Home Plate: Feeding Baby

By Kristi Willis
Photography by Andy Sams

Wee Chloe happily accepts a heaping spoonful of cottage cheese nestled alongside homemade spinach puree, then smiles from ear to ear. “I love knowing that she’ll grow up loving vegetables,” says mom Cari Marshall—matching her daughter’s smile.

Having an ample supply of fresh produce on hand has long been a commitment of Marshall and her husband, Eric de Valpine. They joined a CSA while living in Long Beach, California, and loved the diversity and volume of produce that arrived each week.


“It changed the way we eat,” Marshall says. And when Chloe was ready for solid food, it seemed natural to include her in their weekly bounty from the local farm. At the time, Marshall’s next-door neighbors happened to be making baby food for their children, and they inspired and taught her to do the same.

Soon the family was moving to Austin, though, and Marshall bought a few jars of organic commercial baby food while preparing for the trip. Chloe was less than enthusiastic about the new food, and so once they landed in Austin, Marshall and de Valpine were happy to discover Farmhouse Delivery. Now Chloe is well fed and happy due to the weekly supply of fresh, local fruits and veggies.

Like Marshall, more and more parents are choosing to bypass store-bought baby foods and make their own instead. Aside from the obvious improvements in freshness and flavor, making baby food allows parents to monitor exactly what their children are eating, where it came from and how it was prepared. And making your own food is surprisingly simple and inexpensive: steam or roast Baby’s favorite fruits and vegetables, puree in a blender or food processor and serve!

With the amazing array of seasonal, local produce available in Central Texas, it’s easy to feed even the most finicky of palates healthily and well. Some parents prepare baby food for the entire week from one farmers market visit—freezing the pureed food in ice-cube trays, transferring the cubes to a freezer-safe container and thawing or reheating as needed. Other parents simply make a little extra of whatever they’re eating and puree it for the baby one meal at a time. “It was so much easier than I expected,” says mother of two, Carly Price. “At first, I thought it would be a big time commitment, but instead I found that I could make a month’s worth of food in an hour and just freeze it.”

The variety of foods made at home can also provide Baby with important nutrients not found on a store shelf. Dr. Julie Bolton, one of Marshall’s former neighbors, encouraged Marshall to feed Chloe not-available-in-stores beet greens to help with tummy troubles. “People buy beets without the greens, or look at the greens as throw-away,” says Dr. Bolton. “But, they’re high in fiber and potassium—which has a laxative effect—and help you digest food more easily.”

Will Mitchell, a doctor of Oriental medicine and certified nutritionist, notes that many American children are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids—a critical component in healthy brain development. Parents can increase their children’s omega-3 intake by introducing cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts to their diet—more vegetable varieties not usually available in store-bought baby foods.

“When using fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients, homemade infant food provides babies with food that is highly nutritious, if not more nutritious than store-bought baby foods,” says KC Wright, a master’s-level registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association and publisher of Edible White Mountains. “Commercial foods are both safe and convenient, but may lack the garden-to-table flavor and contain more starches and sugars than needed. Fresh food just tastes better, and is therefore often more accepted by toddlers. And if it tastes better, you’re grooming a healthy eater for life.”

Still, some parents find the idea of DIY baby food daunting. Beth Coke, a mother of five, wanted to make food for her first two kids, but was intimidated. Then she had twins, one of whom must adhere to a limited diet and didn’t like the specially prepared options. When Coke started making the twins’ food, she noticed that her daughter with special dietary needs was more alert. “Going from the jarred baby food to homemade really seemed to wake her up,” Coke says. “It totally changed her quality of life.”

And some parents worry about the safety of homemade baby food. Dr. Brooks Booker, a pediatrician at Austin Regional Clinic, says making baby food at home is perfectly safe as long as you pay attention to four key elements. First, buy quality ingredients and inspect all items for any signs of rotting or spoilage. Clean the fruits and vegetables well and remove all traces of dirt. When preparing the food, always start with clean hands, equipment and preparation area. And finally, store the food properly to prevent spoilage. Dr. Booker also suggests introducing foods that are high in nitrates—spinach, celery, lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips and collard greens—very slowly. Before the age of six months, Baby’s stomach doesn’t yet have the enzymes to process them properly.

