For some reason, I have become the go-to baby food making expert out of my mommy friends. So much so, that it has gotten to the point where I think the world may want to know how I do it.
Making your own baby food purees is really easier that some may think. We jokingly call our baby our garbage disposal, because she eats all of our leftover fruits and vegetables. I am not going to get down to the nitty-gritty of when/how much/what types/etc, because really, the answer is all personal preference, what you and your pediatrician think is right, and most importantly, what your baby dictates. There are a thousand different “right” ways to feed your baby solids, and this is only one version. The old saying is true, “Solids before one are just for fun.” Even though obviously the baby will get nutrients from the solids, they still get all they need nutritionally from their formula or breast milk. Feeding them at this age is to get them used to different textures and swallowing food. So don’t get discouraged if your baby struggles with solids at first!
- Vegetable steamer
- Pureer (is that a word?)
- Ice cube trays
- Freezer baggies
- Yummy and delicious fruits and veggies!
- Game plan. Decide what age you want to start solids. Talk with your pediatrician to see what they recommend, but generally, most people start solids between 4-6 months. Next, decide what types of solids you are comfortable feeding your baby and in what order. Ask your pediatrician and do your own research. I got a great book for Christmas, Top 100 Baby Purees by Annabel Karmel which was a great jumping off point for me. Another gem is Wholesome Baby Food. Then, decide what times during the day you want to feed. I read somewhere to feed solids about an hour after they take their bottle, which was really difficult for us because I felt I was constantly feeding her. Then my pediatrician recommended feeding her solids before her bottle, which worked out really well for us. One time a day? Two? Three? All depends on how much your baby eats at a time, how often you are willing to do it, and what works in your schedule. The longer you research, the more you realize how many different opinions there are out there. The greatest piece of advice I have for you is go with your gut. If you don’t want to do something or something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Even if it was recommended by your pediatrician or some big fancy guru.
- Gather your supplies. Use what you have and what works best for your family. There are a thousand and a half different steamers and pureers out there. I personally use a steamer basket I use with my regular pots, and I have a hand emulsifier. However, stand alone steamers work great, as well as blenders or food processors, and there are even machines out there that steam and puree in the same thing. Any ice cube trays work, but I found that silicone made it easier to pop them out. The only silicone ice cube trays I have are Dachshund shaped so I use those for fun.
- Gather your fruit and veggies. I slowly have built up my stash by making a new fruit or veggie every couple days. Don’t feel pressured to make a thousand things at once! If we have leftover food from our own personal recipes I make them when I have them. It is great to stock up on food that is fresh, but frozen works just as great too!
- Cook/steam. Find recipes online or buy a cook book like the one I mentioned above. Generally, steaming most veggies helps lock in the most nutrients. However, some fruits, vegetables, legumes, rice, etc needs to be cooked in different methods. Everywhere I read says do not add salt or sugar, and most places say that if you want to add spices, only add mild ones.
- Puree. Unfortunately, all babies like their purees differently. Some like it thick, some thin, some chunky, some smooth, and some a combination. You won’t know what your baby likes until you do some trial and error, and even then once you think you have them figured out they change their minds! I try to make my purees as thick as I possibly can, that way I can thin them out to get the consistency needed. If I do need to thin it out while pureeing, I use either the steamed water or filtered water. I have read not to add breast milk or formula in the purees before you freeze them. Currently, Torey doesn’t mind chunky purees as long as the overall consistency is pretty thin. Like, you can pour it out and drink it with a straw, thin. Torey refused to eat purees for a while until I realized she can’t stand them thick. If your baby refuses, play around with consistency because it may do the trick.
- Freeze. To make sure bacteria doesn’t grow, try to freeze as soon as you puree your food. I spoon the puree into ice cube trays, using the back of the spoon to pack it in and then scrape off the excess. Put your ice cube trays into a baggie or cover in plastic wrap to make sure they don’t get freezer burn in the process.
- Store. The easiest way to store the frozen ice cubes is in freezer baggies. Write the food and date made on the bag so it is easy for you to grab (it is amazing how similar apples/rice/potatoes or carrots/sweet potatoes/butternut squash look when they are frozen! A good rule of thumb I have read is purees last in the fridge for 3 days and in the freezer for 3 months (however, I have read other varying measurements).
- Thaw. One of the things I love most about this method is its versatility. You can make mixes of foods and then freeze them, but I like making individual batches. This way, you can mix up their food when you want (after doing the initial allergy testing, of course). Like I said, what exactly you feed your child is completely up to you. Personally, for breakfast I do homemade rice or oatmeal mixed with a fruit (apples/pears/blueberries/dates). For lunch/dinner, generally I make 1 part starch (potatoes/quinoa/beans/corn), 1 part orange vegetable (carrots/butternut squash/sweet potatoes), and 1 part green vegetable (spinach/broccoli/zucchini/peas). We aren’t at adding meat yet, but once we are I anticipate doing it similarly and adding a protein (chicken/fish) into the mix. To thaw, I started out trying to add my cubes to a small Tupperware and letting it sit in the fridge overnight. However, now I am not as on top of things and generally end up microwaving it for a few seconds because I need it right away.
