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Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to make baby food at home
(fast, easy, cheap and organic!)

QUICK LINKS
*The ugly truth about commercial baby food
*When do I start solid foods?
*How much food will my baby eat?
*How many times a day should I feed my baby?
*What time of day should I feed my baby?
*What kind of equipment do I need to make baby food?
*What texture should homemade baby food be?
*How do I make and store homemade baby food?

Taking control of your baby's own food allows you to be as local, sustainable and organic as you want to be. It minimizes your child's exposure to pesticides and toxins. It increases the amount of healthy nutrients she receives while minimizing the useless fillers she would otherwise consume. It exposes your child to a wider variety of tastes and textures and prepares them to have a diverse palate as they grow into toddlerhood. It is a foodie rockstar thing to do and it turns out to be way cheaper and easier than you might think.

My baby, Liam, enjoying some homemade blended quinoa.


If you've been to a couple of baby showers, chances are you have encountered the horrible game of "guess the baby food." Jars with labels removed are lined up in front of guests. Guests dip a spoon in, taste, cringe, and then try to fathom what alleged combination of foods produced that hideous bland unappetizing flavor. Whenever I have done this I always thought there was some mystical but highly researched reason for this...that babies were odd creatures with utterly different taste sensibilities. This is babyfood myth #1.

In the West we generally live in a world where most folks think of "chicken" as "boneless skinless breasts." We get so accustomed to the commercial retail form of our foods that sometimes its easy to forget there ever was another form. So when I thought of baby food, I thought of it in a jar with a smiling Gerber baby. Surely to make your own baby food must be as complex as souffle. Worse even, so nutritionally sensitive and precise it would be like making a souffle that also cured cancer.

This is babyfood myth #2, sometimes called the baby food mystique: "Makers of baby food encourage a mystique about their products. They want parents to think that commercial baby foods have special properties that make them particularly appropriate, if not essential, for infants." --Cheating Babies

Both of these misconceptions turn out to be utter and complete bullocks.

The truth is that with about 15 minutes of active time and a handful of kitchen equipment you probably already own, you can make 9-12 servings of organic baby food for around $2.


Tasty nutritious food makes babies happy. Look how bright green those peas are! And the low cost makes parents happy.



Read on to learn how to make your own baby food at home...

This post is not intended to replace a doctor's advice. You should always consult with your pediatrician about all decisions about your baby's food including, but not limited to, when to start solids, what foods to offer, how much, how often.

Getting Started

Many parents are eager to begin the fun of introducing baby to a variety of new tastes but wonder when they can start to introduce solid foods. You should always consult your pediatrician about when it is appropriate to begin solid foods. Factors like baby's developmental pace and weight can affect the timing of starting solid foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that solid foods be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age. The section within the AAP that is devoted to breastfeeding recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months before the introduction of solids. The section of the AAP devoted to nutrition recommends introducing solids earlier, possibly as early as 4 months.

Signs that baby are ready include intently watching you while you eat, being twice her birth weight, sitting up with support and showing good head control.

Most guides recommend beginning with very thinned out rice cereal. Once baby is tolerating rice cereal well, and consistently taking some without automatically spitting it all out, you may be ready to move onto other solid foods.

Solid foods should be introduced one at a time. This is to check for potential food allergies. Most guides recommend you introduce one new food not more often than every three days. This doesn't mean baby has to eat nothing but peas for three days straight. If baby has already successfully tried zucchini and sweet potato, when it comes time to introduce peas you may mix them up with the familiar foods he has already tried. But during the three days where peas are a new food, you should not introduce any other new foods (that includes spices).

Signs that baby is having an allergic reaction include rashes, repeated vomiting, diarrhea, or constant fussiness. Blood in baby's stool is always cause for concern as well. If any of these signs appear discontinue the food you most recently introduced to baby and call to your pediatrician.

When babies are first starting out with solid foods they should receive one feeding of food per day. The amount of food may be anywhere between 1 tablespoon and a quarter cup initially depending on your baby. Make feeding time fun. Allow your baby to eat as much as she desires and do not force the food on your baby. At this point breastmilk or formula is still her primary source of nutrition, and nothing terrible will happen if she only wants to eat a tablespoon one day. Honor your baby's internal sense of hunger.

