In raising my boys, I’ve always tried not to be too concerned with what others think, but as a young mother, you hear it all. And no matter how confident you are that you’re doing the best you can for your little one, when you’re a hormonal mess doing the mom thing for the first time, you do care what others think. I’ll be the first to admit that in those first few weeks after the birth of both of my boys, I found myself curled into the fetal position a few times crying because someone had made me feel like I wasn’t doing everything that I could for my children. Let me just say, I am not the type of person who is ever going to judge anyone for making different basic care decisions. Breast vs bottle, cloth diapers vs disposable, stay at home vs working; the list goes on and on. If your baby is happy and healthy, and you are able to enjoy your life and your little one, you’re doing okay!
All that said, when my oldest was old enough to start eating solids, my decision to make his baby food was met with varying reactions. I was working full time at that point and a lot of people wondered how I had time to do something as industrious as making my own baby food. Others viewed it as a waste of time given all of the nutritious options in the grocery store. And still, others thought it was a great idea. A few of my very busy working friends were also making their own baby foods and I figured if they could find the time in their hectic schedules, then I could, too. For me, the thought of feeding my baby foods that might contain preservatives and pesticides was something I had a problem with. At the same time, the organic options all seemed so expensive. The solution: start making my own. So I did. I never got to the point that I made my own formula or cereal or pureed any meat (by the time Ian was ready for meat, he just picked up tiny bits and fed himself), but I did do all of Ian’s fruits and vegetables. As Declan is now five months old, I’m doing his as well. Today, was butternut squash day and for fun, I also did a few comparisons. I purchased a fresh organic butternut squash, a pouch of organic butternut squash, and a jar of non-organic butternut squash.
Aside from the nutritional benefits of making baby food, there are cost benefits. I bought the fresh, organic squash at Kroger and paid $4.44. It resulted in 28.2 ounces of baby food, or 15.7 cents per ounce. The store bought, organic butternut squash that I bought at Walmart was $1.38 for 3.17 ounces, or 43.5 cents per ounce. The store bought, non-organic squash was 46 cents for 2.5 ounces, or 18.5 cents per ounce. If you compare organic to organic, the homemade squash was 27.8 cents per ounce cheaper than store bought. The homemade organic was also 2.8 cents cheaper than the store bought non-organic.
There is also a significant taste difference between store bought and homemade baby food. I tried them all and was quite honestly astounded by how much better the homemade food tasted. The store bought, organic squash was very bland but didn’t taste horrible. It was just kind of “meh”. The store bought, non-organic version was disgusting. Period. I tasted it and had to immediately wash it down with my Diet Coke. The homemade butternut squash was actually very good (and not just because I made it). It was much sweeter and smoother than either of the store bought varieties. It would even make a great base for a butternut squash soup. I also found the color differences between the three varieties a bit disturbing, but I’m not certain if that might be due to differences in the squashes that were used (although they were all butternut squash). At any rate, the homemade squash was bright and vibrant, while the others were dark.
From left to right: Store bought, organic; store bought, non organic; homemade
For those of you who are interested, below is a step by step of how I made the squash today.
First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, very carefully cut the squash in half down the middle and scoop out the seeds.
After all of the seeds are out, fill a pan with about an inch and a half of water and place the two sides of the squash in the pan, open side down.
Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of the squash. Mine was larger than average and took a little closer to 50 minutes to finish. When you are able to easily poke the squash with a fork without getting any resistance, it is finished. The skin will also be a little puckered at this point and will have changed color.
Drain the water from the pan and flip the squash right side up. Be careful. The water and the squash are EXTREMELY hot at this point. Using a spoon, scoop the squash out and place it in a bowl, leaving the skin behind.
At this point, it is time to puree the squash for your little one. There are a number of options here. When I made Ian’s baby food, I only owned a blender, so that is what I used for everything. Since making his food three years ago, I have also acquired a food processor (about $40 at Walmart) and an immersion blender ($30 on Amazon.com) and I tried them all as I was making the squash today. I found that the immersion blender is easiest for me. I feel like with it, I am able to attack any lumps, whereas with the food processor and blender, I’m waiting for the chunks to fall into the blade. It’s all personal preference though. Before I had anything else, I made it just fine with my trusty blender. The important thing is to make sure that you have no lumps and end up with a creamy consistency.
Please note that squash lends itself very well to pureeing. Other foods that have skins, such as peas and green beans, sometimes take a little longer to obtain the proper consistency. You may have to add a bit of water to those and spend longer with the blender/food processor.
The final step is storage. Freshly made baby food will last in the fridge for two to three days. I find, however, that its best to freeze it since I make bigger batches. I invested in baby food trays that have lids, but any old ice cube tray will work just fine. After the food is frozen, I remove them from the tray and place them in a freezer storage bag where I can write the contents and date.
The whole process took me about an hour and ten minutes. That does, however, include the 40-50 minutes of cook time when I did some laundry and unloaded the dishwasher. When I was working full time and making Ian’s baby food, I always set aside a couple of hours one Sunday a month and made three or four different fruits or veggies to freeze. It was very doable and even allowed me to buy the in season foods at our local farmer’s market.
If you are interested in learning more about how to make different types of baby food, I highly suggest that you visit http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com. This was an invaluable resource when I first started making baby food. It provides a lot of great nutritional information, recipes, how-to’s, and even sample menus for infants. Please feel free to send me any questions or comments as well. Happy cooking!