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Friday, April 18, 2014

How to make baby food

Meleyna Nomura of Phoenix prepares baby food in her kitchen.

One of the greatest joys of parenting is sharing your interests and hobbies with your children. Well, I like to eat. So once my son had the pediatrician’s OK for solid foods, we made a beeline for the baby food aisle. After a month or so of opening package after package, multiple times a day, I stopped. There had to be a better way.

It bothered me to be tossing so many containers. And I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the food inside them. If I deserved good food, cooked well, didn’t my son deserve the same?

I decided to make his food for him. And five years later, the success I had creating tastier food for less money and with little inconvenience meant baby number two got the same treatment.

Creating my own flavors is what makes it fun. At home, you are free to combine whatever flavors you like. Try peaches and green beans. Or broccoli, pears and peas. Use a variety of fruits when making fruit puree.

Controlling costs is another reason to make your own baby food. Most three- to four-ounce containers of baby food cost $1 to $2. Most fruits and vegetables are not much more than $1 for a full pound. In season, prices are often far lower. Even if you choose organic, your food cost will be less than what you’re paying for jars, tubs and pouches in the baby aisle. Use frozen fruits and vegetables to cut costs even more.

What about the expense of extra appliances you need to make your own baby food? Sure, there are special baby food makers that steam and puree all in one gadget. They usually have special attachments and accessories, all claiming to make your life easier. Some of them cost more than a car seat.

For steaming, I use an old-school steamer basket because it adapts to different pot sizes. It is also cheap. To puree, I use a nice, brand-name food processor, but a cheaper model will get the job done. A regular blender also will work. Even if you have to buy one of these items, it is something that you will use in the future. A fancy baby food maker will be abandoned on a shelf after a few months.

Same goes for storage. You don’t need specialty silicon trays or any product marketed specifically for baby food. I use standard ice cube trays. They are inexpensive and take up much less space in my freezer. As long as you’re using standard trays, each cube holds approximately one ounce of pureed food.

Freezing large batches saves you time, money and wasted food. I spent less than an hour a week actively cooking baby food. If I made a batch of something that my daughter wasn’t too enthusiastic about, I mixed it with foods she likes. (Two cubes of pears and one more of green beans disguises Swiss chard.)

My daughter progressed to regular food a couple of months ago, but I had some baby food cubes left in the freezer. I added vegetable cubes to soups and casseroles and whirled fruit cubes into smoothies or unflavored yogurt. I can’t imagine being excited about leftover jars of strained peas.

To store, squeeze the puree into standard ice cube trays.

How to puree fruits and vegetables

Rinse produce. Use a vegetable brush on items that are grown in or on the ground. Peel if needed. Skins often don’t break down during cooking and can cause gassiness in some babies.

Cut produce to uniform size so it cooks at the same rate. The smaller the pieces, the quicker it will cook, but you will spend more time chopping. As with all aspects of parenting, choose your battles.

Fill a pot/saucepan with a couple of inches of water and set your steamer inside the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high.

Once the water starts to bubble, add the food to the steamer. Cover with a lid and turn the heat to medium-low. After 10 minutes pierce a larger piece with a fork. If it goes in easily, it’s done. Softer fruits like pears or mangoes may be done at this point, but harder vegetables like winter squash or root vegetables may take closer to 20 minutes. Make sure there is still adequate water in the pot to continue steaming.

Once cooked through, remove steamer from the pot. Let cool on the counter for a few minutes while you set up for the next step.

Add the food to the bowl of your food processor or the jar of your blender. (It doesn’t have to be completely cool.) Puree, stopping every so often to scrape the sides with a spatula to ensure even blending.

You might need to add liquid to help this process along, depending on the food item and your machinery. Use leftover cooking water to add back any nutrients that may have been lost during steaming. You can also use breast milk or formula. (If you use breast milk and plan to freeze the puree, be sure the breast milk is fresh and not previously frozen.) I tend to leave the puree in its thicker state and thin with breast milk for added nutrients right before serving.

Scoop the puree into a zip-top bag, seal the bag, snip the corner off and use it to squeeze the puree into a standard ice cube tray. Tap the tray on the counter to be sure there aren’t any air pockets. Cover and freeze.

Once food cubes are frozen, simply pop them out, place them in a plastic freezer bag and toss back into the freezer. If the cubes don’t easily pop out of the tray, let them sit on the counter for five minutes to thaw ever so slightly and try again.

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Meleyna Nomura

Meleyna Nomura, of Phoenix, is the mother of Parker (5) and Leila (1). She is working toward becoming a registered dietetic technician.

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