As baby moves through developmental milestones in the coming months, her energy and nutrition needs increase. By the end of the sixth month (or whenever baby is moving towards being an unassisted sitter and a decent tummy scooter), many parents find it is time to add a second solid food meal to the day. By the eight or ninth month baby often has three meals a day. As baby moves into toddlerhood, baby may still consume 24 ounces of milk or breastmilk per day, but the additional volume of food to satisfy her growing and active body is met by increasing solids.

Some parents wonder when to feed baby her solid foods. When introducing new foods, it can be important to give a new food during the daylight, so that you have plenty of awake time to observe the baby for any signs of an allergic reaction. This often means that a good time for baby's daily meal is lunchtime. However, if you find you can better schedule the day if baby takes her meal at breakfast, don't worry. It will still give you plenty of day hours to observe baby for signs of reaction, and your baby doesn't yet know that she isn't "supposed" to eat turkey and broccoli for breakfast!

Initially, solid foods are not supposed to replace breastmilk or formula. Therefore you want to allow adequate time between a bottle and a feeding. If you are offering food before a bottle, finish feeding solids at least 30 minutes, if not more, before their next anticipated liquid feeding time. Other guides recommend breast or bottle feeding baby first, and then offering solids afterwards. Discuss this with your pediatrician, as opinions vary.

Equipment

The equipment you'll need to begin preparing your own Stage 1 solid foods at home is likely to be things you already own, or can acquire quite cheaply. There is no need to shell out $150 for the fancy European steamer blender baby food maker you have probably seen advertised in a catalog or two, although I've heard folks who use it love it. So if it is in your budget you can certainly consider it.

    What you'll need to get started:
  • 1 steamer and pot or microwave steamer
  • 1 wand blender with tall glass jar, such as a large canning jar OR 1 blender
  • 1 ice cube tray
  • ziplock bags and a marker to label them
  • Optional but useful: mesh strainer, fork, potato masher


Baby's first foods need to be very smooth with a thin, almost watery consistency. As baby develops more experience eating, the foods can gradually become thicker, and you can experiment with adding in textures. If you are unsure how thin to make baby's first foods, try looking at some commercially prepared stage one foods. As a general rule of thumb, first foods should not be so thin as to actually flow as easily as water. You are looking for something the consistency of a thick, smooth soup, such as a thick tomato soup.

Eventually you will be able to use a whole host of kitchen gadgets to produce a variety of textures, but to start you want a very smooth, uniform texture. I experimented with several different techniques, and I am convinced that a blender is all you will need for about the first month of baby's food. Blenders are able to produce a far more fine and smooth texture than food processors.

My preference is for a wand blender (available for about $15 at home stores). I like it because it is so much quicker and easier to clean up. When you are a new mom, time is a very precious commodity. I like to use the wand blender with a tall glass jar such as a quart-sized Ball canning jar or other wide-mouthed jar (I like tall because it contains spatter and glass because it doesn't leech any chemicals into hot foods). Afterwards the bottom of the wand blender detaches to be rinsed and washed quickly with a soapy sponge, and the mason jar can go easily into the dishwasher. I detest fiddling with all the parts of a blender, but if you have a blender that you like, it will easily do the job.

I prefer ice cube trays to the commercially sold plastic baby food freezer containers. Those specialty baby food containers are not only more expensive than a standard ice cube tray, but they are larger. I prefer to freeze the food in ice cube sized increments because then in the future it gives me more freedom to combine to make different 'meals' for baby. Baby may have all sweet potato (2 cubes of sweet potato), or a combination of apple sauce and turkey, or sweet potato and broccoli. As baby eats more, I can combine three cubes, producing appetizing meals like turkey, quinoa and asparagus or lamb, apricot and squash.

The Basic Process

The basic process of making baby food is remarkably simple. I've had people watch me make it and finish with "Really? That's all?" And I know that feeling because that was my reaction the first time I saw someone else make it.

First, select produce that is at the peak of its freshness, without mushy spots that have "gone off." I prefer to buy only organic fruits and vegetables, but you will likely purchase what your budget can bear. If preparing meats for baby, I would strongly advise purchasing organic anti-biotic free meats, especially for younger babies.

Even if you are working with organic produce, you should always wash the fruits and vegetables well before preparing them.

