How To Make Homemade Baby Food...Cheap!

The Lost Art of Making Healthy Babies...

Buying baby food can get expensive. Not only does it create a financial snowball that can sometimes bowl you over, it's just not as healthy as you might think. Don't get me wrong, it's not unhealthy...it's just not as healthy as it could be. Any of the vegetable- or fruit-type baby foods on the store shelf can be made at home for a fraction of the cost. What's better, it can give you peace of mind knowing exactly what is going into your baby's body.

  1. Pick Your Base Ingredients: Chances are you have a general idea of what your little consumer will and will not eat. To quote Flavor Flav, "Go with what ya know!" If the kid likes sweet potatoes, which is a safe bet, then you're 99% of the way to great homemade baby food. Butternut, spaghetti, acorn and just about any other squash will make an excellent base for baby food. Also, carrots are an inexpensive and nutritious base.
  2. Fire Up Your Oven: Never boil, steam, microwave, sauté, or fry your ingredients. Boiling and steaming draw the nutrients out of the food and leave it in the liquid. Microwaving messes with the texture, while sautéing and frying add fats you don't want in your baby's body.
  3. Prepare the Ingredients: Vegetables with skins and peels, like sweet potatoes, yams and squashes, should be left more or less whole and unpeeled. The skins actually contain a good portion of vitamins and minerals, so leave them on! Also, the skin creates a natural barrier that keeps the good stuff inside the vegetable where it belongs. When roasting tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, etc.) leave them whole. Roughly chop carrots and slice rinded squash (butternut, spaghetti, acorn) in half. If you choose to use yellow squash or zucchini, peel it first. Getting the peel out afterwards is near impossible. If you're not interested in hollowing out the rinded squash post-roast, feel free to peel and chop them as well...but never peel those tubers.
  4. Get Roasting: Put whatever food you've chosen on an ungreased, heavy roasting pan and into a 325 to 375 degree oven. Roasting times and temperatures vary depending on the food and its size. Whole tubers and halved rinded squash will take longer, while chopped carrots and zucchini cook faster. Regardless of the vegetable, you can test for doneness by inserting a sharp boning knife into its center. If there is little to no resistance, it's ready to be processed.
  5. Process the Vegetables: If you don't have a food processor, invest in a ricer. While the processor is efficient, easy to use and yields adequate results, the ricer does a more thorough job. Both work, it's just a question of how much elbow grease you want to put into the endeavor. For God's sake, let the big vegetables cool before you try and handle them. If the base ingredient was peeled and chopped to begin with, purée away. Once the red-hot magma veggies cool down, peel or scrape the unwanted bits away and chop into manageable pieces. Load the veggies into your ricer or processor and work it until it's the consistency of, you guessed it, BABY FOOD! If your mixture is too thick, use a little water or some watered down fruit juice of your choice to thin it out. I find a 50/50 apple juice/water mixture works well.
  6. What About Fruit? I know what you're thinking, what about fruit? That's easy. Apples and pears should be cored, peeled, and quartered. Apricots, peaches, and plums should be blanched, peeled and pitted. After that, put them in a saucepan over medium to medium-low heat and just let them break down. Add a little water or watered down juice if they start to stick. Once they seem good and soft, process as usual. If you think you can peel the apricots, peaches, or plums without blanching, go for it. It's tough work, but if you're up to it...
  7. Jazz It Up with Add-Ins: Now that you have a good base, taste it. If it doesn't taste good to you, do you really think the kid is going to eat it? You're not looking for Michelin Star quality, just palatability. Think of different taste combinations that might appeal to you. Mix two different bases together. Add some mashed-up fruits. The sky is the limit!
  8. Get it Stored: The best part of making your own baby food is the storage. No more bins full of glass jars, no more cabinets cluttered with creamed carrots. Get some ice cube trays and a roll of plastic wrap and you're good to go. Pour, spoon, or extrude your product into the ice cube trays, cover, and freeze for at least 6 hours. Once they are solid, pop them out and put them into a large high-sided container with a lid. Put them back in the freezer and they'll stay fresh for about 2 weeks. After a month, they'll still be edible, but not quite as palatable.
  9. A Few Do's and Don'ts: Although it is a pretty simple process, there are a few hard and fast rules about what you can and can't do.
    • Do combine different fruits and vegetables to create new taste sensations!
    • Don't add dairy of any sort.
    • Do steam spinach and carrot and celery tops as add-ins. Just use them sparingly and process them using the liquids they were cooked with.
    • Don't use sweeteners like sugar or Splenda. That would defeat the purpose, no? Never use honey! Infants under 12 months can contract infant botulism from eating honey.
    • Do simmer dried fruits like raisins, cherries, cranberries, or prunes in a small amount of water as a pre-processing add in.
    • Don't add formula or breast milk to the mixture. It may seem like a good plan, but it's just plain wrong.
    • Do load your finished product into a pastry bag or zip top bag with the corner cut off to extrude the mixture into ice cube trays.
    • Don't use avocado, banana, or citrus fruit in the mixtures. These foods need to be served fresh and should not be heated, frozen or processed. They come out of their skins more or less baby ready, so why mess with perfection?