- Heat. The biggest generally agreed on rule is to never feed out of your storage container, which could breed bacteria. If you don’t think your baby will eat everything you thawed, put that meal’s worth into a separate bowl and refrigerate the rest. I personally like microwaving, because I feel like it kills any bad germs that could have grown, and it is super fast. If you don’t want to use the microwave, there are different stove top methods to warm the baby food safely. Some babies even like it cold!
- Thin (if needed). Like I mentioned, Torey likes it drinkable, so I have to thin it out quite a bit. I always thin using her formula, but you could use breast milk or water too. Each week I try to make it slightly less liquidy to get her ready for more solid-like food.
- Feed! Put your baby somewhere you don’t mind making a mess. They sell splat mats to put under high chairs in case you are worried about your floor. Bibs are your friend (I have learned that I love the big thick cotton bibs best because they double as a wipe cloth afterward)! A friend of mine told me to give your baby a second spoon to play with while you feed the baby, this way they have something to keep their hands occupied and they can practice feeding themselves! Some days she is all over eating her solids and other days she couldn’t care less. Don’t get discouraged if your baby is having an off day, just move on to the bottle!
- Discard leftovers. To make sure your baby doesn’t get sick, throw away any leftovers they did not consume during that meal.
Finger Foods: Even though I am obviously feeding Torey purees, I also think Baby Lead Weaning is a good idea and we will be implementing that too. There are millions of articles out there you can read about BLW, but in a nutshell you give the baby large chunks (able to hold on to) of different fruits and veggies and let them play/eat them on their own time. I have given Torey teething wafers, chunks of steamed broccoli and carrots, and some beans, and so far she has more fun feeding them to the dogs and mashing them into her seat. So yeah…. We will work on BLW…
I will continue to update once we reach new milestones, like meat, bigger solids, and so on.
And now, what you all came here for, Torey eating purees SPAM!
Do you have helpful hints and tricks? Please let me know in the comments!! If you have any specific questions I did not address please ask me, I would be happy to share what worked for us.
UPDATE: Frequent questions I get asked…
Question: Can you incorporate fresh foods?
Answer: Absolutely!! When I incorporate a fresh food, first I thaw the frozen cubes I want to mix with it. Then I mix in the fresh food, and dilute with formula as needed. Examples: 1 part frozen starch, 1 part frozen orange veggie, and 1 part fresh mashed avocado. 2 parts frozen rice/oatmeal and 1 part fresh mashed banana. 1 part frozen rice/oatmeal, 1 part frozen fruit, 1 part fresh plain Greek yogurt.
Question: My baby has outgrown purees but I still have some frozen cubes, what can I do with them?
Answer: I haven’t gotten there yet, but I have thought about that day coming. You can easily mix purees into “big kid” foods. Fruits and veggies can be added to smoothies, and that is a great way to mask the taste of not so kid friendly veggies! You could add many different purees to sauces and pastas (pureed peas to mac and cheese, pureed spinach to spaghetti). You can add pureed fruit into their morning oatmeal or even into pancake or muffin batter (apple cinnamon? blueberry? yum!) With a little bit of creativity, it will be easy to use up all the leftover purees, and you can even eat them too!
7/30 Update: My daughter is officially over a year old and has wanted nothing to do with purees for a few months. I had SO many bags of purees in my freezer and was slowly incorporating them into her big girl food, but it wasn’t going fast enough! I decided to make a puree soup, and I am very pleased with it! I sauteed a cut up onion in a few tablespoons of butter, then once those were soft I added all my leftover purees besides fruit: corn, peas, sweet potato, butternut squash, quinoa, chicken, and black beans. Then I poured in enough chicken stock to cover everything, threw in some herbs, and cooked for a few minutes. Then I pureed the soup in batches (my original purees were still quite chunky), then added a 1/4 cup of cashew milk. So yummy! I ate some for lunch as is, and then for Torey I soaked a piece of bread in the soup, and then pan fried it like you would french toast. She loved it too!
Question: My baby used to eat like a champ but has recently gone on a solids hunger strike, what gives?
Answer: We are only 3 months into purees and we have already had to battle quite a few hunger strikes, so I am with you! The first problem was puree consistency, like I mentioned above, so play around with thickness and texture and see if that helps. Also, your baby may just hate whatever food you are trying to feed them. For example, it doesn’t matter how many sweet things I mix with spinach, Torey refuses it. Next, play around with when you feed your baby. Like I also mentioned, when I fed her solids after her bottle she couldn’t care less, but now that I feed her before her bottle she will eat them. If you don’t think it has to do with the actual food itself, teething may be to blame. I have read on many sites that one side effect of teething is food rejection. Lastly, if you have ruled out everything else, your baby could simply just be going through a leap (see Wonder Weeks) and may just want to do ten thousand other things besides sitting in a chair and eating. Remember, don’t get too down on yourself or your baby because food right now is just for fun. There have been many times I have given up mid feed because neither of us were feeling it.