While you don’t need special equipment to make baby food, if you’re gadget-inclined, check out the Beaba Babycook—an all-in-one device that includes a steamer and food mill and comes with a cookbook. But most say if you can mash soft chunks of food with a good ol' fork, you’ll be set.

Once safely and confidently aboard the homemade baby-food train, the list of possibilities for these budding gourmands is stunning. Many baby-food makers notice that their tots enjoy the expected items like sweet potatoes, apples and carrots, but also devour foods that even some adults might push away, like turnips, quinoa and kale. Even exotic spices usually avoided when making food for babies in this country are fair game. Austinite Muna Hussaini wants her daughter to eat what she did while growing up in India. “It’s part of our culture to eat spiced foods,” she says. “I want my daughter to experience that.” Hussaini started her daughter on pureed food with traditional Indian spices and transitioned her to finger foods when she started reaching for what was on the adults’ plates. Now her daughter eats what she eats, although Hussaini doesn’t use red pepper in her daughter’s food. Coke encourages parents to try almost everything. “You’ll be amazed what your kids will eat,” she says. “Nothing is off-limits in our house.”

Whether it’s for health, safety, saving money or adding variety, there are plenty of compelling reasons to make your own baby food, not the least of which are the resulting smiles on the faces of those grateful-yet-small diners. “I get to make her food and see her enjoy it,” says local mom Holly McKee. “What could be better than that?”

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MAKING BABY FOOD TIPS

• Talk to your pediatrician before starting a child on solid food. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting until a baby is six months old before introducing solid food.
• Roasting or steaming produce before pureeing preserves more of its nutritional value. If boiling the vegetables, add some of the cooking water to the puree to replenish the vitamins leached out during cooking.
• Ease your child into finger food by gradually making the food more coarse.
• Eggs are often cited as an allergen, but it’s usually the egg white, not the yolk, that’s problematic. According to Dr. Mitchell, adding hard-boiled egg yolk to your child’s meal provides much-needed cholesterol, iron and iodine. Boil several eggs at one time, peel them, remove the white and freeze the yolks. Thaw as needed.
• To make a pureed fruit or vegetable less watery, mix it with another food like bananas, cottage cheese, risotto, oatmeal, yogurt or pasta.
• Don’t be afraid to mix and match once you find a food your child enjoys.
• Explore whole grains beyond rice cereal and oatmeal—quinoa and ground millet are great alternatives. However, avoid grains with gluten (wheat, rye and barley) until at least after the first year.

MAKING BABY FOOD RESOURCES
Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron has an outline of when to introduce foods.
Feed Me! I’m Yours by Vicki Lansky.
Wholesome Baby Food website: wholesomebabyfood.com
Homemade Baby Food Recipes website: homemade-baby-food-recipes.com
WebMD baby food timeline: webmd.com/parenting/baby/baby-food-nutrition-9/baby-food-timeline
Little Vittles Organic, a hand-made baby food delivery service: littlevittlesorganic.com

FEEDING BABY SUMMER
Beets (10–12 months)
Blueberries (8–10 months)
Corn (10–12 months)
Cucumbers (10–12 months)
Eggplant (8–10 months)
Figs (8–10 months)
Green beans (4–6 months)
Melons (8–10 months)
Okra (10–12 months)
Onions (8–10 months)
Peaches (6–8 months)
Peppers (8–10 months)
Potatoes (8–10 months)
Pumpkins (6–8 months)
Shallots (8–10 months)
Squash (6–8 months)
Tomatoes (10–12 months)
Zucchini (6–8 months)

MUNA'S INDIAN-STYLE ZUCCHINI

½ small onion, diced
1 tomato, finely chopped
Pinch of freshly ground ginger
Pinch of freshly ground garlic
Pinch of turmeric
Pinch of salt
½ t. fenugreek leaves
(available at Indian grocery)
1 zucchini, peeled and sliced into coins
A few drops of lemon or lime juice
1 t. cilantro, chopped

Sauté the onion on medium-high heat until golden. Add the tomato and cook until most of the water is gone. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt and fenugreek leaves.

