Thursday, October 10, 2013

Homemade (Organic!) Baby Food: Starting Stage 1

Hey, there!

I just want to warn you in advance--there are way too many parentheses in this post! Sorry!

As many of you know, my husband and I have a little girl. She is coming up on six months, and she is ANTSY to start eating "real" food. (Last Sunday, she screamed at us for a good five minutes, because I wouldn't give her my cinnamon roll. What can I say...she knows what she wants!)

Even though the pediatrician said we could start solids at her four month checkup, we decided to wait until she was a little closer to six months. (The evidence isn't conclusive, but there are some studies that indicate that starting solids earlier may lead to food allergies. Since Austin has some, and I dealt with some as a child, I would like to avoid these for Zia if at all possible.)

As Zia has become more interested in food, I have asked other moms about their opinions, tips, and tricks for starting baby on solids. One of our awesome neighbors lent me a cookbook with 201 organic baby food recipes. I was pretty excited. With that book in hand, we headed to good old Good Earth (a local health food store that Austin and I have both worked at--we met there). Almost all of the produce there is organic, and we get an employee discount through Austin, making it a little more affordable. I wanted to at least buy the "dirty dozen" organic.

As a disclaimer, this post is mostly about how easy and awesome making organic baby food at home is. I'm not going to add a bazillion pictures or make it very fancy. I am just really impressed by how easy, fulfilling, and relatively inexpensive the process is--so I thought I'd share it with all of you.

What I bought, the cost, (keep in mind, everything we bought today was organic--the price reflects that and the employee discount), and what I got out of it (measured in individual ice cube tray compartments~1 oz.):

  • 1 Bag Frozen Green Peas (I think it was around 10 oz, but I forgot to check before I tossed it.) 
    • Cost: $2.65
    • Preparation: None
    • Cook: Steam until tender (about 10 minutes), then blend, adding water from steamer as needed.
    • Yield: 8 cubes
  • 4 Bartlett Pears (1.87 lbs.)
    • Cost: $2.82 
    • Preparation: Wash, peel, core, slice
    • Cook: Steam until tender (about 5 minutes), then blend. I didn't need to add any extra water.
    • Yield: 15 cubes
  • 1 Small Butternut Squash
    • Cost: $1.52
    • Preparation: Wash, cut in half, scoop out seeds
    • Cook: Bake at 350 degrees until tender (about an hour--do the fork test). Scoop out flesh, then blend. I didn't need to add extra water.
    • Yield: 8 cubes
  • 1 Head of Cauliflower (1.61 lbs.)
    • Cost: $3.46
    • Preparation: Wash, remove leaves and stem, cut into chunks
    • Cook: Steam until tender (15-20 minutes), then blend. Make sure you steam it with quite a bit of water, because I had to add all of my water and then some to get the consistency right.
    • Yield: 18 cubes
  • 1 Cucumber 
    • Cost: $1.19 (I have found better prices on organic ones before, but oh, well.)
    • Preparation: Wash, peel, remove seeds
    • Cook: Not necessary. Just blend!
    • Yield: 7.5 cubes
    • 3 Medium Jonagold Apples (1.43 lbs.)
      • Cost: $2.83
      • Preparation: Wash, peel, core, cube
      • Cook: Add 2 Tbsp. water and cook covered on low heat until tender (about 10 minutes). Add everything to the blender and puree.
      • Yield: 12 cubes (I might have gotten one or two more if Austin and I hadn't each eaten a slice as I was cutting them!)
    • 3 Red Plums (0.57 lbs.)
      • Cost: $0.90
      • Preparation: Wash, peel, take out pit, cut in quarters
      • Cook: Steam until tender (about 8 minutes), then blend. I didn't add water.
      • Yield: 5 cubes
    • 3 Nectarines (1.04 lbs.)
      • Cost: $1.65
      • Preparation: Wash, peel, remove pits, cut into chunks
      • Cook: Steam until tender (about 8 minutes), then blend. No water needed on this one, either.
      • Yield: 6 cubes
    I made some more with some sweet potatoes and green beans I already had on hand. (They weren't organic, so I washed them extra carefully. I plan on buying these organic in the future, though.)
    • 3 Small/Medium Sweet Potatoes (Some people call them yams, though that isn't entirely accurate--they are the funny-shaped ones with brown skin and deep orange insides.)
      • Cost: I don't remember. Sweet potatoes are pretty cheap, though.
      • Preparation: Wash
      • Cook: Bake at 350 degrees until tender (about an hour--do the fork test). Cut in half, scoop out flesh, and blend. I had to add quite a bit of cooled boiled water to get the consistency right.
      • Yield: 26 cubes
    • 1 Bag Green Beans (10-12 oz.)
      • Cost: I don't remember on these, either. I think they were just a couple bucks.
      • Preparation: Wash, remove ends
      • Cook: Steam until tender (approximately 15 minutes), then blend. Add water as needed.
      • Yield: 18 cubes


