Essential tips for do-it-yourself baby food

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At its easiest, homemade baby food is as simple as peeling a banana or slicing open a ripe avocado. Making baby food from scratch is never more complicated than cooking simple, natural and nutritious food, that’s converted into the right texture for your neophyte eater. Read on for tips, tricks and recipes.
Food safety tips: Wash, wash, wash

While you don’t have to sterilize, you do have to keep counters and all kitchen tools and equipment spotless. Make it a habit to always wash your hands before starting any kitchen task. Keep towels, cloths and sponges clean.

Raw meat, chicken and fish can contaminate other foods. Store them separately in the fridge and wash hands, counters, cutting boards, utensils and plates that have come in contact with the raw juices. Cook meat, chicken, eggs and fish thoroughly.

Germs breed in the tepid range between cold and hot. So keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Do not leave baby food out at room temperature for more than two hours and throw out any that has surpassed the limit.

Throw out what your baby doesn’t finish. Once her spoon has gone into her mouth and back into the remaining food, bacteria can grow.

Step-by-step purees: Gather cooked vegetables and fruits

Try beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green beans, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard) parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, turnip; apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, mango, pears, dried apricots and prunes, plums.

1. Wash and peel (peeling not necessary if baking or using a food mill which will remove skins). Remove seeds, pits and cores.
2. Steam, boil, microwave or bake until very tender.
3. Remove baked vegetable skins.
4. Purée (adding enough water or cooking liquid to create a yogurt-like texture).
5. Store in fridge or freeze (fill a clean ice cube tray, cover with lid or plastic wrap, freeze until solid, transfer to a labelled, resealable freezer bag.)
Step-by-step purees

No-cook purees

Fork-mash ripe banana, avocado and papaya. Purée cucumbers, melon and mango.

Meat or poulty

In a frying pan, brown ground veal, beef, lamb, pork, turkey or chicken with a little canola oil until no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Drain off fat. Transfer to blender and add 1 cup (250 mL) water or low-sodium stock for every 8 oz (250 g) raw ground meat or poultry. Purée until smooth.

Fish

Steam an 8 oz (250 g) boneless, skinless filet of fresh or defrosted frozen fish (such as salmon, rainbow trout, tilapia, sole or haddock) in a steamer basket for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it flakes easily. Double-check for bones, then mash with a fork or purée in a blender with steaming water. (If there’s a family history of fish allergy, hold off until 12 months to introduce fish.)

Beans

Tofu makes beans a breeze. No need to cook. Simply purée raw tofu, preferably silken. It can be gently heated, if desired. Or look for low-sodium canned beans, drain and rinse well, then purée with water or low-sodium stock. Serve at room temperature or heat gently.

What to avoid

Salt Baby’s kidneys cannot tolerate salt and sodium. Do not add table salt to purées, rinse canned beans thoroughly, and wait until after baby’s first year to introduce cured meats such as ham or bacon.

Sugar No need to sweeten up naturally sweet fruits and increase the risk of tooth decay!

Honey Wait until baby is 12 months old before adding honey, since there’s a risk of infant botulism. After the one-year mark, baby’s digestive system is mature enough to cope with the bacteria.
Transition to texture

Once she’s got purées under her belt, your baby is ready to dig into chunkier foods. Challenge her and increase textures slowly and steadily by first blending a coarser purée, moving on to fork mashing then graduating to soft finger food.

It’s usually easy to adapt for your toddler what’s being served to the rest of the family. If you’re making a spicy, highly seasoned soup or stew, reserve a portion before adding the fireworks. Proteins like fish, red meats and poultry can be a stumbling block, since most toddlers reject anything stringy, dry or tough. The trick is to serve it up moist, soft and juicy. The following recipes are designed to make your toddler happy (and satisfy grown-up taste buds, too):

You’ll want to stay on top of expiry dates when you’re freezing baby food. Homemade baby food can be stored in the fridge (check that it’s operating at the right temperature: 4°C/40°F) for three days, and in the freezer (optimum temperature is -18°C/0°F) for three months. Throw out expired food.

Top of the list is a purée tool. If you have a fine sieve, the job can be done by pushing cooked food through with the back of a large spoon and scraping off the resulting mush. But for sanity’s sake, invest in a manual or automatic baby food mill (it’s handy to prep small amounts of food right at the dining table or when traveling), hand blender (also called an immersion blender), stand blender, or food processor. The other essentials are ice cube trays and freezer bags. Look for ice cube tray covers sold in baby specialty stores — they prevent freezer burn and messy spills.

Free of pesticide residues and shown through studies to contain more nutrients, organic food is the best choice for your baby. But organic can cost more. If the cost prevents you from purchasing organic, your baby will still benefit from homemade baby food made with conventional produce.

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