05 February, 2009

Make Your Own Baby Food

One of the nice things about vacationing in Baja when your little one is just starting solids is that she begins her foodie career early.  Aside from a few weeks of cereal at home as her tummy was getting used to solid food, she hadn't tried much else before we went on our trip.  But after two weeks there she was eating avocado, beans, zucchini, papaya, chayote, banana, and mango. It must have been a downgrade for her when we came home and she was forced to eat things like carrots, parsnips, and pears.

I am going to try and not turn this into a lecture about making your own baby food.  I will only ask this: why wouldn't you?  Sure, it takes a bit of time and a bit of freezer room.  But other than a blender, food mill, food processor, or a strong arm and a fork there is no special equipment required.  For me, convenience of a jar does not outweigh knowing what is going into my kids mouth.  Let me, then, explain our philosophy.  Philosophy?  Maybe it would be better to simply say this is our approach and why we do it, it seems less pretentious that way.

First, we make all our baby food.  Okay, I do concede to buying rice/barley/oat cereal until she is old enough to eat oatmeal.

Second, we try to do absolutely everything organic.  I've been accused to being snobby with this insistence.  Maybe, but my thought is that organic food generally tastes better and my biggest concern, aside from nutrition, is developing her palate.  If an organic pear has a better taste than a supermarket one, then that's the one that will teach her what a pear should taste like.  There is also the environmental benefit, of course.

Third, we generally cook in season for ourselves and so we do for her.  That means she is eating a lot of root vegetables that we get locally from storage.  It also means a splurge on the so not local fruits like oranges, mango, and papaya, but they are in season in the Southern Hemisphere.  As her capacity to chew develops and she ages she can then enjoy strawberries for the first time right out of the garden, the first rhubarb, and sweet peas right out of the pod.  it also means I am cooking for all of us, and not just her.

Fourth, what I can't get fresh I buy frozen and still make.  Peas are a perfect example, as frozen are as close to fresh you can get.  I also have fruit from last summer which I froze whole -like peaches and raspberries - that I can easily puree for her.

Finally, I am still breastfeeding.  That means meal time is about exploring new tastes and textures, as well as sitting down together as a family.  She is getting a lot of her nutrients from me, and supplemented by the veggies, fruits, fish, and meats she is trying out.  I must admit, though, that one of the main reasons I am breastfeeding is that I am too lazy for bottles.  My plan is to get her to take a cup so that when it comes time to wean in a few months she will be on a cup and I can avoid bottles all together.

Don't waste your money on fancy kits or cookbooks. Even if you aren't much of a cook, this is easy to do. Really easy to do. Just do one food at a time. As they develop and you feel confident you can try mixing flavours. I always go for things I would generally eat myself - squash with apples and maybe some chicken, beets and oranges, beef and broccoli.  And a kit?  Just fancy ice cube trays and a special DVD.  Read below and email me and I'll get you going.

All that being said, how do I get a load of baby food made and in the freezer with a toddler on hand and a busy schedule?

One thing that has definitely helped has been teaching the toddler how to peel veggies.  To be honest, I'm a little afraid that she'll slice herself with the peeler.  But I held it with her the first few times and now she is a pro.  She asks for help on the end bits, knowing that she could hurt herself.  She's tough, but not stupid.  While the little one naps The Monster and I will stand and peel veggies.  It's a great a activity for both of us.  And the pride she has when she sees her sister eating the food she made is enough to make a Mama Foodie cry.

Smilosaurus (aka Little Miss Sunshine) has now tried most veggies and fruits available to us.  That means we can make big batches now.  When I first introduced a new food I only made one or two servings.  That way I wasn't stuck with a huge batch of cauliflower if she wasn't going to eat it (although you can easily throw it in a cream of veggie soup or macaroni and cheese for yourself).  I would simply put a few florets or tablespoons aside from whatever I was making for the rest of us.

Baby Food Making Supplies

Vegetable peeler
Sharp knife
Pot with tight fitting lid/ Steamer
Food processor/blender/food mill
Ice Cube Trays
Plastic Bags or plastic containers

Wash and peel any vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets, squash, sweet potatoes.  Trim the ends of beans and zucchini.  Peel all fruit (except berries).