    Apple puree all ready to be frozen!
    Green bean puree, frozen and ready to be bagged.
    Look at all those happy little bags. :) Excuse my messy freezer.
    Making Your Own

    Don't get discouraged by the amount of work it takes to make your own baby food--it's really easy! There are many recipes for various baby foods all over the internet, but here is my version. If you just want the short version, read the numbered lines. If you want my opinions on each step, go ahead and read the bullet points. :)
    1. Decide which fruits and vegetables you are going to use, and go buy them! 
      • I would recommend buying organic as much as possible, especially for the "dirty dozen" (peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes). These foods are the most likely to be contaminated with icky things like pesticides. I feel like I'm saving so much money by doing it myself that I can definitely afford to do it organic. And if you buy large quantities of organic things at places like Costco--all the better. :)
      • Some produce should not be introduced until your baby's digestive system is a little more mature. For example, carrots shouldn't be introduced until baby is at least 7 months old since they tend to have a lot more nitrates than baby is used to. A little research goes a long way. 
    2. Wash your fruits and veggies.
      • If it's organic, you don't really need much more than a water bath and maybe a little soap. I know there are lots of good produce sprays and rinses--anything like that would be fine as well. Just use things that are as natural as possible.
    3. Cook your fruits and veggies.
      • At first, it's a good idea to keep each food totally separate as you cook and blend them before you know which foods your baby can tolerate and those she can't. Keeping them separate also makes it easy to mix and match flavors later on without having to commit to a huge batch of pea/green bean/squash that your baby doesn't end up liking, for example.
      • As far as I understand it, baking keeps in the most nutrients and brings out a little extra sweetness, though you may need to add a little extra water as you puree it. Steaming is the next best option. Boiling is the least ideal, as much of the nutrients are lost into the water. If you do steam or boil your foods, make sure you use that same water to thin out your puree to add back as much nutrients as possible.
      • If you are a poor college student/stay at home mom, like me, and don't have a steamer and don't want to buy one--I just used an inexpensive metal colander over an inch or so of boiling water in one of out larger pots with a lid on top. It worked great! And the colander can serve other purposes, if needed. :)
    4. Use a food processor, blender, etc. to puree everything, washing it between batches. (As I said, this is mostly to avoid mixing foods while you figure out allergies. I imagine it wouldn't be a big deal if you left a little apple in your squash puree once you know your baby's body likes both of them.)
      • You want the consistency of the baby food to be pretty runny at first. Use the water you used to cook the food or some boiled, cooled water to thin out your puree as needed. As your baby gets older, this won't be as important.
      • As a side note, I left some of my purees a little thicker to save space in my little freezer. I have less cubes, but they will go farther, if that makes sense. I will just have to add a little breast milk or water to it when I heat it up later on.
    5. Feed it to your baby.
      • It is recommended to feed your baby a single food for 4-10 days until you're sure they're not allergic. Add another food, wait another 4-10 days. This way, you avoid having to do an elimination diet later on.
      • To thicken up a thinner puree, simply add some rice or multi-grain baby cereal. You can make your own baby cereal as well, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The organic rice baby cereal was on sale at Good Earth, so I bought a box of that to start out.
    6. Freeze any leftovers. 
      • If you made big batches, like I did, you will have lots of baby food left to freeze. It's kind of hard not to have leftovers, since babies tend to eat such small portions at first. There are lots of fancy tools available to do this, but I just used ice cube trays. Freeze the purees for a few hours, then move the cubes of frozen baby food to freezer Ziplock bags. Label them with the date and what's inside.
      • A good rule of thumb for a "best by" date is 8 weeks for fruits and vegetables, 12 weeks for meat (though your stage 1 baby food eater shouldn't be eating that yet). I'm guessing it would be fine longer, but ideally it would be consumed within that time frame for optimum freshness.
    7. Reheat a single serving.
      • Though microwaves are the quick-and-easy way to reheat things, there is some evidence that indicates that they might promote/cause cancer cell growth. That is the very last thing you want for your baby. I'm not judging you at all if you decide to use the microwave, I'm just giving you my two bits. I will probably end up letting a couple of servings of baby food defrost in the freezer then heating them up in the toaster oven or on the stove. It's a little more work, but it's worth it.
      • For on-the-go use, you can put a single serving into a container and let it warm up until lunch time or whatever. You could run the container under warm water if it needed to be heated up any more. 
    That's about it! I hope you enjoy making your own baby food, if I have convinced you to do so. ;) Really, it's pretty fun! Now I just hope Zia will like it. We're planning on starting solids this week! Wish us luck!

    Update: It took me a while to finish up this post, so we have already tried a few foods. Zia looooves everything she's tried so far! Sweet potatoes, peas, and bananas have been some of her first foods. I'm glad I waited to feed her until she seemed ready for it. The transition couldn't have been smoother. 

    If you're a mom (or dad), what foods did your baby like best? Do you have any tips or tricks that helped your baby make a smooth transition to solids? I love to hear other people's thoughts, so feel free to comment!

    -Malia

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