Monday, August 30, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family 3: Cereal Isn’t Just for Breakfast

When I began to consider making my own baby food, preparing cereals from scratch for Jake intrigued me even more than all the fresh and pretty fruit and veggie purees that I could dream up. I think it was mostly because baby cereal is just one of those things you buy; you don’t make it. It cannot be made. Like coconut milk. Or hot fudge. Or barbecue sauce. Hey, wait a minute…I do make those things. Ergo….I can make baby cereal! Yes, I can!

So I was off to find recipes. Actually, it was the search for baby cereal “how tos” that led me to the website that I told you about in my first Chef-ing for Baby post (Here it is again, in case you don’t want to be bothered with cross referencing: .) I was a little concerned; after all, I wouldn’t be fortifying my cereal with all kinds of fancy vitamins. Would Jake suffer? Not likely. He is a formula-fed baby, and gets his daily fill of nutrients from his milk. I wasn’t worried about breaking up a Baby Flintstones chewable into his breakfast bowl.

Although there are many kinds of cereal available for baby, it is widely recommended that you begin with rice cereal, because rice is gentle on the digestive system and does not contain gluten, a protein which can cause intolerance or allergic reaction in some individuals. Having said that, rice can cause problems, too; primarily, it can lead to constipation, especially when you feed baby a refined product. As you prepare to make your own food, you may want to consider using brown rice, rather than refined white rice. I have had success using brown rice, and Jake loves it.

Rice Cereal and Oatmeal from Scratch

The recipes that I use to prepare Jake’s cereal are directly from Christine Albury’s website that I reference above. As I said before, I’d be lost without it. I highly recommend checking it out if you plan to prepare any of your baby’s food yourself.

To prepare rice cereal, I grind the rice in small batches, usually about one quarter cup at a time, in a coffee grinder. I also use organic brown rice, since small traces of arsenic have been found in conventional brown rice. To make the rice cereal, bring eight ounces of water to the boil. Whisk in two ounces of the rice powder, stirring constantly (if you are familiar with preparing grits, the method is the same.) Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, adding more water as necessary. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. I always make enough to freeze extras in ice cube trays.

I have found lots of ways to serve the rice. Since I introduced oatmeal to Jake’s diet (more about that in a minute), I often mix an ounce of rice into his lunch or dinner selections. When thawed, the cubes of rice cereal do tend to be a bit spongy and sticky. Normally, I plan Jake’s meals for the next day the night before. I combine the rice and fruit or veggie that I’m pairing with it in a bowl together, and allow them to thaw overnight. Just before serving, I break up the rice cereal with the tines of a fork, add a little formula (breast milk would obviously work, too), and give it a quick stir with my stick blender. This really smoothes out the mix and gives it a consistent texture. As Jake grows, I’ll probably leave the texture chunkier.

So, what do I combine it with? We’ve had excellent results pairing the brown rice cereal with peas and sweet potatoes, neither of which Jake likes alone. I also combine it with an apple-pear-blueberry sauce for a treat that tastes a lot like blueberry cobbler. In the next month or so, as we begin to introduce meats, I plan to combine the rice with chicken and pork as well.

After two weeks or so, I decided to give oatmeal a try. I use a similar method for oats that I use for brown rice, although I don’t use organic oats. I simply grind up old fashioned oats, the same cereal that I make for myself every morning. To prepare the oats, combine one ounce of oat powder with eight ounces of boiling water, and cook over low heat for ten minutes. I freeze the oatmeal in two ounce portions, using silicone muffin cups. The consistency is a little smoother than the rice cereal. Normally, I combine the frozen oatmeal with a cube of frozen banana puree and allow the cereal and fruit to thaw overnight. In the morning, I add a little milk from Jakes bottle, break up the cereal with a fork, heat for 10 seconds in the microwave, and finish combining the fruit and cereal with the stick blender. It’s that simple and it’s delicious! Trust me: I’ve sampled it.

Give making your own cereal a try. It was a revelation to me to make my own cereal. The rice cereal can be used as a natural thickener for your family’s dishes as well, and if you have older children who snub their noses at traditional oatmeal, give the “cream of oatmeal” a try. Who knows? You might just keep on making baby food long after Baby is a baby no more.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family 2: The Whys, the Whats, the Hows

Making your own baby food sounds incredibly easy, somewhat daunting, and totally unnecessary all at the same time, doesn’t it? A lot of you might wonder why in the world someone would even bother; after all, there are gazillions of products on the market prepared just for baby, under nice, sanitary conditions. So I thought I’d take some time today to run down reasons for doing it yourself when it’s not strictly necessary, to discuss the equipment that I use to make Jake’s food, and a little bit about how I actually do it in general.


I make food for Jake because I don’t feed the rest of my family out of jars and boxes. Jeremiah and I try, whenever possible, to prepare our meals from whole foods, and to use processed foods as little as possible. But when it came time to feed Elle, I happily reached for jars of fruits and veggies, pastas and puddings. It occurred to me, though, that the consistency of the food was very runny, and it tasted sour. Pears didn’t taste like pears, and I wasn’t even going to brave the green beans. Why would I accept processed food for these little guys? What was the manufacturer leaving out to get that nice, smooth consistency…or worse…what were they adding? Which leads me to the next point…

My food tastes better. Try this: peel a Gala apple, chop it up, then steam it until tender, puree it, then taste it. Now compare this with baby food. Yours is much better than theirs, isn’t it? Sweeter. Apple-ier. And now Jake knows what an apple tastes like. It took me about 4 years to get Elle to try an apple; once I did, she ate it. But I’d prefer not to go through that again, thank you very much. I also control what goes into my food. There’s a reason why baby food peas are so beautifully devoid of all the pea skins that mine stubbornly have: they’re strained out. And with them goes nutrients that will make my Sweetpea grow, and fiber that will help his little belly work right. In a few months, I plan to stop peeling apples and potatoes, which will make his food even more nutritious. I doubt Beechnut Stage 4 Applesauce does the same.

