Thursday, April 19, 2012

DIY: Make Your Own Baby Food

How to Make Your Own Baby Food

By: Angela Meredith

Today, a wide range of baby food products from basic jarred Gerber to organic pouches in unique flavor combinations are available at your local market. No matter how creative the packaging or interesting the flavor combinations, commercially prepared baby food cannot overcome this one important fact: homemade baby food is better for baby than commercially prepared products.

Homemade baby food:

·         Taste better and is more nutritious than commercial products because it’s made with fresh, unprocessed ingredients.
·         Is less expensive than commercial products. Compare the price of produce and commercial baby food by ounce and you’ll find that making your own baby food is 3–4 times less expensive than buying prepared items.
·         Is environmentally friendly because there is no packaging to dispose of. And if you use locally grown organic produce, you further reduce your carbon footprint.
·         Is more aligned with the foods and flavors that are eaten in your home.
·         Can be made to suit your baby’s taste and texture preferences.

Use organic produce from your local co-op, growers market, or farm.

Perhaps you don’t need convincing when it comes to the why of making your own baby food, and you’re more interested in the what, when, and how of the process. Here’s a condensed guide:

When is baby ready?

Every baby and family is different, so naturally readiness for solids will vary greatly. It’s commonly recommended to start solids at 6 months. However, some babies are ready as early as 4 months and others not until after their first birthdays. Ultimately, it’s up to baby, and he will let you know with one or more of these common signs:

  • Baby can hold her head up and sit up well on her own.
  • Baby shows interest in what you’re eating by watching you eat, responding to the sights and smells of the kitchen, or by fussing at mealtime as though he’s hungry.
  • Baby will accept being fed solids either using mom or dad’s finger, a spoon, or by self-feeding.

Solids and breastfeeding

The national breastfeeding symbol.
Sometimes moms are concerned that beginning solids will precipitate weaning, and so delay feeding baby his or her first food. Truth is, most babies will continue to breast feed in addition to eating solids for as long as needed or allowed. Even after solids, breast milk or formula is the most complete nutrition for your baby and should be continued throughout the first year or, for breast milk, even longer.

Food safety

Food allergies, botulism, and food sensitivities are some concerns when introducing solids. The most common food allergies are: milk, egg, wheat, nuts, shellfish, fish, and soy. Use the following “new food process” to easily identify the cause of a reaction should there be one: feed baby only one new food at a time, and feed it to her for 2–3 days without introducing another new food. Also, avoid honey during baby’s first year, as it carries a risk of botulism.

First foods
Carrots are rich in vitamin A, taste sweet, and are filling for little tummies.

Many pediatricians and parent resources suggest that boxed rice cereal is the best first food. It’s a low-allergen food and processed for easy digestion. The flip side is that because rice cereal is so heavily processed it does not resemble actual rice. Organic and fortified brands are available, which may be the best choice if you want to include rice cereal in your baby’s diet.

Though rice cereal is not bad for baby, there are more nutritious and much tastier options:
  •          Sweet potato
  •          Apple
  •          Pear
  •          Squash
  •          Carrots
  •          Avocado
  •          Banana

Tools of the trade

Once baby is ready and you’ve decided on the first food, it’s time to assemble your tool kit, which can be done with items you already have in your kitchen:

·         For preparing fresh produce you’ll need a sharp knife, cutting board, and a vegetable peeler.
·         For cooking the peeled and chopped produce you’ll need a few pots and pans.
·         For turning the cooked fruits and veggies into baby food you’ll need a small food processor or blender and a strainer.
·         For storing your now cooked baby food, you’ll need a set of ice cube trays (or Little Bites Freezer Trays) for freezing, and some gallon-size freezer bags in which to store the frozen cubes.
·         For storing fresh food directly in the fridge, you’ll need an assortment of small snack-size containers.

I prefer a small food processor because it works well with small to medium portions and takes up less space.
How to cook it

You have four options when it comes to preparing baby food: steam, stew, broil, or bake. I choose my cooking method depending on how much time is available, what the weather is like, and what else I’m cooking. Stovetop preparations take less time than in the oven and don’t heat up the house, which is critical during the hot summer months here in Florida. During the winter, I enjoy a nice cozy kitchen and often use the oven to cook other meals, so it’s easy to pop in an extra dish.

Some nutrients are lost during the cooking process and can be recaptured by adding the cooking water back into your puree. Once you’ve cooked the fruit or veggie until it is soft and easily pierced with a fork, puree with your food processor; add liquid as necessary and, if needed, strain to achieve the best consistency for your baby.

This combination of hand-held strainer, large measuring cup, and small bowl works great.  I use the small bowl to push the blended food down through the strainer.

How to store and serve

Serve baby food fresh or freeze it using the ice cube tray method to create a stash of quick healthy meals. Refrigerated food is good for up to three days, while frozen food is good for up to three months. When it’s time to feed baby, heat the baby food until steaming and then cool to room temperature before serving. Do not reuse partially eaten portions in which you’ve introduced a utensil that’s been in baby’s mouth. When we put a spoon into baby’s mouth and then back into the food we transfer bacteria from one to the other. To avoid wasting portions, spoon a small amount of food from the storage container into a dish and feed baby from the dish.

Small bowls made of durable plastic or glass are perfect for feeding baby.

How to make the time?

Making your own baby food can seem like a daunting, time-consuming chore, but the truth is it’s as simple as steaming a pot of veggies. It’s easy to cook foods for everyday meals that can be adapted for baby. This cuts down on additional cooking and meets the ultimate goal of feeding baby what you’re eating as much as possible. When you have time, prepare batches of your baby’s favorites to freeze and store for quick and healthy meals.

Another way to work it into a busy schedule is to take batch-making one-step at a time: wash and chop in the morning after breakfast, cook at lunch and then puree and store at dinner. Also, “mashable” foods like bananas and avocados are good to keep around for quick, no-cook meals. 
Commercially prepared baby food is meant to be a convenience item, so use it as such when traveling or out and about, and then re-used the jars for storing homemade foods in the refrigerator.

Certain moments with my children, like watching them sleep peacefully or eat a healthy home cooked meal, bring me serenity. I breathe easier during these moments, and am grateful. When I prepared and fed them their first baby foods, I felt that it was in investment in their health, and one of the best gifts I could give. I wish the same for you and yours.




Angela Meredith is a writer, editor, mother, and wife living and working in Tallahassee, Florida. You can read more of her writing here.

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