You want to heat the food until it is soft and well cooked, but not falling apart, mushy, and drained of nutrients. Typical cooking methods for baby's first foods include boiling or simmering in water, steaming, or baking.

Often, although not always, skins are removed before blending. Anything you would remove for yourself (think banana skin, potato as well for stage 1) you should certainly remove for baby. Additionally, some guides recommend removing things like peach or plum skins. If you are not buying organic produce I would always recommend removing skin as it often has the highest concentration of chemicals.

Once the food is cooked thoroughly, add large hunks of it to the blending container. Blend until food is smooth in consistency. Add breastmilk, formula or water to thin to the consistency your baby can handle.

Store three day's worth of food in a container in your fridge (two for meats). Spoon the remaining food into an ice cube tray and freeze. When frozen solid, transfer cubes from tray to a ziplock or food storage container. Label with the name of the food as well as the date it was made. Vegetables, fruits and grains can be stored in the freezer for up to three months. Meats are typically recommended for up to one month. I like to also label the ziplock bag with the date I have to use it by (i.e. three months from the date it was produced for a veggie), so that I don't have to do too much thinking down the road.

For suggestions on foods to try and recipes for homemade baby food, see the third post in my baby food series (upcoming)

20 comments:

Catherine said...

Such a well written, interesting article. Making homemade baby food is so easy and fun!

Gini said...

This is fabulous information. Thank you!

dining tables said...

When I was a baby, my mother told me I never ate the commercial baby foods! I guess that is why I became healthier and bigger! I don't know how true is that!

Shannon said...

liam is such a cutie! and what a great post :)

Chou said...

Have you read Amy Bentley's piece "Inventing Baby Food: Gerber and the Discourse of Infancy in the United States"? If not, I'd love to get you a copy, I think it really applies. Great post. I'm passing it on . . .

Erin said...

Catherine, Gini and Dining: Thanks!

Shannon: I love hearing the baby is cute. Thanks :)

Chou: I havent read it. But I think it sounds fascinating. If you have a copy you are lending I'd be glad to read it, otherwise I'll check around our library to see if it is available.

M Smith said...

Great article! (And yes, Liam is adorable!)

I made my son's food as well, using basically the same technique. It was cheap, easy and actually tasted like FOOD! Of course, today my son is a picky eater. He only likes fresh fruit and veggies and will eschew anything canned (which is what he faces at friend's homes, the occasional school lunch) but he has always been tall, lean, healthy (1 ear infection at age 3) and smart.

I think good nutrition (from the very start) play a huge role in child development...

Chou said...

Let me know if your library doesn't have it; it's published in a book called Food Nations.

Cheers.

dining set said...

Interesting article! Thank you for the information! It can help mothers in feeding their babies!

Will said...

As a foodie & the father of a fresh-faced, 3 week old your baby food posts come at a perfect time. I've just started reading & researching so that we're ready when solid foods start a few months down the line. Thanks so much.

As an aside, I hope you're learning & enjoying Nashville. Such a great town. I left there for Chicago in early 2008.

The Bountiful Bean said...

I love this idea! We always try to stay as unprocessed as possible

Tiago Lopes said...

Funny......

paula said...

Thanks for sharing the information Guide to Healthy Eating

FoodFitnessFreshair said...

This is a great article, and you kid is sooo cute~

Anonymous said...

This is a fabulous post! Ivonne & I have recently begun introducing solids to Julian's diet. She, of course, was horrified that I would feed Savino jar food (even organic Earth's Best) and has mounted a successful campaign in my household to ban said items. We now have adopted your same techniques and it is wonderful!

amanda said...

Homemade baby food will ensure that what your child is eating is fresh, nutritious and free of additives. By making your own baby food, you'll be saving money. Also, you will able to control over what is put into your baby's food. I would like to express my gratitude for this detailed and important article.
Baby Food

Dining Table Gal said...

I always love the idea of preparing baby food at home. It is very interisting, thank you for sharing those information. We own a Dining Table ecommerce site and are always looking for great content to help inspire. Thanks.

brown mirror Gal said...

Babies realy make me smile...This is healthy idea for kids. I will share this to all. ~~ Wall Mirrors

Uttermost said...

Great information. So cute the little baby! He's really an angel.

Oak Dining Set said...

He is so cute. Angelic face. Thanks for sharing the information.

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