One of the great things about making your own baby food at home is that you have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what's in it. But also, have you tasted store-bought baby food? It's pretty bland. Making your own baby food is not only about peace of mind, it's also about knowing that your baby's food is tasty.
How to Make Baby Food
If your baby is ready for solid food, it's an exciting time. Imagine tasting bananas for the first time. Or peaches. Or roasted chicken. Or even rice. It's the start of a lifelong culinary journey. And while there are certain restrictions on what sorts of foods a baby can eat when (like honey or peanut butter for instance), for the most part, food is food. As long as it's mashed or pureed enough so that it's easy for your baby to swallow and digest, you're good to go.
That doesn't mean your baby will necessarily like everything you feed her. But one of the miraculous things about babies is they'll make it very obvious if something tastes good to them, or if it doesn't.
Plain rice or wheat cereal is often the first type of solid food a baby gets to eat. But you can also puree cooked rice or other grains, like oatmeal, barley, buckwheat, millet or quinoa. Just puree or mash it up with some sort of liquid, like breast milk or formula, to produce the consistency that works best for your baby. Cow's milk is fine after 12 months, but check with your baby's doctor.
Some fruits, like banana and avocados, only need to be mashed, with or without a small amount of liquid. But other fruits, like apples or plums, should be steamed first, until fork tender, and then mashed or pureed (although after six months, you can skip the steaming and just mash or puree). Depending on how much juice the fruit has, you may or may not need to add additional liquid.
Green beans, carrots, butternut squash, peas, sweet potatoes are all great choices for your baby's first vegetables. You'll need to peel, then cook, then mash or puree. Frozen peas can be cooked and pureed. If you can get your hands on fresh peas in the pod (aka spring peas), those are great too, but obviously are more time consuming to prepare.
Meats should be cooked, whether poached, roasted, braised or otherwise, and then pureed in a food processor or blender. You'll need to thin it out with some sort of liquid, ideally some of the cooking liquid. You can even make a stew combining meats and vegetables like carrots and potatoes, and then puree it all together. Pureed roasted chicken breast is a wonderful baby food.
Contrary to past guidelines, experts now say that eggs are fine for babies, the white as well as the yolk. For babies younger than six months, you can boil or scramble a whole egg, then puree it with a bit of liquid to achieve the right consistency. After six months, pieces of scrambled egg, or mashed hard-boiled egg, are great baby food.
Seasoning Baby Food
The notion that baby food should be as bland as possible is a curious one. After all, your baby might not have teeth, but she does have taste buds.
The objective with baby food is to make it easy to eat and digest. But as for seasoning, you should definitely salt their vegetables and meats. Would you enjoy eating bland, unseasoned chicken? Maybe if you were really hungry. But you'll enjoy seasoned chicken even more.
And the same is true for your baby. So go ahead and salt their food. Perhaps not quite as aggressively as you'd salt an adult's food, but you should be able to taste it. And by the way, even pureed fruits can benefit from a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness and bring out some of the natural flavors.
On the topic of blandness, there's no particular reason you need to poach all your meats and vegetables. Roasting and sauteeing work just as well, and they also produce more flavors, as the proteins and starches caramelize. Just imagine how much more flavorful pureed roasted carrots will be as compared with pureed steamed carrots.
Also keep in mind that there's no particular reason that cold or room-temperature carrots or chicken are better for your baby than warmed-up carrots or chicken. Warming your baby's food even a little bit will unlock still more flavors and aromas, making it more delicious. Just make sure it's not too hot.
Storing (and Freezing) Homemade Baby Food
Any leftover baby food should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and used within a couple of days. You can also freeze leftovers in ice cube trays, but even easier is to simply freeze individual dollops on a sheet pan, and then bag them up in freezer bags and store them in the freezer that way. Meats and other proteins will last one to two months, while fruits and vegetables will last six to eight months.