Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tools for Food

On June 26, I gave Lillie and Dani cereal for the first time. That did not go well. I tried again on July 8 with far more success. About a week later, per our pediatrician's recommendation, I started adding fruits and veggies to their cereal. We started with apples, then pears and carrots--all store-bought baby food. Then, I made sweet potatoes, butternut squash, peas, peaches and green beans for them.

This is what I learned from making my own baby food: you must, must, must have the right tools. Otherwise it seems so simple until you're pulling pea skins out of your daughters' food bowls.

It doesn't take much. You need fresh or frozen food, a solid food processor, storage containers, a potato masher or fork, and a food mill or mesh strainer. Let me stress that last one. You need a food mill or mesh strainer. If you don't want your hand to fall off from pushing food through small holds, get a food mill.

Though I've only been making food for the girls for about two weeks, I've already decided what tools I need to make this all go much smoother.

Some Good Reading
My sister-in-law Pam pointed me to a wonderful website called Wholesome Baby Food. It has some great recipes, tips and menu plans. I'm of lover of most things Internet, so I always have to recommend a website.

I also must recommend two wonderful books. First, Great Expectations: Best Food for Your Baby & Toddler. It has wonderful tips on when and how to start your baby on solids. It gives nutritional information, recipes, menu plans and storage information. It also will take your child through her first five years. I've read half of it and love it already! Second, Blender Baby Foods which has tons of recipes for children ages 4 months to whenever. It's broken up by age, and it gave me some great ideas on how to combine fruits and vegetables once the girls start on their second stage of solids.

Mash and Puree
Next up, a good food processor. I'm still working on finding this, but if my food mill works well, then I'll survive with the mediocre food processor I have now. There are some great processors made just for baby food, but I'm not sure they're really worth the extra cost. While browsing at Target, I did find two that meet the standards I'm looking for.

The Kitchen Aid 7-Cup Processor is small, powerful, and under $100. It doesn't have a gazillion settings like my current food processor. (Do I really need 1-12 speeds for baby puree?) It's got a good sharp blade and a wide opening to add food or liquid. I don't know how loud it is, but it's got to be quieter than my current processor which is much like listening to a jet engine in my kitchen.

For foods with skins and stringy pieces (e.g. sweet potatoes, peas, green beans), you will also need a fine mesh strainer or a food mill. As I said before, I recommend a food mill. I bought a fine mesh strainer for the low, low price of $5, and I would've paid someone twice that to push a cup of green beans through it just to get rid of the skin. Ugh. My food mill is arriving today, and I'm already excited about using it! I went with the RSVP International Veg-3 Rotary Mill. It comes with three steel discs (a lot of baby food mills are plastic) and a long handle. 

For soft foods like potatoes, avocados, bananas and most melons, you'll simply need a potato masher or a fork--depending on your batch size. 

Store Away
As soon as the girls have tried a food and prove to have no allergies, I will be making things in bulk. And when making in bulk, you must have a good storage system. Ice cube trays are a great way to go. (Look for ones that have a lid to keep out freezer smells.) They're about one ounce in size, inexpensive, and freeze baby food in nice convenient cubes. Once the food is frozen, you can transfer it to freezer storage bags. Now, you can go straight from freezer to warmer or microwave and the meal is ready to go. I decided to go a step beyond ice cube trays. Mostly because I hate plastic freezer bags in my freezer. I went with the 2 oz Baby Cubes from Juvenile Solutions. For smaller batches that I plan to serve right away, I just use the smallest storage containers I have. My mom was nice enough to buy me a great set from Rubbermaid with snap locking lids.

The Food
You can't make baby food without the food. Great first foods include peas, carrots*, green beans, peaches, pears, apples, sweet potatoes, bananas and squash. By all means, if you want to buy everything fresh, go right ahead, but I've got two babies to worry about and prepping, cooking, mashing, pureeing and storing all fresh is not exactly my cup of tea, so I choose which to buy fresh and which to buy frozen.

Green beans, squash (especially butternut), peas, and peaches are perfect frozen. There's not cutting, snapping or peeling necessary. Plus, peas are at they're freshest when they're frozen, and butternut squash comes already pureed if you buy the frozen box instead of the bag!  Just make sure to read the ingredients. Baby food has the fruit or veggie, water, and sometimes absorbic acid. Your frozen foods should read the same. So far, I've only run into a problem with peas--most of the frozen ones had added salt.  Avoid canned because of the extra preservatives. I would only but canned pumpkin since I'm in no mood to seed and roast a pumpkin!

So far, I'm really enjoying giving the girls new foods everyday. They haven't had much that hasn't been mixed into their rice cereal yet because I'm mostly looking for allergic reactions right now, but soon I'll be giving them tiny meals in the morning and evening. 

The only difficult part thus far is keeping one occupied while I give the other a few spoonfuls. My girls are definite chow hounds, and they can't stand waiting while the other one gets to munch on the yummy stuff!

*You should use store-bought carrots. The American Pediatrics Association advises against homemade carrots, beets, turnips, spinach and collards due to high levels of nitrates.

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