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Essential tips for do-it-yourself baby food

When it comes to making nutritious food for your baby, it’s easier than you may think!

By Today's Parent

Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

At its easiest, homemade baby food is as simple as peeling a banana or slicing open a ripe avocado. Making baby food from scratch is never more complicated than cooking simple, natural and nutritious food that’s converted into the right texture for your neophyte eater. Smooth purees can help ease your wee one into solid foods, but you'll want to introduce lumpier textures by nine months. Want to get started with purees? Read on for tips, tricks and recipes.

Food safety tips: Wash, wash, wash While you don’t have to sterilize, you do have to keep counters and all kitchen tools and equipment spotless. Make it a habit to always wash your hands before starting any kitchen task. Keep towels, cloths and sponges clean.

Raw meat, chicken and fish can contaminate other foods. Store them separately in the fridge and wash hands, counters, cutting boards, utensils and plates that have come in contact with the raw juices. Cook meat, chicken, eggs and fish thoroughly.

Germs breed in the tepid range between cold and hot. So keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Do not leave baby food out at room temperature for more than two hours and throw out any that has surpassed the limit.

Throw out what your baby doesn’t finish. Once her spoon has gone into her mouth and back into the remaining food, bacteria can grow.

You’ll want to stay on top of expiry dates when you’re freezing baby food. Homemade baby food can be stored in the fridge (check that it’s operating at the right temperature: 4°C/40°F) for three days, and in the freezer (optimum temperature is -18°C/0°F) for three months. Throw out expired food.

Tools for making baby food Top of the list is a puree tool. If you have a fine sieve, the job can be done by pushing cooked food through with the back of a large spoon and scraping off the resulting mush. But for sanity’s sake, invest in a manual or automatic baby food mill (it’s handy to prep small amounts of food right at the dining table or when travelling), hand blender (also called an immersion blender), stand blender or food processor. The other essentials are ice cube trays and freezer bags. Look for ice cube tray covers sold in baby specialty stores—they prevent freezer burn and messy spills.

Step-by-step purees Just about any food can be pureed for your little one. Feeding baby iron-rich foods like meat, eggs and legumes, is important from six months onward, when babies need more iron than they get from breastmilk or formula.

Cooked vegetables and fruit Try beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green beans, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard), parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, turnip, apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, mango, pears, plums and dried apricots and prunes.

1. Wash and peel (peeling isn't necessary if baking or using a food mill which will remove skins). Remove seeds, pits and cores. 2. Steam, boil, microwave or bake until very tender. 3. Remove baked vegetable skins. 4. Puree, adding enough water or cooking liquid to create a yogurt-like texture. 5. Store in fridge or freeze (fill a clean ice cube tray, cover with lid or plastic wrap, freeze until solid, transfer to a labelled, resealable freezer bag).

No-cook purees Fork-mash ripe banana, avocado and papaya. Puree cucumbers, melon and mango, or cut them into fry-sized pieces for baby to gnaw on.

Meat or poultry In a frying pan, brown ground beef, lamb, pork, turkey or chicken with a little canola oil until no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Drain off fat. Transfer to blender and add 1 cup (250 mL) water or low-sodium stock for every 8 oz (250 g) raw ground meat or poultry. Puree to desired consistency.

Fish Steam an 8 oz (250 g) boneless, skinless filet of fresh or defrosted frozen fish (such as salmon, rainbow trout, tilapia, sole or haddock) in a steamer basket for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it flakes easily. Double-check for bones, then mash with a fork or puree in a blender with steaming water.

Legumes or Beans Tofu makes beans a breeze because there's no need to cook it. Simply puree raw tofu, preferably silken; it can be gently heated, if desired. Or look for low-sodium canned beans, drain and rinse well, then puree with water or low-sodium stock. Serve at room temperature or heat gently.

What to avoid Salt Baby’s kidneys cannot tolerate salt and sodium. Do not add table salt to purees. Be sure to rinse canned beans thoroughly—and also read labels when you're shopping, as you can often find low-sodium options.

Sugar Health Canada recommends you skip added sugar in foods prepared for babies and toddlers.

Honey Wait until baby is 12 months old before feeding him honey, since there’s a risk of infant botulism. After the one-year mark, baby’s digestive system is mature enough to cope with the bacteria.

Transition to texture Once she’s got purees under her belt, your baby is ready to dig into chunkier foods. Challenge her and increase textures slowly and steadily by first blending a coarser puree, moving on to fork mashing and soft finger food. You can offer up cooked foods, like fry-sized piece of sweet potato or a strip of beef, for your little one to gnaw on as soon as she's able to sit up and pick up food on her own, usually around six months.

It’s usually easy to adapt for your toddler what’s being served to the rest of the family. If you’re making a spicy, highly seasoned soup or stew, reserve a portion before adding the fireworks. Proteins like fish, red meats and poultry can be a stumbling block, since most toddlers reject anything stringy, dry or tough. The trick is to serve it up moist, soft and juicy.

Serving up a variety of textures and foods early on can help encourage your little one to become a good eater for a lifetime.

This article was originally published in May 2014.