Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby Food-Making Equipment

Now that you're convinced about making your own baby food, where do you start?

It's actually really easy and not unlike a usual cooking routine. First of all, you will need some equipment, most of which you probably already have. Here is a list, in no particular order:

1. Peeler/Corer
  • It is usually a good idea to peel your fruits and vegetables for babies who are just beginning to eat solids. This will ensure that the consistency is smooth enough for your young baby to eat. Once your baby starts eating thicker purees, you can try adding the peels. It is true that the peels of fruits and vegetables contain fiber and nutrients. A corer is also great to have for coring various fruits.

2. Knives

  • You will be chopping most of your fruits and vegetables to make it easier to puree them.
3. Steamer
  • One of the best ways to prepare food is by steaming. A stand-alone steamer (I use a rice cooker/steamer combo) or a steamer pot used on the stove are great tools. However, there are other ways of cooking that can be used if you don't have a steamer. A steamer/rice cooker combo is also really handy to use when cooking rice to make rice cereal because most are automatic and will shut off on their own so you can do other things during the cooking process and don't have to rush back to the pot. Or try this all-in-one baby food maker: Beaba Babycook!
4. Baggies/Reusable Containers
  • Baggies are great to use in the freezer. We use gallon-size and quart-sized bags. Make sure to buy baggies specifically made for the freezer to prevent freezer burn (although, my food is never in the freezer long enough to get this!). You can also use small, glass jars to store food in (think commercial baby food-sized jars), or you can use plastic containers to store the "food cubes." Whichever you choose, make sure to label your containers/baggies with the date the food was made and the contents.
5. Ice Cube/Baby Food Trays
  • You can purchase specially-made ice cube trays that come with lids. These are nice because the lid (usually) prevents ice crystals from forming on the top of the food and also keeps your food from tasting like whatever else is in your freezer (meat is notorious for this!). Fresh Baby makes a great tray that are approximately one-ounce cubes; these can be ordered from the internet and sometimes found in special baby stores. Another option for a larger serving size is KidCo's Babysteps Freezer Storage Tray, in two-ounce size cubes, available at Toys "R" Us/Babies "R" Us (thanks to my sister-in-law for finding it for me!). Both of these particular tray brands are BPA/Phthalate Free and made from FDA-approved food-safe plastic (see here, last paragraph, about this concern). I have not seen these items at the large discount stores.
  • If you do choose to use regular ice-cube trays, make sure NOT to use tin foil to cover them to ensure that no bits of foil get into the food (since it tears so easily). Use plastic wrap, instead (Press and Seal works great!).

6. Food Processor/Blender/Food Mill

  • For small jobs, you could just use a fork to mash up the food, and add a little water or breast milk/formula to achieve the desired consistency, if needed. But for larger jobs, such as a pound of carrots, a food processor or blender saves a lot of time. These work great for pureeing. Another option is to get a food mill. These come in both hand-cranked (as the link shows) and electronic models. I do not own one but have heard very good things about them, especially for traveling and single-serve uses (the model above has a 4-ounce serving cup). A food mill would be handy to crank out baby food alongside your meal so baby can eat with you.
  • All-in-one baby food makers exist, such as the aforementioned Beaba Babycook, which looks really neat and can also be used to warm food (although, if you are making a lot of food, this might take more time since it may be smaller than your steamer and food processor!).

7. Freezer

  • A stand-alone deep freeze works best, but you can also use a refrigerator-freezer combo. Food kept in a deep freeze will afford you more room in your normal freezer, and at times food will keep longer in a deep freeze. You will have more storage room in a stand-alone freezer also, and can make larger batches of food. But any freezer will do!

That's about it! Of course, you may need things like bowls, flatware, spatulas, oven-safe bake ware for roasting, and pots and pans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Better Baby Food

Why make your own baby food? Here are a few reasons:

1. It's the best nutrition for the best start.

  • Why start babies out eating canned food that has been sitting on a shelf? As adults, we strive to eat well and we attempt to get our children to eat well also. It just makes sense to feed the smallest members of our family healthy food, too. It helps build healthier eating habits early in life, which can then be carried into childhood and adulthood.

2. It's more appealing.

  • Have you ever smelled the baby food in the jars? Even just looking at it makes me cringe. Who knows how long that stuff has been on the shelves? Even babies eat first with their eyes! Your own baby food will smell exactly how it should and it will taste much better! Have you ever compared the food in the jars? Some of the SAME food (in different jars, but the same brand) is even different colors! It just makes sense that if you want your baby to like fruits and vegetables, you should give them what tastes better.

3. It's a fun activity to do with your baby!

  • Sling your baby up and let them help. They love the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables, and it teaches them about food. Many experts agree that a great way to get kids to eat food is to let them help with the growing and/or cooking process. Why not try this early on? Of course, take safety precautions when using equipment and knives. But babies can still help "pick" things out at the store or pick homegrown food, unpack the food when you get home, watch you mash the food (for example, if you use a fork), and "help" you spoon it into freezer trays. Babies learn a lot when able to interact with their environment!

4. You know exactly what is in your food and how it's prepared.

  • Your baby food is 100% fruits, vegetables, meats, or grains, with the addition sometimes of a small amount of water or milk. You don't have to worry about fillers that may be added in other baby food, and you can feel better about the safety of your food (follow all safety precautions, of course!).
  • Some baby foods contain extra ingredients - oftentimes, called "fillers." A very popular baby food website says right on the website that their purees do not contain added starches, sugars, or salt - however, while looking at one of their meat selections, "corn starch" is right on the ingredient list! Even if it is used as a thickening agent, it is still added.
  • How fruits and vegetables are prepared can affect the amount of nutrients found in them. Steaming, for example, is a much better way of preparing food. Generally, the less time spent cooking the item, the higher the nutrient content. The same goes for the amount of water added - the less cooking water used, the less chance nutrients will leach out in the cooking water. The more processing that is done, the more nutrients that are lost. I'm not sure I've ever seen on any baby food websites exactly HOW the food was prepared - but, I think it is safe to assume that your baby food would contain a higher amount of nutrients.

5. It costs less!

  • Making your own baby food is much cheaper per ounce. When I can, I will get into the cost factor. However, it is hard to compare the direct cost, because sometimes commercial baby foods have added starches, water, or other ingredients. Since homemade food is mostly 100% fruits, vegetables, or whatever you use, it's not a direct comparison since added ingredients are oftentimes cheaper and enable compaies to stretch their dollars. But even with the addition of ingredients to make their product cost less, it is still cheaper to make your own.
  • Here is an example: One package of sweet potatoes I looked at cost $0.99 for 5 ounces; about $0.20 per ounce. The sweet potatoes that I used ($0.99 per pound) cost about $0.06 per ounce. Of course, this will change depending on where food is bought, whether or not you use organic produce, if items are on sale, etc. Please keep in mind that this is not a direct comparison because water is added to many sweet potatoes bought at a store and I am using the cost of the sweet potato I used only. This is just an approximation.

I'm sure there are many more reasons why - this is by no means a complete list!

Next post: Equipment!