It’s an exciting time when a baby is ready to try solid foods: Parents and caretakers are slowly freed from the rule of the breast or the bottle, and it’s fun to watch little ones explore the vast and wonderful world of food. The first few months will be all about the experience—most of baby’s nutrition will still come from breast milk or formula, with a tablespoon or two of solids on the side.
But before long, solid foods start to make up more and more of a growing tot’s diet. As baby’s appetite grows, reaching for commercial jarred baby food is appealing for its convenience. But making your own baby food is a budget-friendly and healthful alternative. It might involve a bit more effort than twisting off a cap, but with a little prep and planning, DIY baby food is actually a rather simple task.
To make your own baby food, you’ll need a few items. There are commercial baby food-making systems on the market (the Baby Bullet is a good one), but these simple kitchen tools, many of which you may already own, are really all you need to get going: a small or medium saucepan with a lid, a small steamer basket, a strainer, a blender, small jars or plastic containers, and an ice cube tray.
Blend it Up
Until a baby gets at least a few teeth in, puréed, mashed and blended foods are the safest way to introduce solids. Mild vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are a great first food for baby. Whenever possible, we suggest using organic produce, which is increasingly available, not only at specialty stores but in big chain grocery stores. It may cost a bit more than conventional produce, but you’re still saving in the end compared with purchasing jarred baby food.
For any hard, raw food, follow these steps:
- Wash and, if relevant, peel the produce. Roughly chop it into small pieces.
- Bring a few inches of water to boil in a saucepan and carefully drop in the steamer basket. While you can boil the produce, steaming locks in the majority of the food’s nutrients and helps to retain flavor.
- Place the chopped produce in the steamer basket and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
- Steam until the fruit or vegetable becomes very soft.
- Cool, then purée in a blender with a bit of filtered or spring water, breast milk or formula, until it reaches a smooth consistency.
- Salt and seasonings aren’t necessary at first. Baby’s palate is extremely sensitive, and the novelty of the food’s inherent flavor is exciting enough! As he or she develops, a tiny pinch of fresh mild herbs into the blender, such as mint or basil, can help keep things interesting.
- Make a larger batch, say three sweet potatoes instead of one, and keep enough purée in the fridge for a few days’ worth of meals. Portion the rest into a clean ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, pop the food cubes out and put them into a labeled and dated food storage bag. When you’re ready for a refill of that specific food, transfer a few cubes into a jar in the fridge and let thaw overnight.
- Get creative! Soon enough, your toddler will be refusing vegetables, so while he or she is still curious and willing to try them, think outside the box. Serve eggplant, parsnips, broccoli, spinach, zucchini and other veggies to diversify the nutritional and flavor profiles of your baby’s meals. You can play with flavor combinations, as well.
- DIY baby cereal is easy with a blender! Using the blender’s strongest setting, pulverize uncooked organic brown rice, steel cut or rolled oats, quinoa or any grain of your choosing into a fine powder. Then put the powder in a saucepan, add filtered or spring water to cover, bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the grain is soft. Brown rice will take the longest, but most other grains will transform into a smooth, creamy cereal in just a few minutes. Use breast milk or formula to thin the cereal, if necessary.
Mash It Up
Some foods are soft enough that they can be manually mashed, with no need for a blender. Ripe avocado, banana, papaya, kiwi, stone fruit, and cucumber are all great contenders for a practically instant meal or snack for a baby. Put the roughly chopped fruit or veggie in a bowl or on a cutting board, and mash with a fork until smooth. That’s it!
- Because they’re uncooked, mashed foods don’t last as long or freeze as well as the steam-and-blend method. It’s best to only prepare as much as your baby will eat at one or two sittings.
- These are the perfect on-the-go snacks. Just bring a small plastic dish and fork along with you for a mashed treat anytime! Don’t forget to take along an extra piece of fruit for yourself.
- Let your baby try to feed himself or herself with mashed foods. Blended foods are too messy without a spoon, but mashed foods are easier for an infant’s small hands to grasp. Self-feeding promotes fine motor skills, and introduces the tactile sensations of food to your baby’s growing understanding of the world.
- In the summertime, put cut banana or fruit into the freezer for an hour or two, until it’s very cold but not frozen all the way through. Mash up the frigid fruit for a refreshing treat for your baby!
Good luck with your DIY baby food adventures! We hope you find this a rewarding project, one that helps you introduce your child to the simple deliciousness of freshly prepared, natural, whole foods from their very first bite.