As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.”
That goes for all of us, no matter how young or how tiny. So why not give your baby the very best — and save some money while you’re at it?
Since I like to show love with food, I made the choice to make all my own baby food for my three daughters. Now, that may sound like a serious commitment and an overwhelming undertaking; however, trust me — it’s not. And it’s not an “all-or-nothing” choice.
Much like breastfeeding, where many mothers feed their infants a combination of breast milk and formula to make up for production limitations, you can supplement with store-bought baby food if you need to.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the resources or time to ensure that every morsel that goes into my kids’ mouths is healthy and/or organic. I do the best I can. And that’s all your baby expects of you. If you get a couple of meals a week made from scratch, that’s great. If you are able to feed your baby exclusively homemade baby food, even better. You’ll save money, reduce disposable packaging and food waste and know exactly what is going into your child’s food. I personally believe that it leads to healthier kids who get sick less and who are not picky eaters as they grow.
Start with a few helpful tools. You’ve got to have a great blender. I’m partial to my Vitamix, but if you have a different one that works for you, go with it. You also can use a food mill, but I found those to be cumbersome.
Then, find yourself a good resource for reliable produce, preferably organic. I know there can be some sticker shock with organic produce, but a little goes a long way with babies. One organic sweet potato can provide several days’ worth of meals (as compared to about a dollar a serving with prepackaged baby food). Resources like Perfectly Imperfect Produce make fantastic use of “ugly” yet healthy and edible fruits and veggies (with some organic options) that would otherwise be thrown out. Bonus: they’ll deliver, which is great for those of you who want to avoid dragging your infant out into the cold to shop.
Now it’s time to experiment. Start simple with a single ingredient to make sure your child likes the flavor before you “mass produce” anything — and to identify any potential aversions or allergies. Then you can start combining fruits and vegetables.
Bake, roast, steam or microwave the produce until it’s tender and easy to blend. When your baby is first beginning solids, make sure to strain the puree to prevent any chunks of unblended pieces that might be a choking hazard.
Eventually, you can start adding grains and proteins like chicken, rice, quinoa, oats, lentils or ground beef, for example. To get some ideas, I did a little bit of recon and made note of food and flavor combinations sold by commercial baby food manufacturers when I went to the grocery store. I also got cookbooks out from the library to start a list of blends to try.
Where to start? Pretty much every kid likes applesauce, right? It makes a great first food. To give it some more nutrients, I add carrots. Utilize your slow cooker here. Rough chop some apples and carrots. Add a little water and a pinch of cinnamon and some brown sugar if you want. Once the apples and carrots are fork tender, transfer to your blender and add water, if necessary, to thin it out.
After you’ve made your baby food, it’s time to store it. I like freezing it in portion sizes with silicone ice cube trays, then popping them out into freezer safe bags (making sure to label the contents and date).
For feeding on the go, I love the Baby Brezza reusable food pouches. They’re easy to load and easy to wash. Fresh baby food is good for about four days. Frozen will be good for several months.
Protein-Packed Puree: Sweet Potato & Chickpea
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, with liquid
1 medium-large sweet potato, baked, skin on
- Add the entire can of chickpeas, with liquid, to your blender.
- Quarter the potato and add to the container.
- Blend on high until smooth (add water, formula or breast milk to thin texture, if necessary).
- Optional: add cooked chicken for more texture and protein when your child is ready.
Super Food Puree: Spinach, Kale & Sweet Pea
1 cup cooked spinach (roughly 5 oz. before steaming)
1 cup cooked kale (roughly 5 oz. before steaming)
1 cup frozen sweet peas, steamed
½ tsp. salt
- Add ingredients, in order listed, into blender.
- Blend on high until smooth.
- Toddler version: Toss with cooked pasta and add grated cheese and crumbled sausage or shredded chicken.
Jen Picciano is a two time Emmy winning reporter at WOIO-TV, 19 News. Each week she dons an apron and gets messy in the kitchen with chefs all over the city, to produce and host a cooking segment, “Cleveland Cooks,” for 19 News. She also produces and hosts a weekly video podcast, “Taste Buds,” with Chef David Kocab, from Ushabu, (available through WOIO), and appears on WMJI Majic 105.7FM each Friday on “Cleveland Bites,” to share the city’s latest food and dining news. She is also a regular contributor to the television station’s morning talk show, “Sunny Side Up,” and “The Cribbs Show: Josh and Maria Live” with Josh and Maria Cribbs. She is special projects reporter/producer at WOIO-TV. And, in her “spare” time she writes a blog, “Cheftovers,” to showcase her clever use of leftovers and share her foodie adventures. She resides in Mayfield Heights, with her husband and three daughters.