I decided long before Abe was born that he would be getting homemade baby food once he started on solids. When I planted my garden I made sure to include carrots, corn, green beans, and other vegetables I thought a baby might enjoy. It turned out to be much easier than I expected and the finished purees taste like fresh fruits and vegetables! Definitely better than the overcooked, over-processed mush I remember...and did I mention, cheaper?
So here are my basic tips and instructions for making baby food from scratch:
1. Clean, peel, and chop your fruits or vegetables. It's fine to leave the skins on for added vitamins and fiber, but I peeled anything in the Dirty Dozen unless it was organic or came from my own garden.
2. There are a few different cooking methods to choose from. For the most part I simmered fruits, steamed vegetables, and roasted sweet potatoes and squash.
To simmer: Place chopped fruit into a small pot or saucepan and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. (You can simmer juicy fruits like pears and plums without water.) Cover and cook over low heat until soft (less than 5 minutes for most fruits). Reserve juice to thin puree if needed.
To steam: Place vegetables in a steamer set over boiling water. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Reserve cooking water to thin puree if needed.
To roast: Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread the chopped vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Roast until the vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
3. Transfer the cooked fruits or vegetables to a small pot and, using a stick blender, puree until smooth. (You can also use a regular blender or food processor for this step.)
4. If needed, push the puree through a sieve with a rubber spatula, then add reserved juice or water to thin the puree to the desired consistency.
5. Spoon puree into ice cube trays (I used these ones from Oxo) and freeze immediately.
6. Once frozen, transfer cubes to freezer-safe storage bags, label, and return to the freezer.
7. Thaw individual portions in the refrigerator overnight, or heat in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. Let cool completely before serving.
A few additional tips:
Avocados & Bananas - it's probably easier to just mash up a fresh avocado or banana but, if you have some that are overripe or leftover, they do freeze well. Thaw in the refrigerator and stir before serving. They will be a bit discolored but are still fine to eat.
Berries - Skip the prep work by using frozen berries!
Meats - Cook meat however you would normally make it, then grind with blender or food processor adding water to make a thick paste. My son wasn't crazy about meat on it's own, but when I mixed it with vegetables he loved it.
Prunes - I used Sunsweet's new D'Noir Prunes which are preservative free. Absolutely amazing. (Yes, even I ate this puree!) Completely cover with water before simmering. The cooked prunes are super thick when blended, so you'll probably end up adding most of the water back into this puree.
I had fun picking out different fruits and vegetables for Abe to try, and he really seemed to like them all. Once he had tried them each on their own I started mixing them with other purees and new ingredients. A few that went over really well: sweet potato + plums, apples + squash, corn + potatoes + turkey, carrots + peas + corn, apples + cinnamon, broccoli + cheese, avocado + yogurt, and potatoes + cheese + beef. I also mixed rice or multi grain cereal with the vegetable purees, and usually served him oatmeal mixed with fruit or berries for breakfast.
Most babies get to a point where they don't want to be spoon fed anymore, and it's pretty hard to eat purees with your fingers. Try mixing leftover pureed vegetables with pasta, putting a spoonful on soft crackers, or serving as a dip with finger foods. Fruits and berries are a great addition to oatmeal, yogurt, or mixed with sparking water for a healthy soda!