When I say that I practice baby-led weaning I have to admit that with a caveat. I practice exclusive breastfeeding with introduction of solid foods at my babies’ pace. When they showed interest in what was on my breakfast plate, I allowed them to explore those foods. At the point where there was a significant interest in what I was eating, I began to make them a version of what I was eating that was texture friendly. I did, and still do make purees for my babies incorporating a wide variety of foods to expand their palate. I find that purees are helpful when traveling or queasy tummies need soft foods. Those passionate about baby-led weaning prefer to not make purees, to introduce soft foods in the mesh feeder, allowing both texture and taste to be introduced simultaneously. After a series of epic fails at introduction of texture, I turned to making my own purees.
Getting Started Doesn’t Require Special Equipment
Using only the items I already had on hand in my kitchen and observation of the trendy new gourmet baby foods, I set to work. I used an immersion blender, a fine mesh strainer, a whisk, and a mason jar to make my purees. You can buy a food mill or baby food blender and make the same foods. I chose to redirect the baby food blender money into my addiction to baby carriers instead. The rest of the items will be readily available in your kitchen. The usual suspects for cooking or baking are needed, measuring cups and spoons, well sharpened knives, pots with lids for steaming, and a good cutting board.
I used the Beaba Silicone Multiportion container that features seven two ounce portions and clear BPA free lid. It took roughly four to six hours to freeze the portions which slide right out of the Beaba with a gentle push of the indentation on the bottom. I stored the foods in a freezer safe container or quart sized freezer bag for up to two months. It is important that you identify on each container the food prepared and the date of preparation. It is also wise to write an expiration date on the bag to prevent foodborne illness from consumption past the expiration date. I never kept the foods longer than two months and cannot assure storage dates and flavor beyond two months. To serve I would remove a food portion and defrost overnight in the refrigerator. To serve I would heat gently in a hot water bath, placing the defrosted food bowl in a larger bowl of hot water. I use mostly glass in my kitchen which conducts heat much faster than plastic. You could also freeze the foods in a reuseable food pouch and defrost as previously mentioned. Reheating the reuseable food pouches was easiest in my Kiinde bottle warmer which is a heated water bath and has recommended times for food pouches. I will have alot more information on food pouches in posts to come.
Preparing the Foods
Root Vegetables & Tubers
Most of your root vegetables can be steamed, boiled, or roasted. For carrots and potatoes I usually gently boiled for 15 to 20 minutes. For turnips, parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, rutabagas, or sunchokes I would peel using a vegetable peeler, poke with a fork, and roast in the oven on 375F (190.5C) for twenty to fourty-five minutes. I would roast beets longer than almost all the other vegetables which have a higher water content than beets and roast faster.
I love the flavor of squashes and most of them are naturally sweet. Summer squashes are soft, with a very high water content and soft outer skin. For summer squashes like zucchini, grey squash, crookneck squash, pattypan squash, and round zucchini I would steam in half an inch to an inch of boiling water for three to five minutes in a covered pot. Winter squashes are best suited for roasting. I roast all my winter squashes cut in half, seeds and pith removed, brushed in olive oil with the skin on. The cut squash is placed in a lined baking dish and roasted skin side up at 375 for thirty-five minutes. During the roasting process the skin blisters and separates from the flesh. I let them cool to the touch then peel the skin away. Great winter squashes include pie pumpkin, acorn, butternut, buttercup, spaghetti, kabocha, and sweet dumpling. When selecting a pumpkin, be sure it is an actual pie pumpkin sometimes labeled Amish pie pumpkin or sugar pumpkin. The carving variety can be eaten but lacks the creamy, sweet texture of the pie pumpkin.
