I never really made baby food for Morganna when she was little.
I had been raised on formula and jarred baby foods, and while I mostly breastfed Morganna, I didn’t really deviate from the idea that the baby food in jars was more nutritionally suitable for a baby than anything I could whip up in a kitchen. Other than the over-ripe mashed banana that was her first solid meal, Morganna seldom tasted anything other than the jarred Gerber purees for her first year and a half.
Why exactly did this happen? Why did I believe that baby food in jars was superior to home-cooked food mashed or ground into a puree?
In large part, it had to do with the culture I was surrounded by in my youth. At the age of twenty-four, and surrounded by my own parents, and husband’s parents who all opined that baby food was the only fit food for babies, I believed them. Everyone else was using it, after all, even though it was expensive, so maybe I was wrong to think I could save money by buying fresh fruits and vegetables and cooking them myself, then mashing them.
I mean, I knew that canned vegetables had fewer vitamins than frozen or fresh, and I reasoned that jarred baby foods would be comparable to canned, but when I made mention of this, my parents were quite disapproving. No, no, I had been fed jarred food, and I turned out fine, so what was I worrying about, exactly? And the few times I did feed Morganna mashed up table food, I was given stern lectures from family members about the unsutability of such food for delicate baby stomachs.
The only relative who was supportive of such ideas was my Dad’s mother, Gram. She said that she used jarred food sometimes, but that it was too expensive most of the time, so she just mashed up fresh fruits and vegetables that she cooked for everyone else and fed that to her babies, and they turned out perfectly well. Besides, she pointed out–have you ever -tasted- baby food? Disgusting.
She was right. Most of it was pretty nasty. I don’t like canned peas anyway, so you can imagine what I thought of jarred pureed peas. Mmmm. Olive drab stinky mush. My favorite.
No wonder Morganna spit them out every time I tried to feed them to her.
This time around, I am making my own baby foods for Kat, and they are simple. They really are.
Her very first vegetable was sweet potato, and cooking it was beyond easy.
I heated up the oven to 400 degrees F. I washed the outside of a large locally grown sweet potato I had in my pantry. I oiled the skin lightly with canola oil, pricked a few holes in the skin with the tines of a fork and stuck it in the oven.
I let it bake until it was completely softened–about an hour or so.
When it was done, I let it cool until it was easily handled, cut it in half, and squeezed the soft flesh from the skins. Then, with a fork, I simply mashed it into a thick puree. I added a tiny bit of water, and a pinch of salt to enhance the flavor, and then packed it into special baby food freezing trays with tightly fitting lids. (You can use ice-cube trays, but I liked these, because they are super sturdy and the lid keeps me from having to use plastic wrap to keep the purees from being freezer burned. Reusable is always better than disposable.) Then, the trays were set into the freezer, and when the sweet potato was frozen into little orange cubes, I popped them out of the tray into a freezer bag, labeled and dated it and voila! Baby food.
It took me about fifteen minutes, total, in a few separate chunks of time. That was it. And what was the result? Nutritious, local, organic baby food that was way cheaper and with more vitamins and minerals than is found in the jarred stuff.
I now also have a bag of pureed organic peas. For those, I used frozen organic peas, steamed, and then ground up in batches in my Sumeet. (I figure that if the Sumeet can puree dried lentils and spices, and goes through chilies and fresh ginger like butter, it can puree peas. Boy, was I right!) Then, like the sweet potatoes, they were portioned out into the ice-cube trays and frozen.
Plenty of fiber, vitamins and even more importantly to Kat–flavor. The pea puree I made is brilliant emerald green, while the stuff from the jar, while it is also organic, is about the color of, well, something that usually gets blown into tissues. And the taste difference is out of this world. Mine tastes real food, and the store-bought stuff tastes like canned glop.
Kat adores the peas and sweet potatoes, and gets very excited when Zak starts feeding them to her. She grabs the spoon as he is holding it and guides it to her own mouth, while cooing and cackling. She loves them. There is no struggle trying to get her to eat them, in large part I think because they taste so good.
So, for all of those Moms and Dads out there, or those planning on being parents, here are a few ideas on making baby food. (For an easy to read chart on which foods to introduce when, look here.)
First, start with local organic vegetables and fruits if possible.Local is important for freshness–the fresher the vegetable or fruit, the more vitamins it contains. Organic is important because babies are very sensitive to pesticide residues. Choose nutrient dense fruits and vegetables which have a low likelihood of causing allergic reactions. (Nutrient dense foods are those which have a high nutritional value per calorie.) For a list of nutrient-dense fruits, click here. For vegetables, click here.
Second, cook thoroughly, by roasting, baking or steaming, preferably. (You do not have to cook bananas or avocados–and no, they are not local to Ohio, but I can still get them grown organically and they are very nutrient dense fruits.) Lots of Moms who make their own baby foods suggest that you boil vegetables. Don’t do it–you lose nutrients into the water. Cooking methods in which no water or minimal water touches the food are best because you retain any water-soluble vitamins that way. If you use organic apples and pears, you can cook them with their skins on thus retaining the vitamins which are close to the skin. The same goes for root vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes. You can remove the skin after cooking. (You can season the food or not as you see fit. I use cardamom in Kat’s oatmeal and she loves it. I also add tiny pinches of salt to her vegetables, and will probably start adding fresh mint to the peas and garlic any turnips, spinach, lentils and beans I cook for her in the future. She loves the smell and taste of fresh ginger already, so I may add it to carrots and sweet potatoes, and when I introduce apples, a pinch may go into them, too.)
Thirdly, mash or puree the fruit or vegetable with some sort of implement. Some foods can be mashed with a manual potato masher or fork–like bananas, sweet potatoes, potatoes and avocados. Food processors are very useful for this task–I use my Sumeet, but one could also use a stick blender, or a Cuisinart. Traditional jar blenders don’t work quite so well, at least not in my experience. You can also use a manual food mill–the good thing about a food mill is that you don’t have to peel fruits and vegetables before putting them in–the mill leaves the skins behind, while just grinding up the flesh. Pretty cool gadgets, food mills.
Then, spoon the pureed food into ice cube trays, cover tightly with plastic wrap (or get the trays with covers like I have) and put in your freezer. When the food is frozen, pop out of the trays and into ziplock freezer bags, label and date them. That is it.
To serve them, just thaw out a cube or two in the fridge, and warm gently by placing the serving bowl into a bowl of hot water.
It has been a joy cooking for and with Kat. She loves sitting in her swing in the kitchen while I cook. She watches everything I do, and when I peel and cut up fruits and vegetables, or grind spices, I always bring them over to her so she can smell them. While I was preparing her supper of sweet potatoes, peas, oatmeal and pears last night, she sat on Zak’s lap and he taught her how to stir using a tiny pot and one of my silicone mixing spatulas. She was really cute holding the spatula in both hands, then chewing on it after she swirled it around in the tiny Revereware saucepan that used to belong to my Gram.
I can’t wait until she can help cook for real!
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