Homemade baby food

You wouldn’t find it on the menu of a four-star restaurant — but, to a six-month-old, mashed ripe banana is the highest form of culinary art. Just ask any parent of a toothless infant who’s gummed the sweet fruit, and eagerly uh, uh’d for more. Switching to solids is an exciting time for both parent and child. And as junior busily explores the tastes and textures of new fruits, vegetables and meats, many parents are opting to make some or all of his food themselves.

An introduction to solid foods is just that: an introduction. At six months, your baby gets the nourishment he needs from breastmilk or formula. This means you can focus on presenting a variety of tastes rather than worry about a balanced diet. The eating experience is a part of his infant education; he is learning about tastes and textures, to forge the path for later food ventures.

“The whole point of starting to feed your child is to teach him how to chew,” says Anji Shukla. She’s with FoodShare in Toronto and leads workshops on preparing baby food. With homemade foods, “you can control the textures more.”

Parents can also supply greater variety. “The more things babies try, the more open they will be to food in the future,” notes Shukla. Even homemade applesauce can have a distinctive taste. “Every variety of apple has a different flavour and level of sweetness. You can choose what you want, or try all of them.”

Knowing what’s in the food is a huge motivator for many parents who make their own. Erika Henry’s one-year-old son, Curran, exhibited allergies to milk and soy proteins as a newborn, so his Ottawa-area parents were cautious during the transition to solids. Henry was shocked to find lemon juice listed as an ingredient in jarred bananas. “We’d been told by the doctor to hold off on citrus for at least 10 months,” says Henry.

Shukla says whatever the reason for going the homemade route, getting started is often the biggest hurdle. “There are moms who are really anxious about this. Feeding is an area where you get so much information from so many people, and it’s really hard to decipher it all.” Bottom line? It’s easier than it looks.

“If you can make a smoothie,” says Glenna Samuels, “then you can make baby food.” The Edmonton mom made a lot of 14-month-old Jayden’s food when he was an infant.

Soft fruits don’t need cooking — just mashing. Bananas and ripe peaches are fast favourites. Harder fruits and vegetables, as well as meats, can be roasted or steamed until soft, then ground in a blender with a bit of baby-friendly liquid — cooking water or even breastmilk. Boiling, which can deplete nutrients, should be avoided if possible. And a recent study found that broccoli lost a significant amount of its nutrients when microwaved — so parents may wish to use caution with this cooking method as well.

Mush in a Rush
Multi-tasking hastens the job. You can have several pots of different vegetables steaming at the same time, says Shukla. And she adds, “I like using the oven too. It actually takes longer, but you can ignore it while it’s cooking.”

Henry finds she simply cooks more of whatever vegetable the family is already having for dinner. “We eat steamed stuff, so we just leave his in longer for it to get mushier and easier to blend up.” Their tiered steamer allows them to cook two different veggies simultaneously.

Cooking big batches and freezing small portions means you don’t have to make baby food every day. But Rosemarie Pestill of Watford, Ont., cautions parents of picky tasters not to get too carried away. “If you make a lot, then your baby suddenly decides he doesn’t like it, you’re stuck.” Here are more time-saving tips for quick purée power sessions:

• Invest in appliances that speed up the job, such as a good blender and steamer.
• Freeze away convenient meal-sized portions in ice cube trays or sandwich bags.
• Keep on hand very ripe fruits and other foods that don’t require cooking.
• When baby is around 10 months, blend together meat, fruit and vegetable combos for a well-balanced “stew.”
• Also after this age, a baby food grinder (such as the KidCo Food Mill) allows you to transform the family’s meal into instantly gummable baby chow.

At 10 or 12 months, your baby is ready to try table food — pint-sized versions of the meals she’s been watching the rest of her family eat for months. These tasty combinations, from The Baby’s Table (by Brenda Bradshaw and Dr. Lauren Donaldson Bramley, Random House 2004), will have your baby drooling.

Florets and Cheese Sauce
For older babies (over a year), steam florets and serve sauce on the side, as they will enjoy dipping the vegetables into the sauce. Try the sauce with different vegetables, such as thinly sliced, steamed beans or soft-cooked carrots.

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
1 tbsp (15 mL) flour (approx.)
1 cup (250 mL) breastmilk or formula
1½ cups (375 mL) grated cheddar cheese
2 cups (500 mL) broccoli florets, washed
2 cups (500 mL) cauliflower florets, washed

Cheese sauce: In saucepan, whisk butter and flour together over medium heat until paste forms. Slowly add ½ cup milk, whisking until lumps disappear. Continue to whisk, while adding cheese and the remaining milk. Stir until cheese melts and sauce thickens to a smooth, creamy texture.