Money, Honey. To be fair, I haven’t done a cost analysis of my baby food. But I know that I can buy bananas for about sixty cents a pound, and five or six bananas will give me well over a week’s worth of bananas for Baby Boy’s cereal. Last time I checked, the Gerber food that I preferred was 10 two-packs for ten dollars. It would seem that I’m coming out ahead.

But, what about variety, you say? I know, that has concerned me a time or two as well. After all, I don’t have a deep freezer dedicated to making meals ahead of time. But then, I thought, Jake spent the first five months of his life drinking only milk, day in and day out, around the clock. It’s not like variety is a big issue for him. So, if he’s getting two or three different veggies in a week, and the same with fruits, in addition to some grains, then he should be perfectly happy…and indeed, he seems to be.


So, there’s your rationale for spending extra time preparing baby food. But it has to be difficult to do, right? Well, I haven’t found it to be. Sure, I spend a little extra time in the kitchen, but that’s not really so shocking, seeing as I have, you know, another child now.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are some wonderful products out there that will do everything for you except actually peel and chop the carrots (or sweet potatoes, or plums.) If that makes your life simpler, please have at it. For me, these are the basic tools that I find indispensable to baby food making and storage:

Steamer basket and a big enough saucepan to put it in
Stick (immersion) blender
Ice cube trays and silicone muffin cups
Freezer bags
Little glass bowls with lids

And…that’s pretty much it. I mean, of course you need a vegetable peeler, a knife, a cutting board, a bowl or two…this corer gizmo that I have from Pampered Chef comes in handy, and I love PC’s glass Prep Bowl set for storage once I thaw out the food. But I didn’t spend $200 outfitting my kitchen to manufacture baby food.


Primarily, I make food and store it in the freezer. Once I produce a batch of apples, for instance, I spoon them into ice cube trays, which I freeze on a sheet pan. I use the sheet pan for a couple of reasons. First, anything that is placed in my little freezer has to balance on top of something else; hot apple puree balances best on a flat surface. Second, when it comes time to pop the applesauce cubes out of their trays, better to twist and poke and prod onto a clean surface, like, say, the sheet pan. Jake’s food does take up a little space, but I think he’s worth it. I did find that, when I ran out of room in my ice cube trays, silicone muffin cups are great! I like them better than the trays, actually, because it’s very easy to get the food out of them.

Tomorrow, we’ll start talking about all the things you can make for Baby when you make your own food. Hopefully, I’ll give you some ideas that maybe you hadn’t considered before. Because you’ve got to feed the little punkins. It might as well be interesting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chef-ing for the Littlest Member of the Family

I don't know what's going on where you live, but where I am, there's a baby explosion underway! I shouldn't say "where I live"...because, more accurately, I have friends having babies from down the street to West Virginia and beyond. But with all of these babies being born, I thought it was high time to turn my attention, and yours, to some babyfood-making conversation.

When Elle, my five year old, was born, I returned to work full time after twelve weeks. I had my hands full, navigating the brave new world of being a working mom, and I was too exhausted even to contemplate making food for her. When it came time to introduce solids, I was happy to leave the cooking to Gerber. As a result, I can't help but wonder if some of the resistance that she had to eating (see "Attack of the Picky Two Year Old" for more detail) was due to the fact that her food just didn't really taste all that good. Ah, a mother's guilt. It's truly one of the most creative forces in the universe. This time around, I find myself with far more time and a little less money than before. I am also more concerned these days with the food that my family is eating, and little by little, I'm trying to increase our use of organic and local foods whenever I can. To that end, Jeremiah and I decided to give making our own babyfood a try. That was two months ago far, so good!

Making your own babyfood is an idea that's pretty hot right now. Williams-Sonoma features the Beaba Babycook, and a whole slew of absolutely adorable accessories to go with it. It's a great little product from the reviews that I've read. My friend Amanda, whose Peanut is a few months younger than Jake, actually lent me hers for a test run...but I was too intimidated by it to use it! But, by all means, for ease of use, it's a terrific product, and if it will get you into the kitchen and cooking for your baby, then it's certainly a worthy investment.

For us, however, a Babycook wasn't in the budget, but that didn't mean I couldn't still make my own food. I turned to my friend, Kelly, who is, by trade, a registered dietician, and who had made most of her son's food, for advice and tips. So, armed with an old-fashioned steamer basket and ice cube trays, I went to work.

Let's be clear right off the bat: I may know my way around the kitchen, but I'm no expert when it comes to what is best to feed baby. It may not sound like a big deal, but there are lots of hazards to navigate when feeding a tiny person whose digestive system is immature. I considered buying a book of baby food recipes, but I thought I would try to find some less expensive resources on my own first, and my very first search led me to a terrific website. I've relied heavily on it for nutritional information, methods, dos and don'ts, and advice about when to start Jake on particular foods. The website,, is the work of Christine Albury, mother of five and lover of food. She began making her own baby food with her first child in 1994. Her website is so wonderfully thorough that the most novice cook can follow her advice and recipes, and produce healthy and nutritious dishes for baby. In fact, some of her recipes have even inspired me in other ways, but more on that later.

Over the next few days, I'll share what I've done and what I've learned so far. We're only two months into this experience, but I fancy I've already come up with some things that might be valuable to some of my mommy (and daddy!) friends out there.