In the last few weeks, I’ve had lots of questions about Maren’s food– specifically, because we make our own. I decided to write a post for you today explaining how we make the food, why we chose to do it this way, and why we feel its better.
First– let me explain why we started feeding her solids so early.
First, two events happened kind of at the same time that indicated to us that she might be ready. When Maren was just over 3 months old, we were feeding her 5 and 6 oz bottles every three to four hours. And we started noticing that after some feedings, particularly in the midday and right before bed, she kept sucking at the empty bottle, indicating that she was still hungry.
Then we went to the doctor because Maren was throwing up after some of her feedings– let me stress again, NOT spitting up, THROWING up– and the doctor finally came to the conclusion that it was probably some mild reflux and that we should add rice cereal to Maren’s bottle to help the food stick in her belly.
The doctor recommended that we add a TABLESPOON per OUNCE of milk. That’s a LOT of rice. We never added that much– it just looked like sludge in her bottles– so we started out with half that amount. Because the rice made the formula so much thicker, we assumed that the overall amount of food that she was eating would go down.
But… it didn’t.
So one day we thought… well… lets try some avocado and see how she does. We thought it would be hilarious. We got out the camera, several bibs, and thawed out a cube of avocado. Maren had never seen a spoon before, never tasted anything but formula and breastmilk– we figured that she would spit all the food out and we would pack it up for another few weeks.
Au contraire. She loved it. After the first two bites, she didn’t spit ANY out– she spread it out in her mouth and swallowed, and then opened her mouth for more, like a little baby bird.
And there ya go. She was just under 4 months old, but that was that. Time for food, lady.
Before I explain anything else, I should mention that we are following the introduction schedule and diet that is proscribed in Super Baby Food, written by Ruth Yaron. This book is the BIBLE of baby food. Even you do not plan to make all your own food, or plan not to make ANY of it, I still recommend reading this. She has charts and charts of nutritional information, several hundred recipes, and tips on how to raise your baby to have a healthy attitude about food. We live in a country where 50% of our children are obese– so I think that this is definitely worth it.
Another book that we have read and use is called Homemade Baby Food Pure and Simple by Connie Linardakis. This book is not as intense as Super Baby Food, and the recipes are a little more ‘fun’– for example, as the baby gets older, it has instructions for how to start adding spices to your baby food.
Our pediatrician is aware of the diet we’ve chosen for Maren and approves. When in doubt, ALWAYS ask your pediatrician. I will admit that we took a major gamble feeding Maren before she was 4 months old– her digestive system might not have been ready, she may have been unable to swallow thicker food, etc. Part of the reason we felt comfortable is that I’ve been working with small children for nine years, and I felt confident that if something went wrong I could fix it.
So… now… on to the baby food.
We chose to make Maren’s baby food for a few reasons.
1) Mitch and I are both overweight.
That seems like such a weird answer– after all, aren’t all baby foods created equal? Eh… Maybe. I don’t think so. We have a goal for Maren that she be very healthy and at a normal weight for her age– we don’t want her to have the problems (physical or emotional) that we have had due to our weight. For that reason, when we were pregnant, we started investigating baby food and what was best, and time and again we read that it was better to feed your baby whole, organic foods that were not processed and did not contain preservatives.
Also, the particular diet we chose does not require your baby to eat meat. We aren’t opposed to eating meat– at all– but it is extremely calorie dense and the protein is not necessarily as healthy/efficient as what you would get from a vegetable source. The Super Baby Food diet includes egg yolks and tofu as a way for the baby to get all the protein she needs if you choose not to introduce meat EVER or at least for awhile. To be honest, I’m still decided when we will introduce meat to Maren. It will probably be a long time.
Thirdly– we wanted to have total control over what she eats. Now, I don’t want to make her a freak about her food because we’re so scared of her being overweight. Yes, she will be allowed to have cupcakes and ice cream and cookies (probably not soda. I hope, anyway). But while she is this little, and when we are able, I’d like it if we knew exactly what was going into her little body.
2) It’s cheaper
Let’s talk about bananas.
Bananas go on sale at my store pretty often– probably because they ripen and go bad so quickly. One time Mitch came home with a bunch that cost him 29 cents. Three of the bananas out of that bunch made Maren 18 tablespoons of food; at this age, that means 18 meals. For probably five cents.
Now lets compare that to commercial baby food– over a dollar for 2 servings. Even if you stretch those 2 servings to four, making your own would have still saved you a bundle of money.
Sure, you say, but bananas are super cheap. To address that, in this post I’ve included what we paid for the organic vegetables we used to make her food yesterday.
3) More variety
Maren’s first food was avocado. At our grocery store, organic avocados went on sale for 10 for $10. I bought ten, and made seven of them into baby food. That was about two weeks ago and we still have probably a month’s worth of avocado in our freezer.
Avocado is said to be one of the most nutritious foods on earth. There’s a debate about whether or not humans could exist SOLELY on avocados– and it’s easily digestible and has the fatty acids that are perfect for a baby’s growing brain. So… have you ever seen commercial avocado baby food? Let me know if you do, because I’ve never seen it.
