Last night I came home from work, snuggled with Dora, and got her set up with a snack and a Muppet show episode so I could make dinner. I made pasta with roasted vegetables and spinach, from my latest Food magazine. It took about a half an hour to make - about the length of one Muppet show episode - and we sat down to a nice meal together. As I cleared our dinner dishes and prepared to get Dora to bed, I surveyed my kitchen - dirty pots and dishes, a cutting board covered in shallot skins and thyme sprigs, a baking pan covered in the remnants of roasted cherry tomatoes. I could've had a similar meal in a fraction of the time, with almost no clean-up, if I'd just opened a jar of tomato sauce. I wonder sometimes if it is worth it, doing all this work in the kitchen, and most of the time I think it is.
Recently I had dinner with a group of mom friends - all women I met in my post-partum group - and we were all laughing about how much our standards have relaxed since our babies were tiny. I know we all set out to give them 100% organic wonderfulness all the time, but in reality it is very, very difficult to do that. We've done our best - we all do our best - but Dora has definitely eaten some foods I swore she would never have, watched more TV than I ever wanted her to, persuaded me into buying some piece of trash at Target just to get her to behave. Before I had a child, I would watch with disdain the moms in the grocery store who let their kids ride in the grocery cart with their little paws in a torn open box of Cheerios. Now, I'm the one in the grocery store not only allowing my child to open the box of Cheerios, I'm encouraging her to do so. If I can keep her busy for 10 minutes, I can get down a few aisles without my attention being completely divided. Now, I'm the one in the grocery store yelling my kid's name when she darts out of sight. I'm the one standing by the peanut butter, waiting for my kid to stop throwing a tantrum about chocolate chip bunnies.
Although my rules have relaxed a lot for Dora, we do still try to make sure that most of what she eats is organic, that most of her meals are homemade, that the foods she eats are minimally processed. And though the scene described above might make it hard to believe, when Dora was born, I was very focused on giving Dora as much purity as possible. I remember, the night she was born, the nurse asked if I wanted Dora to have a bath. I knew she needed a bath, but I didn't really want her to have one. Her pure, innocent, unadulterated little body had been exposed to nothing unnatural. I conceded to the bath - with Burt's Bees natural baby soap, of course - but that was just the beginning. Unbleached, recycled diapers, natural baby wipes, organic sheets, glass baby bottles (never used, since Dora refused to take one). Later, I made all of her baby food. Many of my other mom friends here in Asheville did the same, so we did a lot of comparing notes on what worked and what didn't. A few of us even had a baby food swap, trading bags of colorful little frozen cubes.
We made our own food for a few reasons - to control the ingredients, to be sure the foods were fresh and organic, and to save money. It really is so much less expensive to make your own baby food, and it was also, usually, very easy. Dora ate foods that we made from the age of 6 months until she was old enough to begin eating whatever we were having for our meals. Dora's diet now is nowhere near perfect, but I remain hopeful that the good introduction she had to eating will help her get through the picky stage quickly and easily. Hopefully I'm not here in several years eating my words!
Homemade Baby Food
Here are some basic guidelines for making your own baby food. This is what worked for me and my family - and everyone is different, of course. Consult with your pediatrician, read your baby book or visit this useful website for guidelines on introducing new foods to baby.
Large saucepan with tight fitting lid
Immersion blender - my personal favorite for baby food prep, but you can also use a food processor or regular blender
Fine mesh sieve
Plastic ice cube trays
Large and small canning jars and lids
For fresh, hard fruits and vegetables with skins, such as pears, apples, mango, plums, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, regular potatoes, squash, zucchini:
Scrub and peel fruits/vegetables, seed if necessary, and cut into uniform 1-inch cubes. Bring an inch of water to boil in the saucepan, add steamer basket filled with cubes, and cover with lid. Watch water level carefully and add more as needed. Steam for 5 - 15 minutes, until fork tender. Reserve remaining cooking water. Let fruit/vegetable cool slightly, then puree with an immersion blender, adding cooking water to reach desired consistency. For a very smooth puree, pass through a fine mesh sieve.
You can follow the same method for other fruits and vegetables that do not need peeling, such as peas (frozen work well), corn, broccoli, green beans, spinach, other leafy greens.
Legumes mixed with cooked grains are a good, substantial baby food for older babies. Lentils cook up quickly in gently boiling water. Canned beans (rinsed well) can be pureed with a bit of fresh water. Add brown rice, millet, barley, etc. You can also mix in mashed silken tofu for some extra protein for older babies.
Bananas and avocado are the two easiest baby foods in the world. Just peel and mash with a fork - add some water and pass through a fine mesh sieve if for a very young baby who needs a smooth consistency.
All of these, except for bananas, freeze very well in ice cube trays. One frozen cube is about an ounce of baby food, the same amount as the smallest baby food jars. When I was making baby food, I'd freeze the cubes overnight, then pop them into a large canning jar for storage in our freezer. Then, we used the smallest available canning jars to send frozen cubes with Dora to daycare. I felt safer using the little glass jars, knowing the food was not being stored or reheated in plastic, and they can be used over and over again. I would usually make baby food on Sunday afternoon and would make enough to last us a week. I remember being surprised by how many servings of baby food I'd get out of one large sweet potato or a bag of frozen peas.
Dora's favorite food was always sweet potatoes, and we had a major abundance of them from our CSA share from Flying Cloud Farm. Participating in the CSA was one of the main reasons that making our own baby food was so easy. If your town has a Community Supported Agriculture program, its a great way to support your local farmers while ensuring that your family is eating the freshest, healthiest food available.
If you're the parent of a newborn, or are about to become a parent, rest assured that, no matter what you think now, you will one day be standing in the grocery store waiting out the chocolate bunny demanding temper tantrum, too. In the meantime, have fun making food for your baby and tell them I said Bon Appetit!
Special thanks to Brandy for suggesting I write about this topic!