Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I actually never thought that I'd ever again have the privilege of making a batch of homemade baby food. Believe it or not, making baby food is one of those tasks that brings me an amazing amount of contentment. It's the mundane, elevated somehow into a little taste of domestic bliss. Who knew a little puree could make a woman so happy?

My journey to homemade baby food began when Jo was an infant. Remember that this was the late nineties; breastfeeding had really just come back into the mainstream a few years before and no one--I mean, no one--expected anyone to keep at it for longer than six months or so. I figured myself for just such a gal when I started. The truth was, my main motivation for breastfeeding in the first place was financial. Sure, I knew from the parenting magazines that it was best for my baby. But I was also intelligent enough to figure out that the vast majority of medical professionals, even, didn't buy into the exclusiveness of it since they doled out cans of formula hand over fist. What couldn't be countered, however, was the fact that breastfeeding was extremely cost effective. Since we were living on a combined salary of about $17,000 a year in 1998, free was a term I very much felt a kinship with.

The free food train was screaming to a halt somewhere around Jo's fifth month, however. It was time to introduce solids. I clipped coupons, scanned the store shelves and still came up at a loss. How come bananas were 49 cents per pound in the produce section ... but when I meandered to the aisle lined with little glass jars, the same bananas were now 49 cents for 4 ounces? The same held true for apples. Pears. Green Beans. I just couldn't fathom setting aside what amounted to a huge portion of our food budget to finance a steady stream of individual serving-sized portions of really pricey, really bland food.

So I started making my own.

Again, this was 1998. No one I knew seemed to have a problem with buying baby food. I'm pretty sure that no one in my immediate circle even questioned it. Perhaps if I had lived in an area with more granola mommies, I would have found someone to commiserate with me. As it was, I felt like a loser for not being able to feed my baby the same stuff everyone else did. I can actually remember buying jars of baby food to take whenever we went to visit family because I was ashamed of our poverty and certain that I was denying Jo something that was somehow essential to her well being.

But a funny thing happened. I started enjoying making that baby food. Shopping, chopping, steaming, blending ... the whole process took on an event-like feel. I started feeling just the tiniest bit proud of those freezer bags full of good stuff I had made for my baby. After all, I was selecting produce that met my standards. I was in charge of the ingredients and the outcome. And I wasn't lining the pockets of whoever it was that was making millions off of impossibly small glass jars.

I realized that maybe I wasn't just cheap. Maybe I was doing a good thing, after all.

So I kept making baby food. By the time that Logan came along, I could certainly afford to buy in bulk all the Gerber goodness I wanted. But I didn't. By then, the idea of feeding my baby something mass produced without any love at all seemed just plain silly. Finances aside, I asked myself, why on earth is is necessary? I can do that myself.

A lot has changed in my parenting style since Jo first came on the scene. I surprised even myself when I nursed her for fourteen months and made all of her baby food from scratch. When Atticus arrived, I was a breastfeeding die-hard who gritted her teeth through weeks of agonizing latch-on problems and managed to pull off another 16 month nursing stint. I held Atticus off on solids until he was six months old and was amazed when the dire predictions of his imminent decline failed to materialize. Then there was Logan, who I could have nursed well into toddlerhood had he not asserted himself and boycotted the entire process at 16 months. I got creative with Logan's baby food since he was still toothless at a year of age; to this day, Jo remembers asking to lick the spoon when I made "Blueberry Ganoosh" (as she called it), which was a blend of silken tofu, blueberries and plums.

Manolin is the fourth baby I've had the honor of concocting mush fruits and veggies for. What follows is a simple tutorial on the process for anyone who thinks it's too big a job to take on. (It isn't, trust me.) While I now live in an area where virtually everyone I know handles the food production for their infants without any help from the masterminds at Beechnut, I'm sure that somewhere out there there's a mom who needs a little encouragement. Maybe she's scraping by on one income that barely pays the rent. Maybe she's just concerned about what might possibly be in those jars after all. Rest assured, mom ... you can do it.

And hey, it's even fun!

Step one: Start with washed fruit or vegetables. I chose yams because my husband came home with two massive ones from a local organic farmer. These monsters were $2.50.

Step Two: Cut into large chunks. I slice yams into rings, then peel them in one motion and chop the remaining round into four sections.

Step Three: Cook. I have always steamed the foods I prepare. It's just personal preference, though. Many people bake or roast instead.

