New moms are faced with lots of choices: Breast or bottle? Crib or co-sleep? Cloth or disposable? To circ or not to circ? etc, etc...
As I eased into motherhood, I answered these questions, one at a time, in the best way I knew how, and with the well being of my family in mind. One that didn't require much thought was the question of baby food: Homemade or store-bought jars? From day one, I fully planned to make my own baby food from scratch. I strive to eat homemade foods myself, so it only seemed natural that I would feed my baby that way, too.
I knew it would take a little more time than just opening a jar, but I didn't care. I'll admit that it's easy to get caught up in the SuperMom must-do-it-all mentality. Like other moms, I want the best for my son and I like as much control as possible over all the things that effect him, including his food. I get all squishy over the idea of growing some of his food and carefully selecting the rest from local farmstands, and preparing it with love with my own hands (If some moms do it, then I should be able to, too, right?)
But I have to be realistic. I work just shy of 40 hours a week, I blog, I have several other projects that I'm trying to bring to life, I have a house to take care of, I have a husband I like spending time with, and I like to shower once in a while. It keeps me hopping, to say the least.
So, as much as I like the thought of making my own baby food, I seem to have fallen into a groove I didn't expect – semi-homemade baby food. At first, I felt a little guilty each time I put those little jars into my cart, but over the past few weeks I got to really thinking about it, and it occurred to me that I really like this idea! I'd been beating myself up for not making everything 100% from scratch, but then I realized that this way just makes so much more sense!
Here's what's working for me:
We have a pretty large garden, but there are lots of variables. The weather has ruined some crops, some didn't produce as much as we had hoped, and some things just aren't in season yet (butternut squash!) So, we are picking what we can when we can and pureeing it up as our son grows into the need for it. In the beginning when he was just eating single purees, this was OK. But now that he's been introduced to several things, I want a bigger variety in his diet.
I've also been hoarding coupons for Earth's Best organic baby food. I won't budge on the organic, and it can be a little more expensive, so coupons are a nice bonus. The website has coupons, and you can find them on Earth's Best cereal boxes and, occasionally, in a multipack of jars (Usually $1 off either 7 or 10 jars.) I like to buy Earth's Best in single fruit and veggie purees, like pears or carrots, so I can use them in recipes for my son or even for the whole family (add to pasta sauce, casseroles, or use as an egg replacement in vegan baking recipes.) Plus, Earth's Best offers these in value packs, which are a great value if you find a sale and use a few coupons.
I also really like Sprout baby food.
It's very well made, all organic with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The founder of the brand is Chef Tyler Florence and the flavors are really creative, like baby carrot, apple and mango, or peach rice pudding. These are fun because they provide interesting flavor combinations that I can base my baby food creations on.
When I first started out making purees, I made peaches, peas, and a few others, but I really had trouble finding the items I wanted in an organic option. And sometimes, when I did, the prices were sky high. This is where the jarred baby food comes in handy. If you are careful about checking price per ounce, you may find the organic jars cheaper. (Like fresh organic pears vs. Earth's Best stage 2 jars...the jars are often a much better bargain!) Now that I'm stocked up on jars, all I have to do is pay attention to the local organic scene and stock up when I see things at good prices. Like today, I found organic peaches at a lower-than-usual price, so I grabbed a few to add in a mix with the bananas and a mango I already had.
As for grains, I like to buy these in bulk. We haven't introduced many yet, but brown rice and oats are favorites right now. They can add fiber and nutrients, along with bulk, to stretch out your more pricey fruits and veggies (don't stretch too much, of course.)
Here are a few examples of semi-homemade baby food:
Peach & Brown Rice Breakfast: Tonight we are having pulled pork, brown rice and mango wraps, so I'll cook up extra rice for my son's food. I will then add that to the fresh organic peaches I bought, along with a little cardamom and nutmeg (a recipe inspired by Tyler Florence's Sprout.) This will be frozen in ice cube trays and use for breakfasts...I expect about 8 servings.
Peas and Brown Rice: We still have a bag of peas from the garden in the freezer, so any leftover brown rice with be blended with those, frozen into cubes, and blended with breastmilk whenever I thaw and serve. A jar of apples or squash could be added, as well, for variety and nutrient value.
Avocado, Pear and Oat: I have an avocado to use up, so we may use that, too, in our wraps tonight. We only use about 1/2 between us, so the other half will be blended with a few jars of Earth's Best pear puree and some of the organic oats the husbo and I use for breakfast. Again, this will be frozen in cubes, and probably mixed with a bit of breastmilk to thin after thawing. The avocado has super healthy fats for a growing baby, but the pear and oats help stretch it out a bit so it isn't served all in one high-fat meal.
Roasted Banana and Sweet Potato: I have some organic sweet potatoes that I plan to use later in the week (I plan to stuff them with black beans and a Sunshine Burger.) Since the oven will already be on, I'll throw in an extra potato and a banana to roast until they are both sweet and flavorful. When they are finished roasting, I'll blend them with some organic applesauce and freeze into cubes. (Once my boy is a bit older and I introduce beans, I might leave out the banana and blend the potato with carrots and a few mashed black beans.)
Get the idea? It's all about using what you have, adding what's in season and what you can afford, and planning your meals and your baby's meals so that they synch up. And when the day gets away from you, as it inevitably will on occasion, you will always have a few jars of organic baby food on hand, and maybe a few servings of one of your recipes in the freezer, so you'll never have to say, "Oh, I'm too busy, I'll just give him ________." and feel badly about it later.
And, as anyone who eats local, seasonal foods will tell you, you do sacrifice variety when you choose to eat this way. When a certain fruit or veggie is in season, you eat it–lots of it–until it's gone, and then you move on to the next. So, actually, in my quest to provide my son with as much colorful, flavorful variety as possible, I could actually be doing him a disservice by relying solely on whatever happens to be plentiful in my local area. By incorporating some organic jarred foods, I can round out his diet in a way that would otherwise be nearly impossible, or at the very least, quite expensive.
I find making baby food to be just as rewarding as breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and all the other things that I feel are best, even though they consume a little more time. But I allow myself to bend a little, without ever having to bend so far as to give my precious boy anything processed or full of pesticides.
So I'm hanging up my cape. I'm surely not SuperMom, but I guarantee you that I feel good about every bite that goes into his little mouth!
By Wendy K.