Paging Chef Kate: Make Your Own Baby Food
I’ve been mulling over the idea of making my own baby food for Bridget when the time comes, but there are so many conflicting reports about how good it actually is for our little ones. And, in fact, if you are buying organic baby food there may not be much of a difference in terms of that. But there is a lot to be said for knowing exactly what is going into your little one! I decided to reach out to my friend (and mother of a toddler!) Chef Kate Homes, the chef and owner of the amazing company Carried Away Chefs, a personal chef service providing weekly in-home meal preparation to busy families in New York City, for her thoughts. She’s put together the ultimate primer, together with some great recipes! For more, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Whether or not you’re a big time foodie, introducing baby to solids is a huge milestone. For your baby’s whole life, formula or breast milk has been the only source of nourishment. Suddenly we can open up baby to a whole new world of textures, tastes, smells and colors. What better way to connect with your baby’s introduction to food than making the baby food yourself? For those that are picturing being covered in purées in a hot steamy kitchen sterilizing jars with a screaming baby at the hip… fear not! It’s not all or nothing; making your own baby food can either be a regular routine that you follow to make sure that your baby only eats what you cook, or it can be a fun experiment when you have the time and supplies. Having control over the ingredients, freshness and taste of the food you feed your child is empowering and fun.
Eighteen months into being a mama, I’ve picked up some great tips to share on making baby food at home. When my husband and I started feeding our daughter Lucy solids, both homemade and store-bought, we loved watching her reactions and seeing what worked and what didn’t. Sweet foods, like fruit purees were always a win, but vegetables would go in either direction. We would always taste the prepared baby foods we gave her and were never really surprised at her reactions, as most of it is really, really bland.
When Lucy was almost six months, and we had piqued her interest with a taste of soup or mashed vegetable here and there, I was beyond excited with plans to cook for her. On my first attempt, I got out all of my professional cooking equipment and got down to business steaming, mashing, milling, straining….only to realize I was going to be left cleaning all these tools and Lucy may, or may not, have a single bite! I thought, being a chef, it’d be easy; but I was actually overwhelmed. I went from having all the food she could ever need right there on my chest, to her needing her own separate meals, with her own utensils and recipes to boot! If making homemade baby food was going to happen, it was going to have to be fun for the both of us. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Keep it simple and fun- There are great gadgets these days that can steam and puree all in one… meaning minimal cleanup! If you’re like me and can’t fit any more cooking equipment in your kitchen, a mini blender and small strainer will do too. I picked up the Magic Bullet blender after using it a few times at clients’ homes and now we use it for everything.
Consistency is Key- Early on, dilute the purée with formula or breast milk to a consistency that your baby can handle and won’t push right out (Lucy’s doctor described it as ‘pourable’ off the spoon). This is when the strainer can come in handy to get out any fibers or larger pieces. Once the baby is used to thicker consistencies just a blender or food processor will do.
Make it nutritious- While not crucial in the first few months, when the bulk of the baby’s nourishment is obtained through breast milk or formula, it’s important to be mindful of nutrients; especially as more and more of your growing child’s diet is based on solid food.
Buy whole- Fruits and vegetables tend to lose vitamins the more they are processed, so buying the pre-cut veggies, while convenient, has its drawbacks. Although, if it’s the difference between you making baby food or not, buy it!
Try to limit pesticides- It can be overwhelming to figure out which foods are safest, unless we buy organic all the time. I like going on ewg.org to reference their list of conventional produce that are low in pesticides. Some of their ‘clean 15’ options that are good for baby food are: sweet potatoes (roast these whole until soft and scoop out the inside, 350 for about 45 min), avocado (no cooking necessary!), mushrooms, sweet peas, and asparagus.
Wash Thoroughly- Organic or not, it’s good to be in the habit of washing produce. At the very least a good rinse with water, but finding a fruit and vegetable wash you like is a great idea.
Use a fast cooking method- While the amount of protein, fat, carbs and fiber won’t change, most vitamins are volatile and will deteriorate during cooking, so a fast cooking method is key. Vitamins can also leach out into water while boiling so steaming is the best option, but if you do boil, only use enough water to cover the vegetables.
Salt- This might be controversial for some, but as a chef, I’d be remiss not to say that adding a little salt will greatly enhance the flavor of your dish. Our bodies need salt, as does the food we eat if we want to enjoy it. Sparingly of course!
Bright and colorful- The color compounds in a vegetable tend to fade along with the vitamins. Taking them out when they are still bright and beautiful is a good guide.
Cool it- Unless you are going to serve it right away, the best way to cool cooked baby food is to put it uncovered in the fridge. The quicker you cool it, the longer it will last. Likewise if you only have time to steam the food and need to finish the project later, don’t leave the cooked food out, store it in the fridge until you can come back to it.
Shelf life- I use the 7 day rule for the food I eat but I’m more conservative with baby food. Once a vegetable is cooked it’s more susceptible to bacteria growth, so use it up in a few days. My favorite tip: If you make a large batch, freeze in ice cube trays and then transfer the single servings to a freezer bag for up to a month. This was my saving grace!
Try the food- Would you eat it? If not, then chances are your baby won’t like it either. Don’t be afraid to add some spices, a pinch of salt, make it taste great! Go with your gut, but keep in mind any guidelines your doctor recommends and have fun with it!
Here are some fun recipes you can try with your baby. Happy cooking! ~Kate
Spinach and Leek Purée
I was inspired to include leeks from some of the French baby books I read. This was the second dish we made for her and it actually went over quite well… I have the pictures to show Lucy someday when she inevitably decides not to eat green vegetables anymore!
• 2 small leeks, white and green parts, sliced and rinsed well
• 2 cups baby spinach
• 1 pinch of salt
Steam the leeks for 5 minutes. Add the spinach to the leeks with a pinch of salt. Steam 2 more minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve or cool and save.
Banana Polenta with Blueberries
Polenta is a great way to introduce a new texture to a baby who is doing well with the basics. When buying polenta, try to buy a European import as they don’t allow GMO’s. I love to buy fresh berries when they are in season, but I always have some frozen as they puree better. Frozen produce tends to be picked at the peak of ripeness, thus preserving more taste and nutrients and can be a convenient and cost effective solution. I just thaw and puree!
• 1 ripe banana
• 1 cup cooked instant polenta (prepare according to package directions)
• 1/2 cup frozen blueberries- thawed
Mash the banana with the flat side of a knife to get it really smooth. stir into polenta. Blend the blueberries until smooth, stir into polenta and serve.
Cannellini Beans with Broccoli and Anchovy
Definitely for the seasoned solids veteran, this dish will introduce baby to stronger flavors and pack a nutrient punch. Anchovies are a great source of Omega 3’s without the risk of mercury. I prefer the marinated white anchovies (boquerones), as they are slightly less intense!
• 1/2 clove garlic, minced
• 2 T olive oil
• 2 white anchovy fillets (if you’re nervous, start with one and increase to taste)
• 1 can cannellini beans
• 1/2 cup cooked broccoli- mashed up small
• squeeze of lemon
• pinch of salt
In a small skillet over low heat, add the olive oil. Saute the garlic until softened and fragrant. stir in the beans, anchovy and cook over low 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon, transfer to a blender and blend to desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and stir in broccoli. Taste and serve or store.