The Lazy Mom’s Guide to Homemade Baby Food
It’s inexpensive, delicious and easy (really!). Triple win!
Photo by petit hiboux
Dearest Amy- Queen of all that is cute-sassy mommyhood,
I checked the archives of both Amalah.com and the Smackdown site, and couldn’t find a related article. I did find a picture that makes me want to drool (See post “Six Months” from April 17, 2009- Amalah.com) with all the super organized, and nummy looking baby food you have prepared, and so cleverly packaged and labeled! I just had my second boy (Love them!) on April 21st, and am trying to plan ahead (O.K. WAAAAAY ahead…) for the “wants to consume all around him” phase. You have talked numerous times on your site(s) about making Ezra baby food, and clearly the picture is proof! I was wondering if you could share some tips, either with recipes or techniques. I like the multitudes of things that Ezra eats, and would love to also foster such “non-picky” eating in my second child. I also want to save money… baby food= mad expensive! Also, where is your ice cube tray from, because I know that traditional ones stain terribly when used for anything other than water (past homemade popsicle discovery). How do you defrost or serve your goodies? Best and worst? I know, I know… “every child is different” and my children may HATE HATE HATE asparagus, and all the goodies you have found success with… but I am curious anyway! Is all that you make frozen? Do you can some (or “jar” is more appropriate)? I come from a long line of kitchen savvy family, and we do a lot of canning, pie making, cooking, etc. but no one has ever done the homemade baby food thing…
I turn to you! Please advise, so I too may have tasty NOM NOM NOM things to feed my son.
Oh YAY. I was so hoping someone would submit a question about this because I am officially a HUGE NERD about the baby food. Seriously, I’m boring everybody I know with it, ready to sell it at farmer’s markets, create a fan page at Facebook, you get the idea.
First up: Making homemade baby food is ridiculously easy, and yet there’s something about pulling out a non-commercial jar from your diaper bag that appears to be Very Threatening to other parents. I once had someone snottily ask if I “realized that you can just buy that stuff at the store.” Other people love to tell you that oh, they tried it once but their baby didn’t like it or it was just SUCH a pain, I could NEVER do it, or their sister made it for awhile but finally switched back to the jars because it’s “just not worth it” blah blah passive-aggressive don’t you dare think you’re BETTER THAN ME AAAARRGH.
(And that’s when I get really paranoid that oh God, I hope Ezra’s cloth diaper isn’t sticking out of his pants because then they’re REALLY going to think I’m some uppity earth mother lunatic.)
Anyway, all of that aside: seriously, it’s easy and it’s fun and it’s inexpensive and it’s incredibly rewarding. Ezra has an amazing appetite and he eats EVERYTHING and after years with another child who eats NOTHING, it’s pretty refreshing to watch him chow down with such relish. I know, of course, that I’m talking about my baby, who is not your baby, and I know better than to assume he’ll never sink to the same picky-eating habits as his brother. With Noah as a role model, it’s pretty likely that he will, to some degree. So for now, dude, he’s eating lentils and lamb and a ton of veggies and I WILL TAKE IT.
There are a lot of websites out there with recipes for baby food — my issue with some of them is that they result in HUGE batches of food. I made sweet potatoes for Noah once, and oh my God, it resulted in more sweet potatoes than I knew what to do with. And then it turned out Noah wasn’t such a fan of sweet potatoes. So I was one of those people who did it once, did not like the results, quit forever and ever, amen.
(A benefit of the homemade food, though, is even if your baby rejects it the first time, you DO have leftovers you are forced to use somehow. I usually try everything again, mixed with a more preferred food, and sure enough, sooner or later the originally rejected food becomes acceptable on its own. When you’re buying the crazy expensive little organic jars, of COURSE you tend to stay away from repeat buying of something that just went to waste, even though with a little persistence your baby may end up eating those green beans after all.)
This time I was more determined. Noah’s eating habits are abysmal. He started out as a pretty good eater, once upon a time, and then pretty soon his list of acceptable foods shrank and shrunk some more and definitely leaned towards sweet, commercially-processed snacks. And I let it happen, because man, those fruit puffs were convenient and look! There’s a picture of an apple on the container! It’s fruit! It’s totally fine. And have you tasted the jarred food? It’s awful. Really, truly awful-tasting stuff, for the most part. It’s been cooked and pureed to death and then cooked again. No wonder Noah hated it all. Babies! It’s like they’re little people, or something.
