Set the Table with Homemade Local Baby Food
Written onNovember 16 , 2014
Many of us spend the fall preserving the local flavors of the harvest season. Squash, apples, beets, carrots, and the year’s final greens are cellared, canned, and frozen. But the anticipated addition to our family of a new little one has me preserving these foods in a new way: as homemade baby food.
It may seem like extra fuss to make your own baby food at a time when extra effort is not needed in your life. The addition of a baby is a lot of work in itself, so why make it harder? Commercial baby food offers so much convenience: What can be easier than opening a jar and starting mealtime? But commercial baby food has some downsides, too: greater expense, additives, and high-sugar and low fiber content due to the use of concentrates.
Making your own baby food also comes with some downsides: It can take more time and it can be trickier to measure out the right amount of food for one feeding. But parents who make their own baby food appreciate knowing exactly what they’re feeding their baby, they are glad to be avoiding additives, and they enjoy feeding their baby the same fresh foods that the rest of the family eats.
As I considered making my own baby food, I reached out to friends who had done it. Jason and Jenna Plouffe of Waterbury Center started their baby, Berkley, on Vermont Village applesauce, but wanted to expand to include homemade food. They talked to their pediatrician, who was all for it. Jason says he and his wife realized that “reading a label on some baby food can be scary, simply because the ingredients aren’t always food. And if you buy a carrot, steam it, and smash it up you will know your baby ate a carrot.”
Another set of parents, Johanna Straavaldsen and Per Tonn of Montpelier, whose son Elliot is fed homemade baby food, were drawn to making their own in order to get their son excited about flavors. Johanna says, “I wanted him to get to know food’s real flavors, rather than odd combinations or anything artificial.”
How to Get Started
The Vermont Department of Health feeding guide says parents can begin feeding strained or puréed fruits and vegetables as soon as babies show the telltale signs that they are ready to eat, which usually happens at six months or so. These signs can include holding his or her head steady, sitting up with support, and reaching for objects.
Parents should start with sweet vegetables such as squashes, beets, carrots, and peas, as well as fruits such as apples and pears. These should be introduced one at a time, with several days in between to notice any allergies. The guide says that at roughly eight months parents can add protein foods such as meats, beans, egg yolks, and cottage cheese. Parents should wait to offer cow’s milk, egg whites, and honey until after the baby is one year old.
All that’s needed to make your own baby food is a vegetable steamer, food processor or potato masher, ice cube trays, and freezer bags or containers. The ingredients should be cooked well so that they are very soft, and then processed into a smooth and slightly watery purée. Freezing the finished product in ice cube trays, then storing in freezer bags or containers, provides ideal serving sizes for little ones; when first introducing solid foods, a serving size is approximately one thawed ice cube, or roughly 2 tablespoons. As the baby grows, a serving size can become two to four thawed ice cubes (equal to ¼ and ½ cup, respectively).
Some ingredients should be avoided in homemade baby food, such as sugar, salt, and fats (oil or butter). Spices and herbs can be used lightly and may help develop a more adventurous palate in young children. Johanna Straavaldsen didn’t hesitate to add herbs and spices, and says of her son, “He still likes spicy food to this day.”
Johanna also has some advice for other parents making their own baby food: don’t stress. The main goal is to teach your children to enjoy food and our local Vermont flavors. She recommends that parents not overthink it or become so committed to a certain way of feeding that the process stops being fun for the parents and the child. “If you have one idea about feeding and it doesn’t work, it’s okay to switch to a different method,” she says.