Add the zucchini and stir to coat. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until most of the water is gone. Add lemon juice to taste and garnish with cilantro.

BETH'S WATERMELON YOGURT
½ c. farmers market watermelon, chopped
Greek yogurt

In a bowl, mash the watermelon and add enough yogurt to make a thick consistency.

PURPLE POTATOES from wholesomebabyfood.com
1 c. cooked beets, mashed
2 c. cooked potatoes, mashed
½ c. soft-cooked diced carrots (optional for finger-food eaters)

Mix beets and potatoes together and serve. Add carrots for
extra eye appeal.

FEEDING BABY IN FALL

Apples (4–6 months)
Beets (10–12 months)
Bok choy (10–12 months)
Broccoli (8–10 months)
Cabbage (10–12 months)
Carrots (6–8 months)
Cauliflower (8–10 months)
Cucumbers (10–12 months)
Eggplant (8–10 months)
Figs (8–10 months)
Green beans (4–6 months)
Green onions (8–10 months)
Greens (10–12 months}
Kohlrabi (10–12 months)
Okra (10–12 months)
Parsnips (6–8 months)
Pears (6–8 months))
Peppers, sweet (8–10 months)
Pumpkin (6–8 months)
Radishes (10–12 months)
Rutabagas (6–8 months)
Spinach (10–12 months)
Summer squash (6–8 months)
Sweet potatoes (4–6 months)
Tomatoes (10–12 months)
Turnips (8–10 months)
Winter squash, acorn or butternut (4–6 months)

EGGPLANT SAUTÉ from wholesomebabyfood.com
1 eggplant
2 T. olive oil
½ c. onions, finely chopped
1½  t. garlic powder
¼ t. pepper
¼ t. basil, chopped

Peel and dice eggplant. Sauté onions and eggplant in olive oil over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add spices. Drain any remaining olive oil if desired. Serve alone or over noodles.

SPRING
Artichokes (10–12 months)
Asparagus (8–10 months)
Beets (10–12 months)
Blueberries (8–10 months)
Broccoli (8–10 months)
Brussels sprouts (10–12 months)
Cabbage (10–12 months)
Carrots (6–8 months)
Cauliflower (8–10 months)
Celery (8–10 months)
Chard (10–12 months)
Collards (10–12 months)
Cucumbers (10–12 months)
Grapefruit (10–12 months)
Kale (10–12 months)
Leeks (8–10 months)
Lettuce (10–12 months)
Mushrooms (8–10 months)
Greens (10–12 months)
Oranges (12 months)
Peaches (6–8 months)
Peas (6–8 months)
Potatoes (8–10 months)
Radishes (10–12 months)
Spinach (10–12 months)
Spring onions ((8–10 months)
Strawberries (10–12 months)
Squash (6–8 months)
Turnips (8–10 months)

WINTER
Arugula (10–12 months)
Beets (10–12 months)
Broccoli (8–10 months)
Brussels Sprouts (10–12 months)
Cabbage (10–12 months)
Carrots (6–8 months)
Cauliflower (8–10 months)
Greens (10–12 months)
Green Onions (8–10 months)
Kohlrabi (10–12 months) 
Oranges and other citrus fruits (12 months)
Potatoes (6–8 months)
Radishes (10–12 months)
Spinach (10–12 months) 
Sweet potatoes (4–6 months)
Turnips (8–10 months) 
Winter squash, acorn or butternut (4–6 months)

SWEET POTATO AND TURNIP SOUP from wholesomebabyfood.com
1 leek (dark green tops removed and discarded), rinsed well and diced
1 medium red onion, chopped
1–2 large turnips, peeled and diced
2 white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 sweet potato
2 qt. vegetable stock or water
1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped
Pepper to taste

Cook leek and onion with a little water in the bottom of large soup pot until soft. Add turnips, potatoes, sweet potato and a little stock and stew for 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add rest of the stock and the rosemary and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fully cooked. Puree half of the soup in a food processor or blender and return to the pot. Season to taste with pepper, reheat and serve.

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