Once upon a time, a company had a really great idea. They dreamed up this awesome little machine that would first steam, then puree any food one might wish to feed a baby. It even doubled as a bottle warmer. Then they charged buyers $99.00 each to buy one. I wish that had been my idea, because there are apparently a whole lot of people out there with three conditions I wouldn’t have expected to be so prevalent in these troubled times: enough money to buy one, enough kitchen space to store it, and a sore lack of frugal habits to prevent them from wasting said money and space.
More power to the manufacturers, I guess, but they’re not getting their hands on my money that easily! Neither are the baby food pushers on aisle 7 at the local grocery store. I could waste just as much money buying baby food as I would if I bought the aforementioned appliance. The frugal way, and the healthier one, is to make your own baby food. Making your own baby food is so easy that I swore off it not too long after my first baby started solid foods. (I admit, I’ve had to buy baby food to get the jars before because nothing else would do for a craft, but otherwise, there’s just no good reason to waste your money on pureed green beans.)
What do I feed my baby?
Whatever you eat, of course! While you don’t want to start baby on spicy black beans or anything, it is usually easy to plan your meals to include something a baby can have. For first foods, I start them around six months, except for this last baby who didn’t want food until he was 7 months old. Nearly any vegetable or fruit will do. I even do chicken or fish occasionally! Bananas and avocado are two of my favorite first foods, because you don’t need to do anything but smash them with a fork. Remember to always use a strainer for peas, as the hulls are yucky and hard to swallow no matter how soft they get. My babies also get a lot of plain yogurt mixed with banana, prunes, or apples. Don’t buy flavored yogurt for them (or yourself!), as it has a lot of junk in it.
A few foods that simply do not work for baby food? Corn, rice, beans (really hard to digest for a baby under one year of age), tomatoes (too acidic), and potatoes (maybe that’s just me). Skip the rice and oatmeal cereals in the baby food aisle, even if your doctor says to start with them. They just constipate the baby, and he doesn’t need those carbs anyway! Follow the usual advice to space new foods out with a few days between trials so you can be aware of allergic reactions.
How do I do it?
I guess you could do it the old-fashioned way and just pre-chew your baby’s food yourself, but…well…no. We won’t go there. Technology is good.
Do you have a steamer basket? If not, that’s really the only tool you really need, so go buy one. A small metal colander will do just as well. Steamed foods retain color, flavor, and nutrients much better than boiled ones do. Carrots, broccoli, or sweet potatoes are some of my favorites. Some foods, like apples, are better peeled and cooked with a little water. Experiment with different ways for different foods. After steaming, you can strain your baby food through a fine sieve, or use an inexpensive stick blender to puree the food. If you want to do chicken or fish, you’ll have to use a stick blender. As baby gets a little bit older, you can easily add shredded cheese to many vegetables. Use your imagination.
For bigger babies (from 9 months on), all you need is to dice the foods very small and steam them enough for them to smash them. No pureeing required!
Whether it’s because the meals I have planned aren’t going to be very good for a baby’s tummy or I have to travel and need convenient baby-sized portions, sometimes I need some fast baby food. I try to always have something in the fridge or freezer for those times. Bananas and avocado make perfect convenience baby foods. Just peel, smash, and serve. For veggies and other fruits, I steam and puree big batches and then store them in the freezer in single-serving sized plastic storage bowls.
What about prunes?
Babies can get constipated when they start solid foods, especially if there are a lot of bananas in their diet. First, lay off the bananas for a while. Then get some prunes! I had been in the habit of buying my prunes from the baby food aisle, because they were too sticky to blend. Then it occurred to me that the baby food factories didn’t have any special magic that I don’t have, so there must be a better way. I was right. You can steam those suckers and rehydrate them! A pack of baby food prunes costs about a dollar for two servings, and that’s not too bad. However, an 18 oz. canister of whole prunes only costs around three dollars, and you can get at least five times as many servings out of that. My homemade prunes are so much thicker that I think I must have been paying for a product that was mostly water! Steam whole prunes for 10 minutes, puree with enough water to make them the right consistency, and you’ve just saved yourself a few dollars a week. They taste better, too. I even put some on my own pancakes this morning. Almost as good as apple butter!
Baby food makers like to let us think that there’s some unfathomable mystery about introducing foods to our babies, as if the human race has always had a Gerber plant right down the road. All it really requires is five or ten minutes a week (seriously) to give our babies foods that are as nutritious and fresh as the foods we eat.