TIPS: Homemade baby food can be a cinch

Yes, it’s convenient to buy baby food for when you’re on-the-go or when you just don’t have time to make some fresh food.  But if you do a little planning and you cook big batches at once, you can feed your baby less expensively and more wholesomely.  Below are some tips for how I do it.  If you have anything to add, I’d love your feedback!

1) You should have on hand, at the very least: a) a steamer insert for a lidded saucepan, b) an immersion/hand blender (preferable), a blender, or a food processor, and c) a baby food cookbook.*  You do not need a special baby food maker (such as a Beaba cook – see my other post regarding this) or a food mill (though it does help with things such as peas and corn).

2) If you pick one morning and one night that are 3 1/2 days apart in the week to cook for your baby, you can make enough food for the entire week.  For example, pick Saturday mornings (when it might be easier to have someone else watch your kids) and Tuesday nights.  Or, if you’re not that much of a planner, you can cook as you need it or realize you are running out.  Sometimes I’m not good at planning ahead, but when I get low on Zach’s food supply, I’ll make it a take-out night so that after the kids go to bed, I have the energy to cook for him.

3) If you DO have several ways to cook baby food, you can make more batches at once and thus save time.  So, when I make anything on the stove, I also run something in my Beaba cook simultaneously.  Now that Zach is eating more “meals” (such as onion, carrots and chicken cooked in stock and finished with cheese), I can cook those in a large saute pan while I steam a vegetable in my stove-top steamer AND cook some fruit in the Beaba cook.  (If I were really ambitious, I’d also cook him a grain at the same time.)  I can make a bunch of food in about 45 minutes total from start to finish that way.

4) Some baby foods are super easy to make on-the-go and don’t need to be cooked at all.  If you know you’re going to be out for breakfast, pack some baby cereal and a ripe banana with a small mixing bowl and a fork to mash it together, and you’ve got a meal.  If it’s lunch, take a cooler bag and mix some fruit or veggie puree with some plain yogurt or soft tofu.  When we go out to dinner, I just heat up what I would have fed him at home to a pretty hot temperature, and when we get seated in the restaurant, I feed it to him and it’s still warm.

5) Once you know your baby likes a certain food or meal, then make larger batches at once and freeze the excess (that you won’t use within 3 days) in ice-cube trays wrapped in plastic wrap.  Then transfer them to plastic zip top bags once frozen and label them.  Or, if your baby is a little older and you need larger servings, you can freeze them in disposable tupperware.  I like the Gladware mini-round containers because they hold 4 oz. each.

6) I try to label my baby food containers with what’s in them and the date they were made.  I highly recommend using erasable labels by LabelOnce.  I found mine at The Container Store.

7) Once your child has had “first tastes” of the different food groups, try making it easy on yourself by picking food groups to feed at each meal instead of worrying about specific fruits, vegetables, grains or proteins.  For example, I now feed Zach some fruit and grains at breakfast every day.  Sometimes he also gets a protein with it from yogurt.  For lunch, he gets fruits and/or vegetables, and a protein from either dairy, meat or beans.  For dinner, he gets vegetables and a protein at the very least, and sometimes he gets grains and fruit.

8) Because it’s summer and lots of fruits and vegetables are fresh and in season, introduce your baby to these.  Zach is currently eating a lot of melons, peaches, nectarines, pluots and plums.  If they’re very ripe, they don’t need to be cooked and can be mashed together or with banana with just a fork.

I think that’s all I will list for now.  If you have any questions, let me know.

*I LOVE Annabel Karmel’s “Top 100 Baby Purees”

and I’m also starting to try recipes from the Williams-Sonoma “Cooking for Baby” cookbook as well.

Baby food suckers beware.

Now that Zach is six-months-old (as of yesterday, sniff sniff) and started solids last week, there is a new pungency to his diapers.  (Incidentally, we are about to fast-track Eliza into potty training, which is another post entirely, but having two children creating such stenchy messes is too much to bear.)

As a type-A person, of course with Eliza I pretty much made all of her baby food because, well, it’s healthier, less expensive, and what any self-respecting woman who takes her stay-at-home job seriously would do (right?).  Now that I have even less time to plan and prepare Zach’s food, though, I’m looking for more shortcuts.  My mother-in-law bought me the Beaba cook baby food maker for Christmas with some of those individual, 1- and 2- oz. containers for freezing the food.  The Beaba cook is nice and convenient, easy to use, and easy to clean in the dishwasher.  I’ve already figured out that you don’t have to change the amount of water you are supposed to put in it for steaming depending on the amount of food you’re cooking.  And it’s nice that after steaming, you can then blend the food right in the contraption.

However, suckers beware.  From what I can tell, it is no easier than using a regular pot with a steaming insert on the stove, and then using my hand blender (I have the Breville handheld food processor) in the pot to mash up the food.  There are a lot of pieces in the Beaba cooker as well, versus an easily removable blender handle and a pot and a steamer insert for the other method.  And finally, the cooker only holds so much food.  It’s not conducive to making large batches of baby food, or cooking meals that have items that require varying cooking time.  So it’s lifespan is going to be short in my kitchen.  Thus, if you want to make baby food and save some money, buy a hand or immersion blender, which is much more multifunctional for years to come than a specific maker of baby food.

As far as freezing extra food goes (which is the point because for a little effort I get a lot of meals), these individual little containers are freaking frustrating and stupid.  You have to run each one under water to get it to pop out, which is highly irritating and time consuming.  Of course, washing them in the dishwasher is a pain as well because they could easily fall through.  For Eliza, I used ice cube trays I had on hand.  I wrapped saran wrap around them a few times, froze them, ran them upside down under a bit of water, and then easily popped all the frozen food cubes into a freezer bag.  Sometimes you really don’t need all these specialized contraptions.  This is one of those instances.  Just use your ice cube trays and some saran wrap.