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.
How to serve purees to your baby
Rework frozen ones. Meat and poultry may get chunkier after freezing, making them a choking hazard. After thawing, blend once more for a smooth texture. Certain veggies, such as potatoes and squash, can become watery after they've been frozen. Add a teaspoon of plain, full-fat yogurt if the puree is too thin when thawed. And don't worry if you see what appears to be freezer burn on the top of a frozen puree; it's harmless water crystals.
Check taste. If you added spice to a puree, try a spoonful, and if it seems too flavorful, add a dollop of plain, full-fat yogurt to bring down the heat.
Start with a little. A filling baby meal can be just 2 to 4 tablespoons, says Eileen Behan, R.D., author of The Baby Food Bible. That's not much! To prevent waste, dole out a small amount of puree into a separate dish and throw out what Baby doesn't finish. If you feed him directly from the container, the bacteria from the spoon can contaminate the food when it's stored again.
Warm it up. To bring a puree to room temperature, microwave for a few seconds, says Annabel Karmel, author of Top 100 Baby Purees. Stir before feeding to your child to make sure there are no hot spots.
The key to safe food
Homemade purees made from certain vegetables, such as carrots and spinach, can contain nitrates, compounds that aren't harmful to children and adults but can be to newborns. "As long as your baby doesn't start eating solids before about 6 months of age, making these pureed vegetables for him is safe," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. Talk to your pediatrician about any concerns.
Mix and match delish meals
Once your baby has tried a single food, you can mix it with a new food to expand her palate. An older baby can have purees with three or more ingredients, as long as there isn't more than one food in the pot she hasn't tried. Mix it up with these combinations!
Baby has tried: Apples
Now puree with: Bananas, peaches, pears, plums; carrots, squash, sweet potatoes; fish; oatmeal
Baby has tried: Bananas
Now puree with: Apples, avocados, blueberries, peaches, pears, plums; oatmeal; yogurt
Baby has tried: Peaches
Now puree with: Apples, apricots, banana; squash, sweet potatoes; oatmeal; yogurt
Baby has tried: Carrots
Now puree with: Apples, peaches; green beans, squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini; fish; lentils, rice
Baby has tried: Peas
Now puree with: Mint; pears; carrots, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash; lentils, rice; yogurt
Baby has tried: Sweet potatoes
Now puree with: Cinnamon; apples, apricots, peaches, pears; fish; lentils, rice; yogurt
Baby has tried: Beef or lamb
Now puree with: Apples, peaches, pears; carrots, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes, zucchini; lentils, rice
Baby has tried: Chicken, turkey, or pork
Now puree with: Apples, avocados, peaches, pears, plums; carrots, sweet potatoes, squash; lentils, rice
Your grocery list
You can buy all of these foods at once and freeze and store, so they're ready to go for the next month and beyond. Or start by buying and using a handful and then move down the list. Expect to introduce about eight to ten new foods a month to your baby. To identify possible food allergies, wait at least three days between servings of new foods. For 6-month-old babies just starting solids, puree and freeze each food separately.
3 apples, Gala or Fuji
1/2 lb. blueberries
1/2 lb. butternut squash
4 carrots, medium
1 lb. green beans, frozen or fresh
1 lb. peas, frozen or fresh
2 sweet potatoes, large
1 zucchini, medium
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. lamb
2 chicken breasts
1/2 lb. turkey
1/2 lb. pork
1/2 lb. fish
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.
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