Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Organic Baby Food (Carrots)

It's so easy to make your own baby food, and if it's done right, it can be very cost effective.

This time we'll be making Organic Carrots into baby food.

First, start with the best ingredients. These are organic baby carrots. The nice thing about these is that they are already washed, peeled and ready to eat.

I have 4 kids, so I buy in bulk. This makes it very cost effective to make my own baby food. This whole bag cost me about $6 at Costco. Compare that to 4 jars of organic baby food at the grocery store, which would probably cost about $6 - $8.

I've already used about half the bag on salads, kids snacks, etc. If I used this bag only for baby food I would probably get about 30 portions.

I didn't want to make a mega-batch of baby food. I don't have enough freezer space and it would get old too quickly, so I used a pretty small pot.

I don't measure things like this. The whole point is to keep it simple, or you'll find yourself buying it in the jar. I used about three handfuls of the carrots. I didn't give them an extra wash either. Just straight from the bag into the pot.

It took about 15 minutes for the carrots to get soft enough to mash. I probably could have cooked them a bit longer though because they were still pretty lumpy when I was done. Just bring it to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer to steam them. Be sure to use a lid.

Next transfer the soft carrots to a bowl. Don't drain the water from the pot. Use it to make the carrot mash a bit thinner consistency. Also, the water contains a lot of vitamins and minerals which would otherwise be lost in the steaming process. If you look at the ingredients on a bottle of baby food it will say "carrots, water," and sometimes, "Ascorbic Acid" (a fancy way of saying vitamin C).

You can use a good old fashioned potato masher to mash it up. A hand held blender, or one of those fancy potato ricers would probably mash it a bit finer, but this is works for me.

One thing I learned is that if you're mashing immediately after you've taken it off the stove, you might not want to use a metal bowl. It gets a bit hot to handle.

My baby is about 7 months old and I don't make the carrots completely smooth. I like to leave a more chunky texture. It is a natural born reflex to be able to mash foods in their mouths, and it doesn't need to be learned as a toddler. I believe giving a baby food that they can just suck in and swallow teaches them that they don't have to chew their food.

Keep in mind, of course, this is under adult supervision. As with any baby feeding, you can't leave a baby alone when it's self feeding, or let an older child feed the baby without adult supervision. I can't count the number of times I've had to do a finger sweep even with an older toddler because they "bit off more than they could chew."

If you wonder just how strong a baby's bite is, just put your finger in his/her mouth. Even younger babies are actually quite capable of smashing many foods. If you can easily smash a lump between your fingers it should mash easily in baby's mouth. If you want to be even more careful, try putting a lump into your mouth and smashing it with your tongue against the roof of your mouth.

I fed my firstborn with a lot of finely pureed baby foods and when I tried to switch him to "finger foods" he couldn't stand the texture of many of the foods he loved. All of my other children have gotten finger foods early and they have not had any issues like my first did.

Now we portion the mash. I have a bunch of these little half-cup containers. These are the perfect size. They travel easily, freeze well, and are cheap, so they can be thrown out if you are out and about. Of course, carrots and any other brightly colored vegetable will stain them.

For those of you who have heard about the ice cube tray method: I've tried this and I felt it got freezer burned too often. Yes, I popped them out and put them in a ziplock. They still got freezer burned.

You can run the carrots through a strainer if you want to be sure there are no more big chunks. I'm sure if Martha Stewart were writing this, she would tell you that this step is essential. If you want to do this you have to cook it a bit longer. This particular batch was still too firm to easily push through. Also, this is a good thing to do if you are making peas or green beans. it gets rid of the harder to digest hulls and stringy parts.

Be sure to squeeze as much air out as you can before storing in the freezer. That is what keeps it from getting freezer burned.

I find it easier to do one type of food at a time right before a meal. If I tried to do a big batch of 4 different foods then they would be more work, more clean-up, and I would get tired of doing it all the time.

Clean up: one pot, one bowl, potato masher, strainer, spatula... pretty simple. I could have gotten out my food processor, but that would have complicated things too much.

Oh, and if you're wondering what to do with the baby... I breastfed mine while the carrots were cooking, and then let her play in the "bath" (kitchen sink) while I mashed and portioned.

If baby is sitting up well enough to eat solid food, then she should be fine playing bath-time in the sink while you're working. Unless you have a huge kitchen, you should be close enough to keep an eye out and come to the rescue if baby tries to climb on the counter, or slips a bit. If baby can't sit up in shallow water by him/herself, I would recommend waiting a bit longer to start solids. Or, if you're sure that your baby is ready for solids, try something simpler like rice cereal mixed with breastmilk, or finely mashed oatmeal.

Speaking of cereal... I think that will be in my next blog.

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