Baby Food Fun

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!

18 Comments

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  1. I have to admit that I loved Gerber plums right into adulthood (can’t seem to find them anymore), but otherwise baby food is pretty unappetizing. I miss those plums, though.

    I’m always kind of puzzled/amused by ‘delicate baby stomachs’–what do people think babies ate before jarred baby food was invented?

    Comment by Mel — March 22, 2007 #

  2. Visualize whirled peas….

    Of course you know as a teenager she’ll eat tons of junk food just to spite you. ;^)

    Comment by donna — March 22, 2007 #

  3. You go girl!

    I made all of my son’s food, and aside from the VERY occasional jar of organic baby food (when we were out longer than we planned, and he needed to eat something NOW) he’s eaten nothing but homemade. Now, at age 2, he’s a VERY adventurous eater and will eat anything, as long as it’s on Mommy’s plate.

    Kat is a very lucky girl! And she too will have a sophisticated palate and be more food-wise beyond her years.

    Comment by Maggi — March 22, 2007 #

  4. My mother never gave me jarred baby food. I come from an Italian family, so she used to give me chicken soup with very very fine pasta or rice (made specifically for babies). She also used to mash up vegetables. Much tastier and better for you than that mushy bland crap.

    Comment by Stephanie — March 22, 2007 #

  5. This is exactly what my friends who have kids are doing. It seems so logical and intuitive to me.

    How would you infuse the ginger flavor into her food? Minced?

    Comment by Rose — March 22, 2007 #

  6. I agree with the home made baby food. It’s a lot less expensive than jarred baby food. Everybody else was raised fine during the time when jarred baby food was not yet available. It’s all up to the mother’s instincts.

    Comment by Bob — March 23, 2007 #

  7. The whole story, while informative and useful, is soooooo loving that is makes me smile.

    I’ve been reading the Indian posts with interest but the husband is mildly allergic to cumin. Still enjoyable to read, though.

    Comment by wwjudith — March 23, 2007 #

  8. Where are the pictures of Kat stirring her first batch of …?

    lol

    Actually, at least here in Venezuela, the fruits puree for babies by gerber is really good, at least for adults, I think that they have too much sugar for kids

    bye!

    Comment by Alexis — March 23, 2007 #

  9. I admire your courage and attitude in this, but I must ask one thing. You said you add salt to her veg, why? Surely without salt would be much better and it can’t make much difference to the taste in the tiny safe amounts?

    Comment by Lizy — March 23, 2007 #

  10. I don’t know why people are so afraid of salt. The only people who need to be concerned about salt intake are those predesposed to high blood pressure and those who eat A LOT of convienance and fast foods. Even a small amount of salt will still enhance the flavor of food, especially veggies. It makes the food taste more like what it is by making the taste buds more receptive to the flavor molecules. And salt is still a required nutrient, even for babies.

    Comment by Roxanne — March 24, 2007 #

  11. Mel–Those were Morganna’s favorite fruit–and I liked them, too. And no, I don’t think they still make them, either.

    Donna–that is fine. She will also eat lots of good stuff, too. I eat junk food now and again–I just use moderation. I hope that Kat will learn the same thing.

    Thanks, Maggi! She already shows great interest in everything about food. Much like I did as a baby, or so I am told.

    Stephanie–yeah, that sounds much nicer than bland, canned mushy stuff.

    Rose–I would grind the ginger to a paste in my Sumeet grinder. It works great for reducing ginger to a paste.

    Bob–yeah, that was always what I said when I was feeding Morganna baby food–my grandparents turned out fine before there was baby food, so why the insistence on it now?

    Thank you, Judith! As for the cumin allergy–I understand. Now that I am allergic to black pepper, though not as much as when I was pregnant, it does make eating out difficult.

    You can usually leave the cumin out in Indian food–replacing it with another spice. I would substitute kala jeera–try it on him sometime. It is in the same family as cumin, but it doesn’t have all the same chemical constituents. Give it a shot–he may be able to eat it.

