Not only is homemade baby food a money-saving, eco-friendly alternative to the store bought variety, it also puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to your baby's nutrition. And making your own baby food can be as simple as mashing up a banana with a fork and spooning it directly into your child's mouth.
But for those who want to always have homemade puree at the ready, here are a few tips for making and freezing baby food.
1. Start Small
Start by making smaller quantities using a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables—fresh, frozen, or canned in their own juices—along with meats and fish. Think of it as a gourmet tasting for your infant. Because it can take a baby up to 10 tastes to acquire an affinity for a food, begin your baby-food venture by making more of the things she likes and throwing in just a few new things to expand her palate.
2. Clean, and Clean Again
When preparing baby food, be vigilant about cleanliness. Babies' sensitive immune systems make them more susceptible to food poisoning than adults. Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and peeled, especially those that are grown close to the ground, like strawberries, carrots, and potatoes. Never use outdated canned food or food from dented, rusted or leaking cans or jars. Keep work surfaces, cutting utensils and your hands immaculately clean, and be sure to use separate cutting boards for meat, poultry, and fish.
3. Cook Thoroughly
After removing all seeds and pits from the fruits and vegetables—or bones and gristle from the meat or fish—cook until tender. Steaming fruits and vegetables with a small amount of water is a good way to retain vitamins and minerals. When cooking meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure internal temperatures reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for white meat poultry, at least 145 degrees for fish, and 160 degrees for red meat and pork.
4. Just Freeze It
"You can pretty much freeze about anything," says Jill Castle, Parents advisor and a registered dietitian in New Canaan, Connecticut, and the author of "The Smart Mom's Guide to Starting Solids." A simple way to freeze baby food is spooning it into clean ice cube trays. After it has frozen, store the cubes in clean, airtight freezer-safe containers. You can also plop single serving portions of food on a clean cookie sheet and freeze those. After they are frozen, transfer them to clean, freezer-safe containers.
5. Use By Date
Clearly label and date the tiny meals in the freezer. For the best quality, Castle recommends they be consumed within three months. Unfrozen baby food should linger in the refrigerator no longer than two days, and once defrosted, the pureed food should never be refrozen.
6. Toss Out
Any food that was served to the baby but not eaten must be tossed after the meal. If a spoon goes into the baby's mouth and then touches the food, that food may be contaminated with bacteria from inside the mouth—in other words, it's not salvageable.
7. Don't Go Overboard
"Parents get caught up in thinking they need large stashes of pureed baby food," says Castle. "Keep in mind, it's not a forever thing." She says that children should not still be eating pureed food when they should have graduated up to table food. So having a few months of pureed food at the ready makes sense, but not, say, a year's worth.