This article appeared in this month’s Sound Food newsletter-
My journey to learn about local eating and cooking took a hiatus one year ago when I became a parent. I turned most of my energies to other avenues of learning and, more quickly than I anticipated, towards figuring out how to feed a small person. With work, we have established a food system in our house that values local and seasonable ingredients and relies on homemade products. This is the same manner in which we wanted to feed our baby and, though it has sometimes presented a challenge, we can feel comfortable about the choices that we’ve made.
I’m certainly no expert and have only my personal experience to draw from, but I feel like I’ve gained some knowledge that I can share with you if you are about to start a similar journey. Before you make decisions, please consult the experts in your life – pediatricians, master canners, and wise other mothers.
A few things to remember
It seems tricky to eat seasonably when you have a hungry little mouth that wants to try new flavors, but planning can really help you pull it off.
- Plan and preserve. If you’re able, store away good foods in the pantry before baby arrives. Check out the NCHFP website for tips and safety advice. Think about first foods such as pears, applesauce, and squash. Freezing is a great way to keep fresh vegetables without any additives. All you’ll need to do to turn them into baby food is steam and puree.
- Barter and beg. Didn’t have time to plan or preserve? It’s understandable with a new little one in your house. See if anyone you know is willing to make a trade. Also, collecting home-preserved food would be a great shower idea or gift pack.
- Make compromises wisely. You’ll never find a local banana. That’s just the truth. When you have to compromise, choose organic and ask your grocer for information about where produce comes from.
Choosing the right equipment
As with any new kitchen endeavor, it’s good to have what you need. The time for table food will come more quickly than you think. If you’re lucky enough to have people in your life that want to bestow gifts on your new little one, think ahead and stock up on what you might need for feeding. Here is some equipment that I would recommend.
- 4 ounce jelly jars: These jars are the perfect solution to your homemade baby food needs. You can easily refrigerate or freeze individual portions and they safely travel in a small bag or lunchbox without leaking. (Even if you’re at home, you’ll appreciate the time saver of individually packaged proportions.) For reheating, these jars even fit down into the bottle warmer that we chose. Whenever we are out, I request a mug of hot water, tightly fit the lid on, and rest it in the water for a little bit to take the chill off. When you find out how useful these are, you won’t even care if people snicker when they see canning jars on your baby registry.
- A small food mill: This mill is handy for times when you’re on the go or if you have a small batch of something to puree at home. Of course a large-sized food mill is handy if you’re making a big quantity of food to serve or save.
- The Babycook: This is one of those gadgets that will make your mother sigh and say, “Well, I wish we had had those when you were little.” It’s such a time saver. It steams and purees all in one! The puree is beautiful and much smoother than my food processor. When your little one transitions from a more conservative eater but you’re still keeping an eye on salt, it’s so easy to pop some ingredients that you’re already cooking with into the Babycook. It’s also extremely handy for reheating.
- Appropriately sized utensils and cups: Your little one will soon be interested in feeding himself. Having the right-sized things for him to use encourages independence and decreases frustration. You can find child-sized utensils in various child-centered catalogs, such as Michael Olaf. I also found some beautiful and inexpensive wood utensils at the dollar store, Daiso (Westlake and the International District.) For drinking, a shot glass actually is just the right fit for small hands.
Choosing the right foods
- Know what your ‘go to’ foods are. It’s a good idea to have something on hand that you know he’ll always eat and enjoy. For us, it was squash. We stored a lot over the winter and rounded up extra at the local markets. It was easy to roast, mash, and reheat (or serve cold.) Another easy meal that we fall back on are scrambled eggs. At first, acting on advice, we separated the eggs and just scrambled the yolks. We have now moved on to scrambled eggs with milk and even some add-ins.
- Have confidence in your homemade snacks. I scrambled to find fingerfood that wasn’t processed. I found that grain-packed bread, cubed, was a great option for us. A lot of books suggest dips of pureed veggies to go with it. Other good snacks include homemade grahams, dehydrated fruits, and diced roasted veggies (carrots, parsnips potatoes, shelled peas.)
- Stay one step ahead of the hunger. Think about things that you can cook ahead of time, so that you always have something on hand. Freezing individual purees, breads, meatballs, and small crustless quiches have worked well for us.
Good luck on your journey! Feeding a new little person is a lot of work, but when you hear that first “Mmm!” sound, you’ll forget all of the challenges.