Making baby food is forthright, fun, and frugally fulfilling. All it takes is a little time, some general cooking knowledge and the drive to make better, cheaper food for your little one. Don't be concerned with sterilizing the ice cube trays first or making sure the plastic wrap didn't touch the counter before you use it. Kids need to be exposed to the outside world if they're ever going to live in it. So, turn off the computer and start cooking!

 

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Comments

Mar
25

Hey Lindsay and Sheyanne! I'm so glad you found my article helpful. If you want to stick with frozen veggies, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Frozen broccoli is great for baby food... Whether it is a hit with the kid is a different story. Although I prefer to make the baby food from fresh ingredients, frozen veggies are a terrific substitute for the fresh stuff. Just be careful not to overcook the veggies and don't boil anything. Roasting the majority of your ingredients is the best way to go. Even frozen broccoli benefits from a long, low roast in the oven. As far as the jarring issue goes, I would avoid them if I were you. All you really need is an ice cube tray, some plastic wrap, and a microwave. If you look at #8 in my article, it explains it pretty much the way I would do it. By freezing the food in little ice cube sized portions, you only have to heat what you need. Also, there won't be a bunch of glass jars filling up the fridge. I'd avoid re-using the glass jars. Not because there is some huge risk of contaminating the food (it's not like canning veggies because you're not storing the baby food for long periods of time), I just like having a container full of frozen, portion controlled cubes that I can nuke in the microwave for 45 seconds, cool it with some juice or formula or breast milk, and serve it up. Also, the glass jars just seem like a hassle to me. I hope that was helpful. If you want to discuss any of this further, feel free to email me!

By Terence Van Essendelft
Sep
24

Thanks for the input, Maggie! Your feedback, although somewhat alarmist and misguided, is appreciated. The nitrate risk that is associated with baby foods, particularly spinach, carrots, and green beans, is actually only pertinent to a mostly congenital, rare form of anemia called methemoglobinemia.

Although there is nothing that can be done to correct the risks posed to those afflicted with the inherited (congenital) variety, the condition is one that is typically diagnosed at birth. Acquired methemoglobinemia may be severe in certain cases and require treatment, but in most mild cases, no treatment is required, other than avoiding the offending medication or chemical. There have been occasional reported cases of nitrate poisoning from plants, only one of which has ever been reported in the United States!

In the defense of my statements, I do suggest using spinach as well as the tops from carrots and celery sparingly. If you were to make the recipe, you would realize that the amount of "liquid" used would be less than a single tablespoon per quart of product. The AAP (The American Academy of Pediatrics) suggests that "...these foods should be avoided before 3 months of age, although there is no nutritional indication to add complementary foods to the diet of the healthy term infant before 6 months of age." What this means is that if the risk only affects infants under 3 months that don't require supplementary foods, then there is no reason they should be coming into contact with them in the first place!

A common misconception is that commercial grade baby foods don't contain nitrates. The big baby food companies "screen" their products for nitrates, but don't remove them... Not because they're hatching some diabolical plan against our children, but because they cannot! Nitrates are a naturally occurring compound and cannot be removed! Varying levels of nitrates can be screened out in the factory, but never taken out of the finished product. Furthermore, the baby food companies do these screenings voluntarily as there is no federal regulation requiring their screening.

As for my remarks regarding the addition of formula or breast milk to the mixture, I think you may have misunderstood my intentions. These two products, specifically, don't stand up chemically to excessive heat. When added to a mixture of vegetables that exceeds 150 degrees, the proteins, lipids and fucoidan in formula can break down. Also, at these temperatures, the beneficial lipids, caseins, and amino acids suffer the same fate. Breast milk is the best thing for an infant, I'll never claim otherwise. These substances are much like bananas and avacados, perfect the way they are. Formula, breast milk, bananas and avocados should only be added to the baby food after it has been cooled and is ready to be eaten.

My "rules" only apply to the production of the baby food, not its consumption. What I was trying to say is that mashed banana and avocado are perfect as feeding time add ins or on their own and don't need to be added to the mixture. These fruits suffer severely from oxidation and lose nutrients when exposed to heat, air and freezing. Not only do they turn brown, they lose a good portion of their water when defrosted... And guess what's in the water? A good portion of the nutrients! I never questioned how well these fruits would freeze, I was more concerned about how they defrosted.

If you're interested in my references or would like me to point you to some helpful material to help educate you, feel free to contact me!

By Terence Van Essendelft