Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Lazy Mom's Guide to Homemade Baby Food

Leave it to me to wait until my third baby to make homemade baby food. Isn't it usually the first born who gets the most effort? Not in our house. He gets better quality food and better quality baby pictures. What can I say, I get better with time.

I have no problem with store bought baby food. It is convenient, inexpensive, and did I mention easy? Both of my girls ate store bought baby food, but never for very long. Once I let them self-feed they were done with purees and onto chopped up fruits and veggies that they enjoyed smearing on their faces.

My only issue this time around was taste. A jar of bananas that has been sitting on a grocery store shelf for who knows how long DOES NOT taste the same as a fresh banana. That's just science. Fresh food tastes better and I know exactly what goes into it and into my baby. I want my dude to know what real food tastes like, and baby food does not taste like real food.

So here I was, third time around, making the decision to feed my baby only healthy, fresh food that I have prepared. He has gotten a little baby oatmeal and yogurt a few times, but those are things I cannot make. Well I guess technically I could in theory make my own yogurt. But I'm not going to.

The first natural step for me in the whole baby food making process was to buy just a little bit extra fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I cook them with the dinner I'm already making, or sometimes I just cook them up especially to puree and feed my dude. Either way I'm not doing much extra cooking. I have to feed him anyway, what is a few more minutes to steam some green beans.

Yesterday I made my dude some green beans and some broccoli.

I started with fresh green beans and diced them into smallish pieces. Right after I took this photo.
Then I steamed them. I happen to have a microwave steamer that I bought at Walmart for $6, but you can steam or cook vegetables anyway you want. This works for me because I can walk away from it and it isn't going to overcook or burn.
I typically cook small portions, so I only bought a handful of fresh green beans. Nobody wants to be eating the same food everyday for a week. After the green beans were cooked I set them out to cool, he wasn't going to be eating them immediately so there was no rush. Not all of the steps have to be done at the same time, this isn't that big of a committment.
At this point, while the green beans were cooling, I thought Why not randomly switch the vegetable that you are making right now to broccoli? That won't be confusing at all! I had a container of leftover steamed broccoli in the fridge already, so I grabbed that and added it to my to-do list. Sometimes I just cook a little bit extra of dinner so I can make it into food for Witten. See how I do that, save some time since I already had the broccoli?

So out came the broccoli, and out came the food processor. I just have this little food processor, which is an accessory to an immersion blender I have. If you have a bigger one feel free to cook more veggies at once, but small quantities work for me and my baby food processor.
I added about half of my cooked broccoli, and a fair amount of water. That's the secret here, you aren't going to get the texture you want unless you add some water. You are just going to get finely chopped up vegetables. And you don't have to add water to every puree, some foods naturally contain a little bit more water than others.

I initially added about 1-2 tablespoons of water, then pulsed the broccoli a few times and reassessed.

It needed more water, so I ended up using about 1/4 cup more. Then it was pretty smooth, but the nature of broccoli isn't that smooth, it still had a couple stray sprout guys hanging out. That's okay, my baby is older but I would use a smoother fruit or veggie when they're first starting out, depending on what age you start your baby on solids. My girls got baby food at about 4 months, but I didn't start consistently giving it to Witten until 6 months, which is actually what most doctors will recommend.
I took my final product and divided it into small tupperware containers. I put one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. Alternatively you can freeze it in an ice cube tray or something similar and then freeze individual portions. Food stays fresh in the fridge up to 72 hours, but I would toss it after that to prevent the growth of bacteria. It is also recommended that you not feed a baby directly out of the storage container and then reuse that same container of food on another day. The bacteria from the baby's mouth goes straight from the spoon into their food, and just to be on the safe side I always feed my dude out of a separate bowl. Any food that you store in the freezer will last up to about 3 months, but I make mine in such small batches that it doesn't last that long. If you don't freeze any of your purees you will have to make them more frequently.
In my freezer right now I have broccoli, green beans, and some sweet potatoes. None of these things required more than ten minutes of actual "work" from me and they taste so much better than food from a jar. Not that I want to eat pureed broccoli, but I have a full set of teeth.

There are instances where I feed him non-fruits and veggies, like oatmeal or even yogurt. He loves the yogurt, but it has way more sugar in it than any baby needs so I only give him small amounts at a time. He is a fan though. I only buy brands that don't have high fructose corn syrup and have natural ingredients, babies should eat wholesome, healthy foods.
The thing about making your own baby food is that it doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. I have three kids, am a part-time student, and spend way too much of my day driving back and forth to pick up my kindergartener. My secret to saving time is to break up some of the steps when I have to. I cook extra veggies at dinner to feed to Witten later. Then I can pull those out of the fridge the next day and they're already cooked and chopped, ready to go. If you are eating healthy then feeding your baby healthy should be the next natural step.

