My little girl turned six-months-old and started eating solids this winter. I feel like we lucked out on timing because the fruits and veggies that come into season this time of year are exactly what "babies first foods" tend to be.
For one, babies love all things orange. Carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash are ideal vitamin-rich and calorie-packed first foods. In fact, my baby loves orange foods so much that I'm afraid to admit she actually turned orange for a few days.
I changed up her menu and thankfully she went back to her normal pigment. In doing so, I discovered why winter is such an ideal time of year to create your own baby food.
Dark leafy greens like kale, chard and collards are delicious mixed with a little apple. It takes off any bitter edge and green veggies provide needed folate for baby. Broccoli and cauliflower are in season and high in vitamin C. Winter squash, sweet potato and carrots are rich in vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin. And winter fruits like pears and apples are a sweet staple to mix with rice cereal, yogurt and help keep babies regular.
When I started on this homemade baby food adventure, two things really surprised me.
First, creating delicious purees from fresh whole foods is really easy! All you have to do is take a whole fruit or veggie, steam it and mash it up. In just an hour or two during a weekend, you can make big batches and freeze them to last you several weeks.
Second, I could not believe how good plain ol' steamed and mashed up veggies taste. These little meals burst with flavor. I found myself stealing bites out of my daughter's bowl here and there thinking, 'Gosh, this all tastes amazing without any salt or sugar.' It made me think twice about how I prepare my own food. But it also made me feel pretty good about my efforts to eat in season.
The proof is in the pudding - literally. Foods harvested at their seasonal peak just taste better, and you're going to get the greatest amount of nutrients for your baby when you cook with these ripe fresh fruits and veggies.
Aside from the above reasons, there are other great benefits to homemade baby food. For one, you know exactly what's going into it, no additives, preservatives, sodium or sugars. You can experiment with textures and make the foods lumpier when the baby is ready so she can learn to chew foods. You can be creative and create mixtures with herbs and varieties of produce that you wouldn't find in a jar. This isn't to say that you're never going to use jar food at all. I do all the time when we're traveling.
I look forward to spring and summer as different varieties of fruits and veggies come into season, but I must say, winter has been a great time to start. Here are a few of my favorite and super easy recipes for winter baby food. Next up I plan on experimenting with beets, avocado, mercury-free fish, free-range chicken, lentils and dried fruit.
Butternut Squash and Leek Puree
- 2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
- 1 leek chopped
Place leek and butternut squash in a steamer basket over a saucepan with 1 inch water or in a Babycook and steam for 5-7 minutes on medium high heat or until squash is tender.
Transfer to a food processor and puree adding some of the cooking liquid to the mixture. Add extra moisture especially if you're going to freeze some because it tends to dry out in the freezer.
Purple Potatoes and Collard Greens
Purple potatoes are like little antioxidant powerhouses. The purple color comes from a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which is responsible for the blue in blueberries and other purple fruits and veggies. These potent purple spuds have been shown to boost the immune system and have anti-cancer effects. Dark colored potatoes in general have up to four times the antioxidant potential of those with lighter skin and flesh.
- 1 purple potato
- 2 cups chopped baby collards
Peel (or don't - I didn't) potato and chop into half inch cubes. Place on the bottom of a steamer basket over a saucepan with 1 inch water. Put the two cups washed and chopped collards on top of the potatoes. Steam for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and blend using the cooking liquid. I found it necessary to add a lot of water to this mixture to keep it from becoming stiff and starchy. Maybe adding a tiny bit of butter or olive oil would help.
Apple and Pear Puree
- 1 apple - This week I'm using Fuji apples, they are both crisp and sweet.
- 1 pear - This week I'm using Bosc pears, a winter season pear ideal for cooking and baking because of their creamy white flesh.
Peel and core apple and pear. Chop into chunks. Put them in a steamer basket over a saucepan with 1 inch water or in a Babycook and steam for 5 minutes on medium high heat. Blend using some of the cooking liquid. Mix with other purees, grain cereals or stand alone.
TIP: Freeze your purees in batches in ice cube trays, or baby food freezer trays. Instead of buying lots of trays if they become full. Pop out the food and put them in zip locks, label and date and throw back in the freezer until your ready to use them.