Baby Food Outside the Pouch
A chef and registered dietitian, I have high hopes that my now 11 month old will grow to be one of those kids that requests bibimbap for dinner and enthusiastically snacks on homemade chili-rubbed kale chips. Until he grows a few more teeth and masters the challenging pincer grip, we’ll stick to simpler fare.
Pouches of purees toting an organic label and cute illustrations are pretty popular among busy families seeking cleaner and healthier food for their wee ones. Shelf-stable and convenient, pouches are basically jarred foods with flashier marketing.
And convenient they are! When we travel I absolutely pack one or two to have on hand should my homemade food be rejected or refrigeration become scarce. That said I will do my best to prevent store-bought “baby food” from becoming the cornerstone of my kid’s diet. It is important for kids to learn, from the beginning of their eating lives, that food comes from ingredients, which come from gardens and kitchens, not from packages.
Second, the pouches are kind of a scam. The names tout trendy foods with titles such as “Quinoa, Butternut, Chicken ” or “Spinach, Peas, and Pear.” But a glance at the labels on the back will reveal the ingredients listed in order of percentage of the product, which coincidentally, often happens to be the reverse order of the title. So, a supposed spinach puree is actually pear puree with a little bit of spinach. Fruit is healthy food of course, but I’d like my kid to learn to eat unsweetened vegetables and lean proteins. Again, the pouches are great in taste and portability, just not the wisest use of my family’s food dollars and a waste of my cooking abilities.
Homemade meals for tots do not require a special baby food maker or tons of time. When I am cooking dinner I puree or chop simple combos in the mini food processor I’ve had in my kitchen forever and freeze straight into fancy glass baby food containers OR, full disclosure, into super affordable food storage containers from IKEA.
I never measure and try to use ingredients I happen to have in the kitchen. Chickpea and green bean curry on the grown-up menu? I’ll reserve a handful of the rinsed, canned garbanzo beans and cooked green beans to throw in the food processor for the babe. If we are having turkey burgers and oven-baked sweet potato fries, I’ll keep some of the cooked ground turkey plain and bake an extra sweet potato, then mush the two up together and yes, season with salt and pepper, because via text message one evening Cooking Light Nutrition Editor Sidney Fry and I mutually concluded that we wouldn’t want to eat unseasoned food, so why should our kids? (Our babes are a mere weeks apart, btw). To achieve the right consistency I thin fruit and vegetable purees with unsweetened applesauce or breastmilk, and for the meatier purees I use low-sodium chicken stock. I thicken with baby oatmeal.
A few winning combos to whip up for the future foodies in your life:
- Blanched, shocked broccoli florets + baked sweet potato + drained & rinsed canned garbanzo beans- Frozen cooked spinach (thawed and wrung dry) + sweet plantains- Sautéed ground chicken and baby spinach + canned tomato + cooked whole wheat pasta- Roasted (or pre-cooked) beets + cooked wild rice + drained & rinsed canned black beans
Do you make (or did you in the past) your own baby food? Share your family’s hits and misses in the comments.
For more food inspiration, baby-themed and otherwise, follow @annabullett on Instagram.