With Sprout’s first birthday just passed, we recently switched away from baby food and towards smaller portions of what Chris and I eat. His first “adult meal” where he had the exact same meal as I did was a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with mushrooms and tomatoes. Of course, his was cut up into pieces and half of it ended up in the floor. But we know he’s not ready for five-star dining yet. With Chris’ culinary background and current role as an at-home parent, there was never any question that we would prepare Sprout’s food rather than use the jarred stuff. While it was pretty simple, there were a few things we learned along the way.
1) A food processor is your best friend. Baby food, first and foremost, needs to be soft. While Sprout now has an increasingly full mouth of teeth, he didn’t have any when we first started him on solids. After you cook down your ingredients to be nice and soft, you throw them in the food processor (with some ice cubes if you need to cool it down or thin it out) and voilia! Instant baby food. There are specialty baby food making processors, but I would invest in a good regular one. They’ll have better motors and blades, making it less likely they’ll just randomly break on you. You’ll also be able to use them in the long-term to make sauces, chop vegetables and create dips like hummus. As the resident dishwasher, I would recommend getting one with an insert for small batches so you don’t need to wash the big bowl every time.
2) Because you control the ingredients, you can choose really good ones. The first solid food besides cereal we fed Sprout was actually from our garden – sweet potatoes we had stored in our fridge. While most of his food can’t be nearly that local, we do try to feed him as many local, seasonal, fresh and organic fruits and vegetables as possible. Besides the health benefits, getting certain types of produce in season is the key to it tasting good. I’m pretty sure his enthusiastic reception to cherry tomatoes is strongly related to how incredibly fresh they are right now. I believe a big part of helping kids like vegetables is having them taste genuinely good and getting local produce definitely helps.
3) You can’t add salt. According to experts, babies’ kidneys aren’t developed enough to process it. This was a killer for Chris. For professional cooks, salting properly is a religion. Nonetheless, he’s been good and refrained from adding any to Sprout’s food before now.
4) Kids like a bigger variety of food than you might expect. Making your own food means that you can feed your kid some off-beat things. Sprout loved bison and parsnips. On the other hand, quinoa and halibut were not popular. But at least we had the chance to introduce him to these foods, which would have been a lot harder with pre-made options. He also likes things that I don’t. He’ll readily eat fruit mixed in plain yogurt, while I need some extra sugar in there to make it palatable.
5) Not everything needs to be cooked. Making two separate meals seems overwhelming, but a lot of his meals are really simple. The aforementioned yogurt and fruit was an extremely common lunch for him, as is different types of fruit mixed together (applesauce and bananas, bananas and strawberries, etc.) He’s also taken a liking to canned beans, which don’t need to be cooked, just heated up and then combined with vegetables. There are also a much larger variety of precut frozen vegetables (both organic and not) than we realized. Besides the standard green beans and carrots, we’ve also bought frozen butternut squash, peas, and sweet potatoes. Because they’re precooked, you can just heat them up in the microwave. In the dead of winter, when the farmers’ market was nothing but potatoes, we used these a lot.
6) Don’t be ashamed of “cheating.” Sometimes, you just don’t have time or energy to make the kid dinner. Or you’re in the go and remembered at the last minute that you needed to bring something for the baby to eat. Or the morning is too busy to specially prepare oatmeal. We totally fell back on prepared foods in these situations. We used the powered cereal that you add water to for breakfast. We sometimes used the squeezy packs of baby food when we’re out, especially if we’re going to be gone for a long time without access to a fridge. And some nights, when we simply didn’t have anything in the fridge, we ordered pizza for us and gave him a package.
8) You can be creative with finger foods. Just because adults eat a specific food with a fork or spoon shouldn’t exclude it from finger food territory. While we do use the typical Os cereal (organic knock-off Cheerios), we’ve also given him hunks of bread, peas, corn, blueberries, beans, and bits of cheese as finger food. While we’ve never done it ourselves, I know a friend of mine whose son refused to eat from a spoon cooked off slabs of sweet potato and squash.
8) Sometimes your kid just doesn’t want to eat; don’t take it personally. While Sprout is generally a good, relatively enthusiastic eater, some days he inexplicably doesn’t want to. Thankfully, he’s mostly stopped blowing raspberries with food in his mouth. However, that doesn’t mean he swallows everything he eats. Often, he eagerly opens his mouth and then once the food is there, pushes it out with his tongue, creating a slimy mess. While I sometimes get frustrated, I’m learning to accept when he’s done and just move on. I hate wasting food, but forcing food on him when he clearly doesn’t want it is worse. If it’s something actually tasty (as most of what Chris makes is) and not drool-ridden, I’ll often just eat the rest of it myself.
Food is really important to our family; while I’m glad we could make baby food for him, I’m even more glad that he’s eating the same food as us now!