Chop the veggies into uniform pieces and place them in a small pot with a fitted lid (what I do) or a steamer.  Add about a half cup or so of water, not to cover, only to fill the bottom of the pot.  Set it on the stove, with a burner turned to high.  Don't walk away and watch TV, otherwise you will boil away all the water and burn your veggies (trust me).  Steam the veggies until a fork will go through them easily, adding more water if necessary.

All veggies, barring cucumber, should be cooked.  I also cook my pears and apples, essentially making an applesauce.  But I do not cook berries, mango, papaya, or bananas.

When veggies/fruit are done, drain them of any water.  Reserve the cooking liquids.  Put your veggies in your blender/food processor/food mill.  You may need to add water to get the desired consistency.  To start with you may want quite smooth purees.  Unless it is a veggie like a sweet potato or cauliflower you might have to add water to do this.  If you run out of cooking water I usually take what's left in the kettle after boiling my water for tea that day.  Some veggies have a lot of water in them and you won't need to add any, like zucchini.  To be honest, we never went the smooth puree route.  From the experience of friends it seems that babies who stay too long on smooth purees have a hard time with different textures - even by a year old.  That, and my food processor tends to have a rougher chop unless I add a lot of water.

Do not feel like you are diluting your food if you add water.  I'm not a nutritionist, so don't quote me if I say it's okay.  But I do know that babies bowels have a hard time with new foods and the little bit of extra water generally helps if they are constipated.  It's not like I'm serving her soup!

Once you've reached the desired consistency, pour your puree into clean ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen you can store in plastic bags or plastic containers.  Each cube is essentially one serving.  At each meal the Smilosaurus will eat anywhere from 1-5 cubes of food.  You can defrost the cubes in the microwave or leave a few in the fridge each morning to defrost.  They are easy to transport and you can still feed your kid your homemade love when you are out and about.

I want to make a special note about meat here.  Generally I will poach the chicken, or keep a tiny piece of red meat or fish aside for her.  No seasonings, but broil it or bake it as I do the rest for the family.  You need a good blender to really get small pieces, and I generally have to add water (the poaching liquid).  When you are feeding the little one, I find it easier to mix it right in with the veggies, you get a better consistency for them.  With fish I don't even bother blending it.  You can flake it into small enough pieces that are easy for a babe to eat.

When all is said and done, an hour of work once every week or two will get you loads of food.  The next step is encouraging your child to eat and explore food.  A few mantras we use around here:

Let them get messy.  It sure isn't pretty and it's hard on cloth bibs and clothes.  But I'm thankful we have dogs that have learned that the floor is pretty tasty after the girls eat.  And I highly recommend bibs that cover the shoulders to save yourself some laundry headaches.

Let them decided how much they are going to eat.  We should all eat like babies - they get loads of colour in their mostly plant based diet and they stop when they are hungry.

Let them try new things, even if they didn't like it the first time.  I saw some guy on TV once (how's that for a source?) who said kids need to be exposed to something about 10 times before they can truly establish a like or dislike for it.  Keep offering it.  I still can't get her to eat applesauce, but I keep trying.

One final note.  Please listen to your public health nurse or health care provider on the recommended way to introduce food.  Certain foods should be avoided in the first year, strawberries and egg whites, for example.  I'm only a mom, not a nutrition or health care expert.  If in doubt, here is a good resource for additional advice and guidance on feeding your baby solids.


Pasifik said...

Great post...really like it.

Happy blogging,

Toddler Nutrition

Vincci said...

I LOVE the photo of The Monster with that vegetable peeler. I also think you have the cutest reason for sticking to breastfeeding :)

Holli said...


Thanks so much for this very detailed and informative post. I'm "saving it as new" in my reader, so I can refer to it when I've got a little one to feed. As I'm planning to begin a family in the coming year or so, and food is an important part of my life, I've been reading up on preparing food for babies/toddlers and this post puts it all together in one simple, concise place. THANK YOU!


Aimée said...

Way to spread the word and inspire other moms, Cheryl! A lot of women I talk to find making baby food to be so much work.
Noah like to pis the buttons on the blender when we make ours.

Love to see a Part II in a few months about transitioning to whole food. That's the part I find tricky.

dragana said...

Thank you for this post. I'm with you a 100% about not giving my baby jarred foods. If I wouldn't eat it, why would I feed it to my kids?