Here is something else I would like to bring up: Greens, and picky eaters.
I’ve been working in childcare for a total of seven years. I have been working exclusively with 18 month to 3 year olds for the last three years– never was there a more picky age. At lunch time, if they see lettuce on their plate, I promise that they won’t touch it. Well, I guess, if we DOUSE it in ranch dressing (sooo gross), they might take a few bites. But constantly, I’m throwing their salad away.
(As a side note, part of that is environmental. If they grow up watching their parents eating salad, they’ll eat salad too. But if they grow up watching their parents eat McDonalds, that’s what they’ll want. My mom told me that one of the most gut-checking moments of her parenthood is when my brother, who was under five, went and spelled ‘McDonos’ with the magnetic letters on the fridge to add to the shopping list. Kids learn what they live)
A rule of thumb with little kids is they have to be offered something around a dozen times before they will start to develop a taste for it. At nine months, babies are developmentally ready to eat greens– which you can prepare just like any other baby food. It stands to reason that if they’ve been eating greens since infancy, when they are older they will recognize the smell, the color, and the taste, and they’ll eat it. Kale is one of the healthiest green vegetables for any human being– and yet, have you ever seen kale offered as a commercial baby food? Me either. Occasionally you’ll run into spinach, but it’s usually a spinach medley, mixed with other vegetables to make it more palatable. That just makes me roll my eyes. The reason that we find things TASTY or NOT TASTY is because of how we’ve conditioned our taste buds. If you start out giving your baby spinach mixed with a million other things, they will NEVER– not even as an adult– like the taste of plain spinach. And we wonder why we have such an obesity problem in this country.
4) It makes you, the food preparer, feel like a total rock star
I wasn’t able to breast feed, which I feel very guilty about. When I started making Maren’s food, and she started enjoying the food that I made, that guilt began to slip away. I feel very confident that I am making the best food choice for Maren– even if it is a LITTLE more work (not much, I promise)– and that just makes me feel like I get my gold star for the day.
So here we go– onto the good stuff.
Yesterday Mitch and I made beets and asparagus. The whole process took about two hours, but only because the beets take 90 minutes to cook and we made such a huge batch. Usually when I make baby food it takes a half hour, tops, and I only do it every two weeks or so. Mitch helped me with the beets and asparagus this week, but usually I do this all on my own– so, no culinary degree required.
So. First we washed the asparagus, cut it up, and then set it aside to soak for about 30 minutes, just to make sure all the grit got out of the tips.
While they soaked, we prepared the beets by cutting off the greens and then scrubbing the beets in cold water. I’m a bit of a beet fanatic– I just love them– and I really thought they were beautiful while I was working on them. Gross you are thinking, Beets taste like dirt! And to that, I just smile and say, You’re right. Beets taste like dirt. Yummy, yummy dirt.
Then we wrapped the beets in foil and put them in the oven at 400 for about 90 minutes. Beets take a long time to cook this way. You can do them in the microwave in about 20 minutes, but our microwave– which we love dearly– is really old. Seriously. It belonged to Mitch’s grandmother before he inherited in college, and then it survived living with five college guys for four years, and now it is ours. It’s basically the only way I know how to cook, so we need to make it last.
After the asparagus soaked, we steamed it.
Now, I own one of these lovely contraptions:
This is a babycook by Beaba. It steams food, which it is doing right now, and then it will also puree it. They run for about $175, and it’s worth every penny. Trust me on this– if you are planning on making your own baby food, register for one of these, and if you don’t get it, use all the gift cards you will inevitably receive to buy one. I just love it.
But since we know that not everyone has one of these, we prepared this ‘old-school’ so you could see how easy it is.
We steamed the asparagus, double boiler style. Pots like this run for about $15 dollars at every store in the world. And again, you can do this in the microwave if you want. To do it this way, you put water in the bottom (so that just a little bit is in the inside pot) and bring it to a boil. Then you put the asparagus in and cover, and it steams it. Yup. That’s it.
It took about… oh…. ten minutes? Maybe fifteen? When the asparagus is done, it is a beautiful bright green and you can pierce it easily with a fork:
Then we put it all into our blender, with a little bit of the boiled off water, and hit puree (if you have the baby food maker, you can do all this with one machine).
A little note on pureeing. For these particular vegetables, we added some water to make it a more smooth puree, but we didn’t really need to. For fruits or vegetables that don’t have to be cooked, you may need to add something to make it smoother. When we make avocado, for example, we add a little formula so that it comes out nice and creamy.
If you look in the background, you will see our His and Hers Diet Mountain Dews.
When the asparagus is done, you spoon it into ice cube trays. Our trays are about one tablespoon per cube, which is perfect, since that’s all that Maren will eat in one sitting.
