You’ll see a lot of my recipes pop up on this blog, because in a past life I was a food writer. And I love all things food. To me, every great dish has a story and helps to bring people together. Meal time is sacred to me.
One of the best things about living in the Lehigh Valley, in the middle of Pennsylvania farmland, is the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies that show up in farmers’ markets.
When I had my first baby, I felt like kind of a hypocrite sourcing fresh, local fare for myself and my husband and then feeding the baby whatever they squished into a jar on the shelf. For one thing, I can’t stomach the thought of ground, canned meat – and refuse to feed it to my kids. And for another, the color difference between canned baby food peas (sad, sallow looking baby poo green) and the vibrant pop of color when you grind fresh peas yourself? Well, it just may make you think twice about serving the packaged stuff.
Is it a chance to live out the fantasy of making my own baby food and starting my own company on an apple orchard in New England, ala Diane Keaton in 1987’s “Baby Boom”? It is not, as I have told my husband repeatedly. Ok, well maybe a little. But hey, Mom shouldn’t have let me watch the damn movie so many times.
I started making my own baby food a few years ago. It was trial and error, because believe it or not, there are very few baby food cookbooks out there (at least any worth buying). And “Baby Boom” did not come with a guide.
By the time Baby No. 2 rolled around, I got my system down and can say that about 90 percent of the solids my baby is eating these days are blends and purees I’ve made myself.
Here’s a recent recipe that survived the no splatter test. (The baby’s newest trick is to wait until a spoonful of something she doesn’t like comes within a half inch of her lips and then blow a raspberry into it to splatter me. I think it’s her way of saying, “I see you Mom. Who do you think you are slipping lima beans into my carrots? I’m watching you woman.”)
So we’ve got an understanding. Splatter = disgusting slop. No splatter = very yummy.
Try making your own baby food. It’s not hard – it just takes a little planning. And you’ll rest easy knowing you can pick local, organic ingredients and whip up a tasty little meal without any added colors, preservatives or flavors.
I just made this recipe the other day and it’s become a favorite because it’s easy to make in any season. Grab local apples and carrots when you can, and stock up on soft mangoes at the grocery store.
“Mega MAC: Mango, Apple and Carrot”
1 ripe mango, peeled
Handful of baby carrots, diced into small pieces
3 small McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and diced
Add ¼ cup of water to a small saucepan and throw in your carrots and apples. Add a lid and cook over low to medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add more water as necessary. When the carrots and apples are tender, throw them in a blender. Pro tip: Don’t throw out that cooking liquid just yet. You may need it to thin down the mixture once it’s in the blender. Use your judgment, adding small amounts of liquid at a time, until you reach an applesauce consistency.
Peel your mango and cut slices around the pit. Add to the blender.
Puree until you have a nice smooth, well … puree. Serve lukewarm or cool.
Hold the phone, Joan: You’re not going to want to go hog wild and buy cases and cases of veggies and fruits to puree until you know whether your kid will actually eat them. Buy a few jars (get the glass ones!) at the grocery store to feed to your baby to figure out the blends she likes. Then start blending your own. Make a small batch first. Go for the industrial vat after you’ve fed her a spoonful and she’s flapping for more. Or, wait for splatter, and plan on having a mango, apple, carrot smoothie the following day.
Once I know my girl is into a particular blend, I’ll make a large batch and pour some into glass containers. Some get labeled and go in the freezer, and the rest will stay in the fridge for the week.
Pro tip: If you’re just starting out, you can use ice cube trays to freeze the food and then dump it into freezer safe bags. Personally, I found it was too much work to make the individual portions, freeze, dump, and then have to break apart a massive clump of frozen food when I needed it. I registered for glass jars the first time around, but now I just buy the Beechnut glass jars for the blends I want to test, because they’re perfect to wash and reuse. I’ve never frozen them, but they’re my go-to’s for the fresh stash I keep in the fridge for that week.
Simplify: Don’t waste money on food labeling stickers. I’m all about saving a buck. Good ole’ masking tape and a marker will do just fine to label and date your food. And please, oh please, date that food. You don’t want to be unearthing earth-colored goo, thinking “When did I make beans? Quinoa and artichoke?” (ooh, that last one sounds kinda tasty – I might have to try it.)
If at first you don’t succeed: Seriously, your baby may not get all starry-eyed for you on your first batch. I have worn many shades of baby food, my friend. But keep trying it. Feed baby with one of her favorite foods first, and then try your new blend. Is she scrunching her nose, when in reality she’s had all those foods before? Try it at a different temperature. If you try that and she’s still fussy, maybe she’s not digging that particular blend. But don’t throw in the towel just because she’s panned your first foray into baby food. Give another one a shot. And cheat a little. Find the pouch she likes best and try to recreate the flavors at home. Some baby food containers even offer the recipe on the back!
And be sure you’re trying new foods at the time she’s most receptive. For me, dinner is a blur of commotion and isn’t the best with a new food. Breakfast and lunch? Completely different story. And when she’s teething? Forget it. She’ll only eat her comfort foods: my chicken noodle soup (ground, of course) and pumpkin-banana.
And there are still some recipes that for whatever reason, aren’t a hit. But that happens with the store bought kind too. But I’m still trying more blends, because it’s satisfying to know the mash you’re feeding your little one is one you made yourself.
So go ahead and give it a go. Let me know in the comments how your batch came out … and if it survived the splatter test!