Monday, January 4, 2010

Cook it, baby, cook it!

     Over the past 2 weeks, I've started cooking for the youngest member of our household. At her doctor's suggestion, Lauren started solids a month ago and once she'd settled nicely onto baby rice cereal, I started integrating pureed vegetables, which I cook myself. It seems to be going well. Lauren's a huge fan of sweet potatoes, is okay with turnips, but is not a lover of carrots. The "ewww yuck" facial expressions in reaction to carrots is pretty darn funny, however.
     When Austin was a baby, every meal he ate came out of a jar. I never really considered cooking baby food for him, nor did I seem to have the time or energy to do so. As a preview for things to come, Austin was a big eater right from the start. As a tiny guy, he would eat an entire jar of vegetables in one sitting. As he got bigger, he was eating at least a big jar, sometimes even a little bit more. Thinking back, while our intentions were good in feeding him prepared baby purees, he was consuming quite a bit of sodium, sugar, and preservatives. And the cost was eating us out of house and home. Well, not quite, but you get the point. I can't remember exactly what we were paying, but I think it was around a dollar a jar.
     Being a little better organized and far more proficient in the kitchen this time around, I decided to investigate making my own purees for Lauren. I found a simple and straight-forward book at Chapters, "Blender Baby Food" by Nicole Young and Nadine Day. What really inspired me to buy it and try it was the authors' comments on how babies fed home-made foods generally became better eaters, more open to trying a diversity of foods, and usually became fruit and veggie lovers. That and the health benefits were motivation enough for me, although, of course, the financial savings was already a no-brainer for me. At the very least, I figured if cooking our own baby food worked out only for some of the time, I was still going to be ahead of the game in feeding Lauren well and saving a couple of bucks.
     The experiment has been a huge success, in my opinion. The time, mess, and equipment involved is minimal. I had originally thought I was going to need to buy a food processor, but the book says everything is blender-able. I've got a blender, but being a bit lazy around clean-up, I have only used my hand blender (the immersable kind.) In terms of preparation, all that's involved is peeling, finely chopping, briefly boiling then simmering, then pureeing of the vegetables in the water. While it's simmering, I'm doing something else. It's not like you have to stand over the stove the whole time while it's cooking, so really, there's not much time involved at all.
     The ratio of food to water is 2:1 in most cases, and the cooking specifics are bring to boil, then simmer 20 minutes before cooling and pureeing. That's it, that's all. Not nearly as mystical and complicated as I had first imagined.

     In terms of storage, Santa brought Lauren Baby Cubes, most likely from Toys R Us. Or actually, Santa did. While they're handy, they aren't necessary. I am also using a silicone ice cube tray, bought for $1.00 at the dollar store. With the ice cube tray, I just fill the cubes with puree, freeze it, then pop the frozen food cubes into a freezer bag on which I label the contents and date before firing it into the freezer. I usually put a day or two's worth in small jars or plastic storage containers in the fridge. The frozen stuff defrosts easily in the fridge or can be microwaved for about 20 seconds on the lowest power level to defrost.
     Aside from the nutritional benefits and hopefully, making Lauren a good eater, the cost savings has been staggering. For about $1.00, I can buy and prepare a vegetable that will make approximately 8 meals for Lauren. I've heard baby food is way more expensive in the stores now than it was when Austin ate it, so at a minimum, I am feeding Lauren for 8 times less than I did with Austin, probably more. Isn't that incredible?
     What's also nice is this method of cooking and feeding also ties in with a recent decision I made. I realized we were eating way too much prepared foods and vowed to do my best, within reason, to prepare more of our own foods and "eat closer to the source". More on that in a future post.
     Next up for Lauren's vegetables are parnips (should prove interesting, as I am not keen on these) and butternut squash (which I love.) I am then going to move on to pureed fruits. What I'm most looking forward to introducing is "guacamole for beginners". I think it will be the true test of whether Lauren will be a diverse eater like the rest of us. Fingers crossed that she will coo "Ole!"  

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