In steamer, cook florets over boiling water for 10 minutes. In blender or food processor, combine florets with cheese sauce and purée to desired consistency. Pour into ice cube tray and freeze.

Okanagan Summer Chicken
The combination of creamy corn and peaches makes this dish a delectable treat.

2 peaches, washed
1 cob corn, husked and kernels removed
1½ poached chicken breast

In a saucepan, plunge peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and cool. Slit skin with a knife and remove. Cut peaches into quarters, removing pit.

Steam peaches and corn over boiling water for 5 minutes. Reserve leftover cooking water.

In blender or food processor, purée peaches, corn and chicken to achieve desired consistency. If purée seems too thick, add either leftover cooking water or unsweetened apple juice, 1 tbsp at a time. Fill ice cube tray and freeze.

Homemade Baby Food Recipes
Three great recipes from The Baby’s Table Tropical Smoothie (from eight months)

1 slice mango, washed, skin removed
1/3 banana, washed, skin removed
2 tbsp high-fat (above 3%) plain yogurt
1 tbsp unsweetened apple juice (approx)

In a small bowl, mash mango and banana with fork. Using blender or food processor, puree fruit, yogurt and juice. Serve immediately, before the banana turns brown.

Yield: 1 serving.

Roasted Veggie Mash (from eight months)

1 potato, washed and peeled
4 small beets, washed and peeled
1 carrot, washed, trimmed and peeled
1 parsnip, washed, trimmed and peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp breast milk or formula (approx)

Cut potato, beets, carrot and parsnip into cubes. In bowl, toss with olive oil.

In roasting pan, bake vegetables in 375°F oven for 30 minutes. Flip vegetables and bake until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

For a nice lumpy texture, add butter and milk as needed; mash with potato masher (or if desired, use blender or food processor to puree until smooth). Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

Yield: 12 to 14 cubes

Chicken Noodle Stew (from eight months)

½ chicken breast, cut in cubes
1 sprig fresh tarragon (optional)
2 cups water
1/3 cup macaroni
1 stalk celery, washed, trimmed and sliced
2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
¼ onion, cut in half
1 potato, washed, peeled and cut in cubes
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a large pot, place chicken and tarragon (if using) in water and bring to a boil.

Add pasta, celery, carrots, onion and potato; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. The consistency should be that of a thick stew. If there is too much liquid, remove lid for last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking.

Remove from heat. Add parsley (if using) and stir. Using a slotted spoon, place vegetables, pasta and chicken in blender or food processor. Set leftover cooking juices aside.

Puree, adding juices as needed to achieve desired consistency. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

Yield: 18 to 20 cubes

Recipes taken from The Baby’s Table: Over 100 easy, healthy and homemade recipes for the pickiest, most deserving eaters on the planet, by Brenda Bradshaw and Lauren Donaldson Bramley, M.D. (2004)

• Don’t allow raw meat and fruit to share the same cutting surface.

• Always thoroughly wash all implements and utensils used, including grinders and ice cube trays.

• Don’t keep your homemade food in the fridge longer than three days. It also has a limited freezer life (six months for vegetables, 10 weeks for meat and fish), so always date your batches.

• Introduce foods slowly, one at a time, watching for allergies or sensitivities.

• Never offer raw veggies or hard fruits; cut grapes into quarters. Avoid nuts, hot dogs and peanut butter until age three.

• Peel all fruits and veggies.

• Babies less than a year old should not be given egg whites, honey or vegetables high in nitrites, such as spinach or collards. Limit highly acidic fruits.

• Hold off on butter, sugar, salt and spices until the table food stage (after 10 months), at which time very small amounts can be introduced gradually into the food. Avoid frying or using oil in cooking.

• When in doubt, discuss your choices for food introduction with your baby’s doctor.

Have you considered…
adding pizzazz to your baby’s palate? These creative food ideas will help you boldly break the boundaries of sweet potatoes and green peas:

• mango
• avocado
• persimmon
• papaya
• asparagus
• broccoli
• parsnips
• mashed white potato
• hard-cooked egg yolks (softened with water)
• mashed beans/legumes (only after eight months of age; be sure to rinse them well and discard the soaking water)
• plain soft tofu
• boiled quinoa (a tasty, high-protein grain)
• plain yogurt