Q: Chef, I'm getting ready to start my infant daughter on solid foods and I'm thinking about making my own baby food. Is it really worth the extra effort?
A: There are several advantages to making your own baby food and it not as difficult as you might think. First let's start with a few cautions.
Follow all the standard food safety guidelines when preparing food for your baby. Pay close attention to cross contamination, recommended food temperatures and storage. Be sure to wash your hands before you begin and that everything you use to prepare her food is scrupulously clean.
Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
Remember that corn syrup and honey are not appropriate for babies under 1 year old so don't use either as a sweetener.
When age appropriate, pureed meats can be introduced but avoid shellfish like shrimp, lobster, etc.
Chef Hosch and Ann are a husband and wife team devoted to healthy and gourmet cooking and catering. Chef Hosch is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., and brings more than 25 years of experience and passion to his culinary arts. Ann is an occupational therapist and has worked as a cook and baker in the past. Chef Hosch and Ann opened the Tower Cafe, 1000 Commerce Park Drive, in December 2013. They serve lunch Monday through Friday. Chef Hosch and Ann specialize in creating food for all tastes and diets. Their column is published on the first Wednesday of each month in the Food section. Submit cooking questions for Chef Hosch and Ann to firstname.lastname@example.org and "Like" them on Facebook to ask questions and get tips and recipes.
Now let's talk about the benefits of preparing your own baby food.
It is almost always cheaper to prepare your own baby food than it is to purchase jarred. Even if you only use organic fruits and vegetables, which I recommend, it is more economical to make your own. You can even feed your baby a pureed version of what you feed the rest of the family. Just make sure that your food choices are healthy and that you pay close attention to food safety. Babies are often more motivated to taste foods the rest of the family is eating.
Another advantage to making your own baby food is that you can introduce your baby to healthy foods you won't find in a jar on the grocery store shelves. Some healthy suggestions are: avocado, sweet pepper and cooked quinoa mixed with vegetables. If she is exposed to a wide variety of tastes as an infant, she will be more inclined to eat a variety of foods during those picky toddler years. As she grows and moves away from only pureed food, you can also introduce her to a variety of textures by coarsely grinding part of the food and mixing that with the puree. You won't find many varieties of minced foods that are commercially prepared.
Steaming is the cooking method that preserves the most vitamins so I recommend steaming for most fruits and vegetable. You can safely use the microwave to initially cook the food but beware of reheating. Food reheated in the microwave can have hot spots. Baking is an alternate method you can try as your baby grows and her tastes change. Apples and other hard fruits are especially good baked. Baking brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit and gives it a caramelized flavor.
After cooking, there are several ways to puree the food to the consistency your baby needs when she first starts solids. You probably already own a regular blender, food processor or stick mixer and these appliances do a perfectly acceptable job of pureeing your baby's food to the proper consistency. You could consider using a hand turned food mill as a low tech option. A plain old fork will also work, especially as your baby grows and her food does not need to be quite as pureed.
Chef Hosch recommends blending small amounts of food in a coffee grinder. They are easy to clean and it is convenient to puree baby and toddler portions of the same foods you are feeding the rest of the family. The lid is a great way to transfer the food to a bowl.
Research shows that your baby's stomach is only a large as her hand, so she won't need much food in the beginning. Be careful not to over-feed her. We also have read that it is good to introduce foods on your finger rather than a spoon. This way you will be sure the temperature is appropriate for the baby and she can suck some of the food off rather than trying to accommodate to both the new sensations of food and a spoon.
Follow your doctor's guidelines for the types of foods to introduce and schedule for advancing food choices. It is wise to add new foods slowly so you can monitor for allergies or reactions, and give her a chance to develop a taste for the new flavors.
Refrigerate leftovers right away and use up within a few days. Freezing is another option. Ice cube trays are convenient and perfect for individual baby size servings. For optimal nutrition, use frozen foods within a few weeks.
Preparing all of your daughter's meals is the healthiest choice but jarred baby foods are safe, nutritious and convenient. There are many varieties to choose from at the grocery store. There are even organic baby foods available. Keep a few jars on hand for those inevitable times when you won't have time to prepare your own.
Overall, keep it simple and have fun.