When my son Mason was a baby, we'd pick up fresh produce at the farmers market. Then while he napped, I'd make large batches of puree and stock my freezer with containers. It was economical; I could whip up breakfast fruit for 12 days for around $5, about half of what it would cost to buy it. More important, food-making became a bonding experience, like breastfeeding. I was creating wholesome food for him and I felt great about it. Mason may be finished with purees, but I'll always remember him saying "Mama" (his first word!) while he ate his strawberry oatmeal one morning. You can create your own mealtime memories too. Ready, set, yum!
1) Shop for first foods.
Choose fruits and vegetables that are free of nicks and bruises, which can harbor bacteria. Consider organic if you're purchasing produce that's one of the Dirty Dozen Plus. If you're looking for something that's not in season -- say, blueberries in winter -- buy frozen. They're just as nutrient-rich as fresh. When introducing beef and poultry, get the ground kind first, so you don't have to remove bones or skin. If it's in your food budget, buy meat that's antibiotic- and hormone-free.
2) Wash and prep.
Clean produce with a mixture of three parts water and one part white vinegar to remove bacteria. Remove peel, core, stem, and any seeds. If you're preparing meat, remove all skin, fat, and bones. Chop all of your food into uniformly sized 1/2-inch chunks to ensure it cooks evenly.
3) Pick your cooking method.
- Steam fruits and vegetables. This gentle process preserves minerals and vitamins. If you're preparing soft fruits, such as bananas, ripe pears, or peaches, skip this step. In a large pot, bring an inch or two of water to a boil. Reduce heat. Place a steamer into the pot and fill it with produce. Cover and steam until tender: about 12 to 15 minutes for sweet potatoes and apples and 3 to 5 minutes for softer foods like green beans.
- Poach chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and fish. Place it in a large skillet or pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat until bubbles are soft. Cover and cook through, roughly about 20 minutes for half a pound of chicken or turkey. It should take about 20 minutes (or until the meat is no longer pink) for half a pound of lamb or beef and 5 to 15 minutes for half a pound of fish. Remove from pot, cool, and slice into small chunks.
- Boil pasta and lentils. To cook pasta, follow directions on the box. For lentils, half a cup raw yields about 1 cup cooked. Sort and remove any stones, rinse under cold water, and drain. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until very tender, about 30 minutes.
4) Puree -- last step!
If you're on a budget, a large pot and blender or food processor work just as well as a specialty baby-food maker. Place your small bits of cooked food in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add water for desired texture; for creamier purees, use breast milk or formula. Some produce may have to be strained after pureeing since it may be grainy or stringy. For older babies who have tried single foods, you can combine, say, chicken and sweet potatoes. If you love spices, add a pinch, but remember that the taste will be more intense after the food has been in the fridge or freezer. Store in stackable containers. Purees keep in the fridge for up to three days; in the freezer, up to three months.