Rice & Grains
For a recipe that has a very loose consistency either from using low moisture foods or from adding fruit, I love to add steamed rice. Not only does the consistency thicken, but it adds enriched nutrition to the mix. I preferred brown rice for my infant foods and would steam it fresh for each batch or make several varieties that called for rice. I have found brown rice to contain almost three times the available potassium, dietary fiber and magnesium while also having a lower carbohydrate count. Another favorite grain is quinoa. Sold as rainbow or golden varieties, quinoa is actually a seed more closely related to millet. Quinoa packs a potassium power punch and is also gluten free. Our other favorite grain is couscous, small wheat granules that are actually the same semolina used to make pasta. It quickly steams and fluffs up to a beautiful texture in under five minutes. Rices and quinoa must be thoroughly rinsed before cooking. Quinoa actually has a saponin, yes that is soap, outer coating and should be washed prior to cooking. Inadequately rinsed rice becomes sticky and looses the texture for individual grains. When quinoa is not properly washed it has a bitter taste and the saponin may cause loose stools. Brown rice and quinoa should be steamed in one and a half times as much cooking liquid for fifty minutes. Couscous is steamed in an equal amount of water for five minutes. All rice and grains benefit from a fluff with a fork before serving.
Soft Fruits and Vegetables
Apples and pears are a natural sweetener for pureed baby foods. I prefer Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, and Golden Delicious of all the various cultivars. I prefer Bartlett and Anjou for pears. When I use an apple or pear I only core and slice the apple. I usually never peel it so that I make sure the nutrients in the skin are included in the foods and the skin purees well and larger pieces are sieved out in the final product. Strawberries are great for introducing a tart but sweet flavor to their palates. I wash strawberries then use a huller to remove the crown and white pith that is very bitter. The seeds puree well or are sieved out in the last step.
Mango is easily peeled from the top end by cutting a small X to create four pieces. The skin is then peeled back to expose the fruit. the fruit is sectioned away from the seed hull then I scrape the seed hull with a sharp paring knife to remove the remaining fruit. You can also use a mango splitter and peel the resulting fruit. Kiwi is peeled using a soft vegetable peeler then the white pith in the center removed. Don’t worry about the seeds, they get caught in the sieve and won’t end up in the final food.
Sweet bell peppers are high in potassium and vitamin C which is sensitive to heat. I use the peppers raw, washed, and the stem and seed bundle removed. Chopped coarsely into chunks, the peppers blend well and usually pass easily through the sieve. Sweet corn is another soft vegetable that I use raw or steam gently. I remove the niblets from the cob and use the back of the knife to remove the corn milk from the cobb and add that to the mixture. I have a corn stripper that removes all the niblets in a single pass and doesn’t have any of the fibrous parts from the cob. Zucchini and green beans can be steamed in large chunks for five minutes after a quick trim of the top and bottom ends.
Green beans have a strong, harsh flavor so I try to introduce them with other foods that have mild flavors. Spinach, kale, chard, and other dark leafy greens are an amazing source of potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. They must be carefully rinsed clean of any dirt then stems, often bitter and chewy, trimmed away from the leaves. I lightly steam as the raw green leafies can cause gas. Raw spinach is the exception, I trim the stems and throw them in cleaned and raw. For broccoli I use only the crowns and peel the stalk to use in the juicer. The crowns puree easier than the stalk which my blender just works too hard to process without much luck. I lightly steam broccoli before I puree, saving the steaming water to add back to the mixture.
Juices and Nectars
Finding a juice or nectar without high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was a challenge. Juicing everything myself was more work than I wanted to do for a week of food. We started with Jumex, a favorite of the southwest but found it contains HFCS. The same was true for Kern’s nectars and Goya. After much research I located Bionaturae which uses apple puree to sweeten their nectars.
In the end, think of all the healthy, nutritious foods you enjoy and modify them for your baby. The only foods to avoid are high allergen foods like nuts and some berries and honey which is still a precaution for select bacteria for babies under two years old. Have fun and experiment. You baby will likely make that face at good food as much as they may at the not so stellar recipes, all of it is new in texture and taste.
Babywearing, cloth diapering, breastfeeding twin Momma sharing my insights.