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?