Step Four: Blend. I don't have a food grinder or any special equipment; I literally just fill my blender and go.

Step Five: After a little initial blending, add some liquid. I reserve the water from steaming and use that first. For this batch, I added some formula as well--it was to be Manolin's first go with yams and I thought that the familiar taste might be good.

Step Six: Stir from time to time. The goal is to get the entire batch thinned out!

Step Seven: Fill ice cube trays and freeze. Each compartment in an ice cube tray is one ounce.

Step Eight: Place frozen cubes in a freezer-safe bag for storage and label.

O.k.--so here's the challenge. My husband paid $2.50 for those organic yams. How many ounces of puree do you think we got out of it to feed little Manolin? And for that price, how many ounces of comparable organic baby food could we have purchased commercially?


Jess said...

:) I love it when I come to a friend's blog and find my own thoughts or feelings in print.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have broccoli steaming right now, just as I sat down to read your article... and that I have pictures on my digital camera waiting to be uploaded for a post I was dreaming up. Now I'll just post my pictures and direct people here. :)

It's amazing how much personal satisfaction and delight can be derived from some brightly colored food cubes in baggies in the freezer, huh?

Mrs. C said...

Wow... I don't freeze the food, but put it in a Tupperware container to use over the week.

The baby food jars ARE very convenient for travel, but for everyday stuff we use a little over half homemade stuff. :]

mideastmom said...

Count me as present on the bandwagon, too! I love the process, although I usually, like Mrs. C, use what's made out of the fridge and then make more.

With a Pyrex-type lidded batter bowl and stick blender, I can actually steam (in the microwave), blend and store in one fell swoop. Can't wait to get that process started again (well, actually, I will wait; until at least six months, if not longer, but you get the idea :-).

Mrs. Sprinkles said...

It cracks me up that you took baby food jars to feed Jo in front of your relatives! Shows just how much things have changed--now it's a "status symbol" to make your own food.

Anyway, I was so committed to making my son's food (no store-bought food would ever touch his lips!) that when we flew from MD to LA I packed up a cooler full of little food ice cubes and took it on the plane with us! Of course, that was before the ban on liquids--I don't think they'd allow that now. :)

Luke said...

I love pictorial tutorials! I'll come back to this one if I ever need baby food. I already complain about the price of bananas, so I doubt anyone could get me to buy the 4 ounce version [laughing].

To play your game, I'm going to give my completely uneducated guesses:

41.2oz of homemade yam puree
2.5oz from the store (if you could even find a yam version)


Kindred Blessings said...

You're amazing! I've always been impressed by you making your own baby food. Bravo!

Renee said...

I love making baby food too!

You are such the perfect Mama for these two boys!

Rachel said...

Any news on the job-front for your husband? Still praying.

Benny said...

I totally agree that there is something deeply satisfying about making your own baby's food. I'm doing it again with Girly Pie now for the 4th time around, and it just feels so homey and sweet... and to look at her smile as I shovel in all those smooth little spoonfuls of brightly colored fruits and veggies that I myself have prepared for my baby? Well, it's a darn good feeling is all I can say there.

By the way... I have posted TWICE since you began pestering me to do so... and, ahem... still no comments. HELLO. YOU were the one who told me is was bad blogging manners to read and not comment. "Just plain rude." I believe those were your exact words.

'Nuff said. ;o)


Kerry said...

Wow - this is so funny. My first baby was just a year ahead of yours, so I was facing the expensive jars of baby food in 1997. Who knew that in 2008, I'd be rehasing the issue?

With our pending adoption of an infant (she'll be 6 months when she comes, we think), I'm rethinking all those old decisions and had entirely forgotten about how much babyfood I made back "in the day". I did and I loved doing it!

I just spent an hour on Amazon comparing various that it is so poplular there are a ton of books, of course. :)

My friends never really got why I wanted to make baby food when I could just buy it. But I enjoyed making is healthier...and CHEAPER!

Young Christian Woman said...

You neglected step 7.5--getting cubes out of tray (I broke one of my ice cube trays before setting the second and third in warm water); step 9--warming up cubes (which I figured out); and step 10--convincing baby to eat the food thus produced.

Firstborn seems to hate texture. I made sweet potatoes and rice (two foods she loves) and she made awful faces and I couldn't get her to eat much.