Homemade Baby Food
Serve up those fresh fruits and veggies with a whole lot of love
-Jeannie Gedeon, MPH, RD
Your bundle of joy has arrived, and life right now is all about sleeping (well, trying to, anyway!) and feeding. And as your baby grows, her nutritional needs will likely top your exhaustive list of concerns. You may want to consider making your own baby food-the nutritional value beats the prepared brands, and it’s easier to do than you may think. Plus, when you’re the chef, you know exactly what’s in your baby’s food. Truly, if you can boil water, you can make baby food from scratch.
While homemade baby food requires an investment of time, it is less expensive than commercial brands. In fact, more than 40 percent of the cost of prepared baby food goes into packaging, labor and advertising. Also, the added water or other fillers like starch, preservatives, sugar and salt in some prepared baby food can dilute the nutrients it contains. When you see a freshness stamp on a jar and it’s a year from now, you can’t help but think that your homemade ambrosia must taste better. What goes into your healthy recipe? Fresh food and lots of love.
The most important thing to know to keep your homemade food nutrient-dense: If you live in an area where fresh produce is plentiful, indulge! But if fruit and vegetables look old, wilted, spotty or overly ripe, the plants have probably lost quite a bit of their nutrient content. When produce is not at its peak, your next best bet is frozen fruit and veggies; manufacturers pick these plants at their prime, and clean and freeze them immediately so that by the time they get to your table, they have still retained some nutrients. Never used canned foods to make homemade baby food because sodium and preservatives are often used in the canning process; serving commercially prepared baby food is a better option.
BettyConfidential Cooking School
When making your own baby food, remember that babies have immature immune systems and are especially vulnerable to food contaminants like bacteria. Therefore, everything must be clean when making and storing baby food, beginning with washing hands, produce and equipment thoroughly, and keeping kitchen surfaces sanitized.
The danger zone for bacterial growth in food is between 40°F and 140°F. Keep perishable foods refrigerated or frozen until use. Once foods are out of the refrigerator, clean, cook, process and chill them efficiently, and cook them completely–the internal temperature needs to be high enough to kill microbes. And remember, already soft foods like bananas and avocados don’t need to be cooked – just mash and serve.
Follow these Basic Preparation Directions, adjusting according to the type of food you’re making (below the directions). To save time in the long run, prepare large batches and freeze the extra so you can thaw single servings when needed.
Basic Preparation Directions
1. Wash hands, scrub fresh produce under running water, peel.
2. Bake at 350°F, steam using little water, or microwave by covering produce with water-soaked paper towel, until tender.
3. Blend to desired consistency: In the first stages of solid feeding, puree until smooth and silky, using a food processor, blender, baby food grinder or wire mesh strainer. Older babies tolerate chunkier textures as they develop coordination of eating skills, but make sure lumps are pea-size or smaller. If your mixture is too thick, thin it with breast milk, formula or cooking water to enhance nutrient content.
4. In an ice bath, chill small portions in shallow containers for 15 minutes, spoon the chilled mixture into clean ice-cube trays, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Once frozen, move several cubes into larger containers and label with the ingredients and date. Freezer shelf life is four months for vegetable and fruit purees, two months for meat mixtures.
5. To serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator (never at room temperature,as bacteria and microbes multiply in food kept above 40°F, or pop out a few cubes at mealtime and warm in the microwave – but be sure to stir the food so no hot center remains.
Preheat oven to 350°F, wrap potato in foil and bake for one hour. Peel off skin, chop into cubes, blend to a puree, adding breast milk or formula until reaching desired consistency.
Place baby carrots (usually sweeter than larger varieties) in a steamer basket, put basket in a pot with small amount (about one inch) of boiling water, cover. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Puree until smooth, using a food processor or baby food grinder, and adding cooking water as needed.
This is a great choice for a constipated baby. Wash and cut broccoli into 1-inch pieces, place in non-metal bowl. Cover with a water-soaked paper towel, microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes – the time will vary depending on the strength of your microwave. (This vegetable will need to be very well cooked in order to be mashed, otherwise the texture may be too grainy for younger babies.) Puree until smooth, and for new eaters, strain.
Wash and peel peaches, cut into slices. Simmer in just enough water to cover the fruit, until soft. Transfer to blender, and process until smooth.
General feeding tips
Nutrition during infancy sets the stage for your baby’s growth and future adult health, so it’s important to promote healthy eating habits from a very young age. If your bambino doesn’t like a new food the first time she tastes it, offer it at a later date – it could be a fave next time. Great first foods include potatoes, peas, squash, broccoli, beets, green beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, apples, pears, bananas, peaches, plums, apricots, melons, mangoes and kiwis. Fresh fruit and vegetable purees can be vibrantly colorful to delight and interest your young one, but try to mix colors at meals – if you serve sweet potatoes, carrots and apricots, for instance, that “orange” meal would provide quite a dollop of vitamin A. Instead, try serving sweet potatoes, spinach and applesauce, for a rainbow of colors and nutrients.
When introducing a new food to baby’s diet, take it slowly and try one at a time to rule out any allergies. Also, don’t be surprised to see results of a new food in the diaper (especially fruit), as baby’s immature digestive system may react significantly to a new food. Once you’ve ruled out allergies, get creative and combine foods like apples and sweet potatoes or peaches and bananas.
A serving of most solid foods is considered one tablespoon per year of age. Rest assured, babies eat what they need, and unlike many adults, stop eating once hunger is quelled. Infants let you know when appetite strikes, and turn their heads away when full. Carefully watch baby’s cues and let her eat until sated. Trust your little one’s innate knowledge and do not force food – overzealous feeding may set your child up for struggles with weight later in life. Let your baby be the judge, and take it one spoonful at a time.