I know this may sound like Greek to some people, and I get that. So I'll help a little more, its the least I can do right?

In most cases, if you would eat something cooked, then your baby will eat it cooked. Broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, all of those things need cooked. And some of them can also be bought pre-chopped (that's how I buy squash all the time) and you can steam it in your microwave, right in the bag. When it comes to fruit, some need cooked and others don't. Bananas are probably the only thing I feed him raw at this time, I choose to bake or steam other fruits like apples, pears, or peaches.

Since it is winter the variety of fresh fruits or vegetables on hand is different, and in this case buying frozen alternatives is fine. I never opt for canned though, they won't taste as fresh and many companies add salt. Frozen peaches are great though, so are green beans (and they're already chopped up!).

Steaming vegetables is not rocket science, my steamer even came with a handy little chart. Most vegetables are done in less than ten minutes, just chop them up and stick em in the steamer.

Cook times for most veggies are not too tough to remember:
  • Green beans: 8-10 minutes, sliced into 1 inch pieces
  • Broccoli: 6-9 minutes
  • Carrots: 6-9 minutes
  • Cauliflower: 7-13 minutes
  • Corn: 1-2 minutes
  • Zucchini: 4-7 minutes
  • Squash: 6- 8 minutes. I generally buy this in a bag, chopped, and follow the directions on the bag. Don't even need a steamer, you cook it in the bag!
These vegetables should all be cooked until fork tender, if they are undercooked they will not puree the way you want them to.

Other things I choose to roast/bake in the oven instead. Its not any less convenient, and the texture is generally better for some foods if you don't microwave it.
  • Sweet potatoes: roast whole, at 350 for about 30 minutes. If you pierce it with a fork prior to cooking it tends to cook faster. Check for doneness after about 25 minutes by squeezing the potato while wearing an oven mitt. It should yield to gentle pressure.
  • Apples and pears: peel and roughly chop, then bake in a shallow dish with a little bit of water at 350 for about 35 minutes. They should be soft and are relatively easy to puree.
  • Peaches: since it is winter I have only bought frozen, sliced peaches. This does save time since they are peeled and ready to go, but defrost them in a colander with cold running water before you cook them. Bake them in a shallow dish about 25 minutes in a 350 oven or until tender.
Don't add sugar or any sweetener to any of the fruits, especially if you want your kids to like the taste of the fruit or vegetable the way Mother Nature intended. If a fruit is particularly sour then it isn't ripe enough, use something that is going to be better tasting and in season. You can, if you're feeling particularly daring and adventurous, add a little sprinkle of cinnamon to apples, pears, or peaches. You know, if you like to live on the wild side.

Also make a note to steer away from things that babies shouldn't eat until they are at least one, like honey, peanut butter, egg whites, shellfish, and berries. There are plenty of foods that they can have and they like variety just as much as the rest of us. Once my kids get a little bigger I usually give them more table food or whatever we are having for dinner, with emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

At this point my baby is 7 months old, so he will probably only eat purees for another month or so. Once he develops the ability to pick things up with his thumb and forefinger (the pincer grasp) he can start with more self-feeding. Then I will feed him the same things he is already getting, but skip the puree step. I will also add in more meats and some cheese, but not too much dairy. I skip pureed meats of any kind, because gross. He is breastfed, so he doesn't need any extra protein that he isn't getting from breastmilk.

Let's review in case anyone has forgotten anything:
  • Cook extra vegetables when you are prepping dinner, you can use the leftovers later to feed your nugget.
  • If you don't have any extra cooked veggies on hand, steam or roast a small portion and then you can come back later and puree it. It doesn't have to be done immediately after you cook it.
  • Puree the amount that you need, in my case I just do about 3-4 servings at a time, except when it comes to butternut squash because I buy it in a large bag. Stick 1-2 servings in the fridge, then you can freeze what you want to use later.
  • When it comes time to defrost, treat the food the same way you would any other food you need defrosted. I put mine in the fridge overnight, but you could also microwave it (on defrost or low power) until it is thawed. Don't leave it sit at room temperature, that is a no-no when defrosting anything.
  • Not all baby food needs to be cooked and prepped ahead of time. Mash up some banana or avocado, mix up a little baby oatmeal, or give them some yogurt. Sometimes raw food is fine.

I don't feel like feeding your kids should be time consuming and complicated. You can feed them simple, whole foods without much effort. I promise. If I can do it, and I can be lazier than anyone realizes, then anyone can do it. It doesn't take much more than 5-10 extra minutes, scout's honor.

And you end up with a happy, healthy, satisfied? customer, who still might make faces when eating broccoli.

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