All of that asparagus cost us $8 at the farmer’s market, and was grown organically. As you can see, it produced 32 servings of food. I’ve never seen organic asparagus offered as a commercial baby food, but typically, organic baby food runs at about 1.29 for two tablespoons. So to buy this commercially, it would have cost us just over $20. I’ll spell it out for you, because I’m so braggy– we saved $12 doing it ourselves. TWELVE DOLLARS. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH DIET MOUNTAIN DEW YOU CAN BUY WITH THAT???
When the beets were done baking, Mitch tossed them in cold water to make their peels easier to come off. Then he peeled them (with a standard vegetable peeler) and cut them into little chunks.
And we put it in the blender, and Mitch let me hit puree. He’s such a gentleman. We put a little bit of water in with the beets to make them nice and smooth, but we didn’t really need to.
Then we spooned them into an ice cube tray and voila….
We bought this bunch of beets at the Farmer’s Market for $4. We saved two of them to eat ourselves, and the other three made 14 servings, plus some leftover that I had to refrigerate because we were out of ice cube trays. So, for the three beets that we used (and not including the extra puree), we probably saved about $7, because it would have cost just over $9 to buy this commercially.
We wrapped the trays in foil and froze them overnight. This morning, I popped them out.
Aren’t they beautiful? I think they look like jewels.
Then we put them in freezer bags and label them, with the date that Maren will be ready to eat them.
Let me explain that, too– it’s important to remember that baby’s are brand new. Their digestive system is developing during their first year of life; that’s why you can’t just start off by pureeing whatever looks good and feeding it to them.
Like I said before, we are following the Super Baby Food introduction schedule, which is intense. For example, she does not recommend giving your baby certain foods that were grown underground until they are at least 7 months old because of nitrates in the soil. This includes beets. But beets are in season right now– which means they are cheaper, more nutritious, and also, ethically, if we buy them locally we are literally putting money in our neighbors pockets. So, even though Maren won’t eat them until around October, we made a bunch and froze them, and marked the date on the bag for when she can begin eating them.
But wait– you may be saying– will the food stay good in your freezer for that many months? The answer is: Mostly. Frozen vegetables will stay good– as in, not spoiled– for up to a year. There is some slow nutrient loss in the freezer over a period of several months. But I’d like to direct your attention to your commercial baby food. Right now I have some organic commercial sweet potatoes that we bought to put in Maren’s diaper bag for emergencies (read: when Mom forgets to pack food). I bought it last week, and the expiration date on it is March 29, 2011. And who knows when it was actually made. So, in my opinion, if it can be packaged and sit on a shelf and in a diaper bag for OVER A YEAR and still claim to be okay to feed to my baby, then my frozen baby food can last for a few months.
And wait– you might protest– what if she just doesn’t end up liking asparagus or beets? You made a huge-ass batch!
This is true. We had this problem with her sweet potatoes– at first, she just hated them. She’d spit them out immediately. We have continued to offer them to her, and now she will make it through about 3/4 of a serving before she just can’t take it anymore. But the thing about babies is that they haven’t really developed taste buds yet– all they’ve eaten is milk and milk and more milk. So when they don’t like something, it’s probably more to do with the texture than with the taste, and we feel like that is something that she’ll get used to the more she eats something.
As I mentioned above, we add formula to her avocado to make it creamier, but in most cases, we just add water or nothing at all. This means, in essence, that it’s just food– which means that WE could eat it if we wanted too (ever dug into some commercial baby food? No thanks). Mitch actually got a little excited at the idea of Maren not really loving asparagus, because WE love asparagus soup, and here we are sitting with all these little portions of asparagus puree. And if she doesn’t like beets, then Mama is going to enjoy some borscht.
And really. You’d have this problem whether or not you made your own or bought commercial. At least this way, if she really WON’T eat something, we wasted less money in the long run.
We’ve followed this process for all of her food. In my freezer I have peaches, pears, squash, beets, asparagus, banana, sweet potato, and more avocado then I’ve ever seen before. Right now, Maren eats two servings of food a day (2 tablespoons). We alternate between banana, sweet potato, and avocado, we just started mixing rice into her breakfast serving, to help with the reflux. Now that she’s eating solids, we’ve stopped putting rice in her bottles, because we just felt like that was a LOT of calorie consumption. Except for a week when she had an ear infection, she hasn’t had any problems projectile vomiting since we started solids.
Let me wrap up this post by saying this. I am FAR from a domestic diva. In a normal day, I exist off of spoonfuls of peanut butter and lean cuisine meals, maybe a sandwich, until Mitch can come home and cook me an actual meal. I have been known to ruin pots by boiling water in them for too long. My husband has had to choke down lots of undercooked pasta and overcooked meat because I don’t know what I’m doing.
AND I am not a stay at home mom. Quite the contrary. I work a full time job, PLUS I’m a college student. Mitch works MORE than full time, and is also a college student. So please believe me when I say– if we can find the time to do this, anyone can. And if I can figure out how to do it, so can you. Promise.
So that’s our baby-food-makin process! I’d love to hear some thoughts on baby food or baby feeding…. 🙂