    Alexis–I should have taken a picture of it–except I was cooking!

    Lizy–Roxanne has it exactly right. Even tiny amounts of salt boost the flavor of plain vegetables. I can taste the difference, and I am told that babies have much more sensitive palates than adults.

    One of the things I learned and value most about learning in culinary school was the proper use of salt. Before then, I used salt only at the table, and never cooked with it. My chefs openly criticized this, though they said that not cooking with it for a time will “cleanse” your palate for learning how to use it properly.

    American processed food is too salty, across the board. But, freshly prepared and cooked whole foods benefit from judicious use of salt to enhance the natural flavors inherent to these foods. This is especially true of vegetables and yes, even fruits.

    One of the problems I have with a local primarily vegetarian restaurant is that they are afraid to use salt, so much of their food is quite bland. Even the slightest amount of salt picks their dishes right up and carries them forward on a burst of natural and delicious flavor.

    Without salt, cooked food often tastes flat. With it–you can discern the natural flavors inherent in the food much more easily.

    And yes, Roxanne–it is a required nutrient. I think that Americans are all het up about salt in baby food because most processed foods here are heavily salty, and it used to be that there was lots of salt in baby foods. The overuse of salt tended to predispose children to liking too much salt, which in later life can lead to hypertension and the like.

    I suspect that is the source of the salt-phobia among American parents. But in this case, rather than listen to the Mommy brigade, I listen to the old French chef who taught me how to salt properly when I cook.

    Comment by Barbara — March 24, 2007 #

  12. The most important thing I learned when I started cooking Indian food is how important salt is for flavor. I salt everything now – judiciously, but still use it. If you don’t eat processed foods (I don’t – or at least very, very rarely), and cook from scratch, then you don’t get all that much sodium in your diet. And, as you say, it’s not a huge risk or problem unless you are predisposed to health concerns like high blood pressure (I am not).

    I think moderation in all things is important, and will support good health. This peculiarly American trend of developing food phobias and then eliminating foods in their entirety – or food fetishes, and distilling them down to essence and consuming them as supplements is something I just don’t understand at all.

    Comment by Diane — March 24, 2007 #

  13. I don’t think that home made baby food is unsuitable for the baby stomache. I think that jarred baby food works the same as home made baby food. They just created jarred baby food for the purpose of saving time in the part of the parents. But if you have the time, I think it’s better if we go for natural.

    Comment by Carrie — March 25, 2007 #

  14. I usually silently read but I just have to make a comment- salt is NOT a nutrient. I think you may be thinking of sodium which is in salt. Interesting that you believe a baby’s palate is more sensitive but then you season to your taste. Baby food requires no salt-period. Your child gets plenty of sodium in breast milk and formula. There is no reason that spices can’t be added later on but there is no reason in the world to salt an infant’s food at this age.

    Comment by Toni — March 29, 2007 #

  15. http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/

    Comment by Sherri — April 1, 2007 #

  16. [...] I’ve felt somewhat guilty about the fact that I haven’t modified my cooking to include an 11-month-old. I stumbled on this post from Tigers & Strawberries today and was reminded that it’s not always about feeding Max the foods I’m eating, especially at this early age; tasty baby food can be as easy as tossing a sweet potato in my oven if I’m baking lasagna. [...]

    Pingback by Palatable Pierogi » Blog Archive » Baby Bird — May 3, 2007 #

  17. I understand the use of ‘no salt’ and the use of ‘a little salt’, but did anyone realize that she freezes the baby food???…salt is used as a preservative that protects the natural flavors of the vegtables. I dont think that a little would hurt a baby. Im sure that gerber and all of those other baby food brands contain 10 times that amount. There is no telling how long some baby food sits on the shelf! Homemade is ALWAYS better. -KuDoS Barbara!

    Comment by Tai — September 4, 2008 #

  18. Thanks so much for this post. When it was time to feed by baby, I knew where to look for advice.

    Comment by Gini — December 4, 2008 #

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