy, eggs, strawberries, tomatoes, citrus, and nuts. Talk with your child's healthcare professional for specific recommendations.
• Nurse or give your baby a little formula before feeding solid food. This will help ensure your child's stomach isn't completely empty and he is calm when you begin to feed him. Also, try not to feed your baby when she is tired; you’ll have much more luck if she is in a happy place.
• Try one type of food for several days before introducing a new food or combining foods, then try, and try again. New foods take getting used to; sometimes it takes five to ten introductions to a food before a child accepts it.
• Add breast milk or formula to add familiarity and thin down food to a consistency your child likes. At our house, we decided to skip the often-prescribed baby rice or oat cereal, and our daughter's first food was avocado with breast milk added.
• Slippery Elm is the bark of a tree in powder form that can be added to food to help if your little one is having trouble digesting new foods—find it in local health food stores. (Consult your healthcare provider prior to use.)
• Stop feeding baby when he loses interest. Watch for cues for when the baby is done, and stop when he is no longer interested. If he turns away or starts playing with the food, he is done.
• Fluids! Don't forget to help her wash it all down with a sip of water or by nursing after feeding.
• Grow your own fruits and vegetables, or buy locally. Get the most nutritional benefit and make the most of our short growing season by processing and storing large quantities of healthy produce in season.
• When your child is ready for combined foods, try mixing in a fruit to sweeten up a vegetable. For example, potato-apple-kale is a great combination. Eventually you can just puree whatever else the rest of the family is having for dinner (once, of course, your baby is accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods).
Making your own baby food is definitely a case where a little bit of time goes a long way toward saving money, increasing the number of foods you can introduce, and providing peace of mind, knowing you are giving your child the best possible start in life.
Baby Breeza: a mini baby food processor that defrosts, steams, and
processes in one container
Sili Squeeze™: a reusable, squeezable food pouch
Squeeze Station: a one-stop unit that presses baby
food into store-and-serve pouches