Monday, July 02, 2007

Baby food without extra kitchen time

My friend Stacey had a time of it last week, making homemade baby food. Since I did some cooking for the babies this morning, I thought I'd post what I usually do, in case it's helpful to anyone else.

A few introductory notes: I don't go out of the way to buy organic everything, and I use frozen and canned foods. My biggest reason for making homemade baby food is that I have control over the ingredients and quality, so that it tastes good and contains a relative minimum of crap. My babies are now ten months old, and they self-feed and eat a wide variety of flavors and textures, spread into three meals a day.

Breakfast is protein, grain, and fruit. Sample meals: jarred applesauce & oatmeal, plus diced cheese; cottage cheese & peach puree, plus cheerios; plain yogurt & pureed blueberries, plus cheerios.

Lunch and dinner each include protein, grain, vegetable, fruit, and dairy. I usually start with a finger food -- diced kiwi or banana, soft cooked carrots, pasta shells coated in grated parmesan, diced colby jack cheese. After that it's a meat puree mixed with pureed vegetables or beans, and we finish with a fruit, alone or mixed with yogurt or rice cereal.

So, today I set out to make:

  • sweet potatoes
  • broccoli puree
  • chicken puree
  • oatmeal
  • pear puree
  • pasta shells
  • lunchblock
  • carrot, celery, and onion puree

Sounds like a lot of cooking, doesn't it? Well, I accomplished almost all of it in one hour in the kitchen, and about 40 minutes of that was spent actually feeding the babies their breakfast. Here's what I did:

  • Put the babies in their high chairs with a big handful of cheerios.
  • Turn oven on to 450F, throw three whole sweet potatoes on rack, and set timer for 1 hour.
  • Fill two saucepans with water and set them on the stove to boil.
  • Put 1 cup of quick-cooking oats and 2 cups water in a pyrex bowl. Microwave for 1:30.
  • While oats are in the microwave, open two cans of no-sugar-added pear halves.
  • Put oats in tupperware, give the pyrex bowl a quick rinse, and then dump the pears in it, juice and all. Microwave for 3:00.
  • While the pears are cooking, roughly chop one onion, two carrots, and two ribs of celery. Throw these in a stockpot along with some dried parsley, thyme, a bay leaf, and salt.
  • The pears are done, so drain them into a colander, then throw into the blender and pulse a few times until pureed. (You could also reserve a few and dice them up for finger food.) Put pears in tupperware and quickly rinse the blender.
  • Rinse the pyrex bowl again, and put some frozen broccoli in it along with a little water. Microwave for 7:00.
  • The two saucepans of water are boiling; into one, pour the pasta from a package of shells-and-cheese (I use Annie's Organic), then put half a package of small whole-wheat pasta shells into the other. Set timers according to package directions.
  • Begin feeding the babies some cottage cheese mixed with pureed pears.
  • Break quickly to drain the pasta when it's done, put the whole-wheat shells in tupperware, and mix the other shells with the cheese mix. Pack the shells-and-cheese tightly into tupperware as per the lunchblock link above.
  • Resume feeding the babies, then bathe them both. (Hopefully, your babies are less messy eaters than mine, and you can skip this step.) Put babies in living room to play.
  • Take the frozen broccoli out of the annoyingly-beeping microwave, drain if necessary, and puree it in the blender. Put it in tupperware and rinse the blender again.
  • Put a whole chicken into the stockpot with the celery/carrot/onion mixture. Fill with enough water to come about halfway up the chicken, then cover and put on the stove to boil. When it boils, turn to a simmer and set a timer for about 30 minutes.
  • At this point, the sweet potatoes are about done. Take them out of the oven, cut them open, squeeze out of their skins into tupperware, and mash them with a fork.

At that point, I left the kitchen and went to go take a shower myself. When the chicken was finished, I drained it (reserving the stock to freeze), then set it in the pyrex bowl in the refrigerator to cool. I pureed the celery/carrot/onion mixture (removing the bay leaf first!), then put it in tupperware. Later this afternoon when the chicken has cooled, I'll pluck the meat off it, use most of the meat in a casserole for our supper, and puree what's left for the babies. Not only have I cooked for the babies, I've gotten a head start on our dinner too!

I used a total of two saucepans, a stockpot, a knife and cutting board, a colander, and a pyrex bowl, so there weren't even all that many dishes to wash. I washed the blender by filling partway with water, adding a dollop of dish soap, pulsing it a couple times, and rinsing. Everything else went right in the dishwasher, so the kitchen cleanup was quick.

Since I mainly used canned and frozen vegetables, you'll see that there was a minimum of peeling and chopping. Almost all of the active kitchen time was juggling things in and out of the stove, microwave, and blender. I could easily have added another saucepan or two of boilable foods like rice and lentils without increasing my workload, or pureed a can of garbanzo beans.

I don't always necessarily do even that much cooking at one time, either. A lot of the time, I just put an extra pan of water on the stove when I begin to cook our supper, and then boil something or other in it -- beans, pasta, or the same chicken or veggies we're having. Or I'll just cook a bit extra for us, and feed it to them as-is, as long as it's not too highly seasoned (zucchini and broccoli work great here). If I'm having a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, they get one too. I've got a watermelon in the fridge right now, and when I cut myself a slice in a little while, I'll dice up a bit for them.

Basically, I am very, very, lazy, and I want my family to eat well with a minimum of effort from me. I really enjoy cooking as a general rule, but baby food isn't all that exciting. I'll bake all day, or spend an hour improvising chicken-lemon-butter-pasta, but I have a limited tolerance for prepping and boiling vegetables. So I look for shortcuts, plan out my dishes in advance, and multitask to the best of my efforts, and I'm satisfied with how it's going so far.


laura said...

You've really got it down pat. I am both impressed and inspired to try something similar myself. We are passed the puree stage, but I am soooo going to try the lunchblock!

Nico said...

Thanks so much for posting this Emma! I am desperately trying to figure out how to move from the pureed jarred foods I've been using to things with a bit more texture and flavor! Without, as you say, spending a whole day on it. Wholesomebabyfoods said you could prep all your food for a week in an hour, but didn't post anything like HOW to do that, as you just did. I will be giving this a shot on Wednesday :-)