I started out with “Cooking for Baby,” a sweet little cookbook that tells you everything you need to know, even down to an “WELL DUH” level. But if you aren’t sure where to start, or what veggies you cook in the oven and what ones you steam and whether or not to add water to the food processor, it’s great. And then it quickly moves on from basic fruit and veggie purees to more interesting recipes, like asparagus “risotto” and baby’s dal, meats and finger foods. The recipes are simple — especially once you’ve stockpiled a decent number of first-food purees in your freezer, since you can just start combining those and adding meats and thicker textures. The cooking times tend to be a littttttle ambitious (I think, in their quest to make the recipes appealing to the time-crunched mother, they shaved off a few critical minutes from a lot of things. Arborio rice needs more than 15 minutes to cook, for example.), but the results have been almost universally solid and yummy. It’s also not pathologically afraid of adding spices and herbs, which I appreciate.
And really, once you start making the food, you realize there’s nothing magic about any of these recipes, except that they TASTE GOOD. Sure, you avoid allergenic foods and salt and pay attention to your baby’s tummy tolerance, but beyond that, just cook stuff that you think sounds good. Don’t cook everything to death — it just needs to be soft enough to puree into a texture your baby can handle. Got a leftover parsnip from that great roasted veggie dish you made for dinner? Oh, well, the cookbook recommends putting that with pears and split-peas, but I don’t have either. We’ll do apples or potatoes instead. Maybe add some fresh thyme, while we’re at it.
So. Beyond the cookbook, I use a metal steamer basket for some stuff, a cookie sheet in the oven for others, a fruit corer/slicer and the blenders and processors that I already owned. For small batches, I use one of those “bullet” blenders that I use to make fruit and veggie smoothies for Noah, since he won’t actually eat either. For bigger amounts, I use a food processor.
You can buy special baby-food ice-cube trays with lids, but I use regular ones made from silicone (no staining, super-easy to pop the cubes out, dishwasher-safe) and cover them with aluminum foil. I only leave the food in there long enough to freeze, then it immediately goes into labeled freezer bags. And yes, I always reserve a portion to store in the fridge — I use small glass jelly jars that my MIL gives us full of these strange little dehydrated fruit cookies she makes for Noah. She actually seals the lids, I don’t. I just find the size convenient, so you could use ANY small container. (Though I prefer the screw-top lid for more secure portability.) The food can stay in the fridge for about three days, usually, so I typically jar enough for two meals or so and freeze the rest.
For defrosting frozen cubes, I do it a few different ways. Sometimes I just take them out and stick them in a jar in the fridge and let it defrost on its own. The cookbooks all warn about microwaves and those mysterious “hot spots” we always hear about, and recommend warming frozen food on the stovetop.
For food that gets a little dried-out in the freezer (like meats and grains and more “entree-like” recipes), I add a teaspoon of “baby stock,” by far and away the best and most-useful recipe ever: half a sweet potato, six asparagus spears, and a leek. Add water, boil, then simmer until the veggies are completely soft. Strain out the veggies (and mash them up to serve as a veggie dish on their own) and freeze or refrigerate the stock. It’s AWESOME. Use it for thinning out chunky purees, for reconstituting frozen foods, adding flavor to bland jarred food, stick it in a bottle or sippy cup as an alternative to juice or water. (I know. I laughed when the book suggested that but GUESS WHAT. Ezra chugs it, and it gives him another serving of veggies and practice with a cup. Unbelievable.)
Speaking of grains — I gave up on making cereals, simply because I couldn’t get them to store and reheat without becoming gummy and gross. The cookbooks claimed it should work, but for me it did not. And since it REALLY wasn’t worth my time to grind and cook teensy little fresh servings of oatmeal and barley and brown rice everyday, I just bought a damn box of organic baby oatmeal instead. Ezra gets that for breakfast, mixed into homemade fruit purees. It’s a worth-it compromise, especially since the whole box cost $1.30 and has lasted us forever.
One thing I won’t be buying again is the baby yogurt. Sure, they’re cute, but they also have a good amount of added sugar and are very expensive for what you get. Buy a big container of plain whole milk yogurt and add cubes of fruit as needed. Done.
I make the food once or twice a week, whenever I have some time to boil water and puree the results a few minutes later. I’ll multitask and make food while making dinner for everybody else, or I’ll just sit at the kitchen counter with my laptop while stuff cooks. I make “big” batches of certain good-for-combining staples: apples, sweet potatoes, stock. Everything else gets made whenever I have both the time and ingredients.
Whew. I think that’s everything. Except maybe to wax poetic a little bit about the look on Ezra’s face when he firsts tastes something new, something fresh, something I’ve made just for him. He savors, he contemplates, and his little baby bird mouth opens back up for more.
Meanwhile, my three-year-old hollers and weeps because I’ve refused to make him grilled cheese for the 20th time in a row. Ahh, motherhood.
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