As soon as it came time to introduce Elsie to solids, I knew I wanted to make all of her food. It’s a personal preference, but I wanted to avoid unnecessary sugar, salt, and preservatives, plus I love to cook! I immediately started researching baby food recipes, reviewing techniques, and searching for lists of what foods to try when. We’re now two months in (we started purées at 6 months), and I’m having so much fun coming up with a variety of flavors for Elsie to try. And fortunately Elsie is taking after her mom and dad–she loves food!
One of our goals has been to expose our daughter’s tastebuds to a wide variety of fruits, veggies, grains, meats, and even spices early on because that reflects how we eat ourselves. I’ve done this pretty systematically and had many questions from friends, acquaintances, and even daycare about the purées I make or the time it takes, so I thought I’d share the scoop and what I’ve learned along the way.
A PHASED APPROACH
When I was starting out, I was chatting with a good friend whose daughter is just a few days older than Elsie. She decided to skip rice cereal and go straight into purées. Cereal is such a traditional start, but I decided to follow her lead and instead started with banana mixed with breastmilk and then avocado, since both are easy to hand mash into soupy consistency and low on the allergy risk. Elsie loved both, and they continue to be favorites! After that, I slowly worked through a number of individual flavors via well-pureed vegetables, fruits and beans–sweet potato, peas, apples, pears, squashes, carrots, black beans, prunes, lentils, green beans, parsnips. Basically, anything in the produce section at the grocery store that caught my eye went right into the blender. Some people say not to start with fruit because babies will develop a preference for sweet, but breastmilk is naturally sweet and all the veggies everyone starts with are too! After about a month or so, I moved into combining flavors, adding small amounts of spices (like cinnamon, oregano, cumin, curry), and incorporating grains and a few meats. I did initially hold off on berries because some babies don’t tolerate them well, but I recently introduced raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries with no problem.
PLAYING WITH FLAVOR
It’s been fun to seek out recipes–Michele Olivier’s Baby FoodE blog is a constant source of inspiration, and I am digging into her brand-new book, Little Foodie, now! I also like to experiment with the foods we’re eating as parents. A handful of fresh raspberries, a 1/2 banana, and some leftover brown rice? Elsie loved it. A farro, golden beet, and fennel salad I was making for lunch last weekend? Sounds advanced, but into the blender those base ingredients went. Some current flavor combinations that Elsie is eating, pictured above:
- Strawberry + Bulgur
- Avocado + Kiwi + Pear
- Blueberry + Banana + Quinoa
- Roasted Red Pepper + Chickpeas
- Pinto Beans + Oregano
- Purple Sweet Potato
- Butternut Squash + Apple + Carrot + Curry
- Farro + Golden Beet + Fennel
TECHNIQUE, TIME & TIPS
As for technique, it’s surprisingly simple. I try to buy organic whenever possible, wash everything well, peel, chop and roast the firm fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, squashes, carrots), cook the grains, and steam the meats (chicken, fish). I throw non-exact combinations into our Vitamix, which obliterates everything with ease, adding a little water as I go to get the right consistency. At first I added more water for a smoother purée, but now I use less for a thicker consistency since Elsie handles it well. I eyeball the spices, careful not to overpower her little tastebuds, but taste-testing everything to make sure some flavor pulls through. And then I pour the puréed mixtures into standard BPA-free ice cube trays, wrap with parchment paper, and freeze. Once frozen, I transfer to Ziploc bags with the ingredients and date written on the outside, so I can keep track of what I made. Each day, I just pop a couple cubes into a little bowl and microwave to room temp.
Total time when I’ve roasted multiple things and made several ice-cube trays full of purées at once? Two hours. Total time if I just throw some already cooked grains and fruit from the fridge into the blender? Five minutes. It really hasn’t been cumbersome to make baby food when I’m in the kitchen already, and I feel good knowing exactly what’s going in her little body!
A few tips: Eden Organic’s canned beans, which are no-salt added. They’ll cost you more than regular canned beans, but allow you to avoid the added salt and save you time vs. cooking dry beans. Target’s Archer Farms brand steam-in-bag quinoa (freezer section) is so convenient–I keep a couple bags in our freezer now. And frozen peas and berries, whenever I can’t find them fresh.
So what’s next? Continuing to play with flavor combinations, mixing soy yogurt into purées (Elsie has a dairy allergy), introducing ground beef and trying fish again (the only thing she hasn’t liked), and testing finger foods in very small pieces. Any other tips from my fellow mamas out there?