It’s a question every parent has probably asked: Why should I pay Gerber for a jar of mashed-up bananas when I can just, you know, mash up my own bananas? More and more parents are making their own baby foods at home, for a variety of reasons – from nutritional concerns to economic ones (those little jars or plastic tubs can be expensive). Heidi Hickman has three kids younger than the age of 5, and says the latter reason is why she’s been preparing homemade baby food for each of them. Here, she shares a few of her family’s favorites.
Butternut Squash Purée (4 months)
1 butternut squash Water
Wash and slice a butternut squash lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and membrane. Place cut side down in a baking dish. Fill dish with water up to 1 to 2 inches. Cook at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Scoop out the squash and blend or process until smooth, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of water until mixture reaches desired consistency.
Each recipe makes approximately 3/4 cup, or 12 tablespoons. If freezing in an ice cube tray, it makes roughly 12 cubes.
Cinnamon Applesauce (6 months)
2 apples Dash cinnamon
Wash, peel and core two apples. Chop roughly and cover with water in a microwavable dish. Steam in microwave 3 minutes. Drain. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water until mixture reaches desired consistency.
Green Pea Hummus (8 months)
1 cup frozen green peas 7 ½ ounces garbanzo beans 1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
Cover peas with water in a microwavable dish. Steam in microwave 2 to 3 minutes. Drain. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water until it reaches desired consistency.
Quick oats Water
When toddlers begin feeding themselves, some of them can be quite independent. In that case, Heidi adopted the habit of letting her oldest son feed himself his oatmeal in a much less messy fashion. When preparing this morning staple, simply cut the water in the recipe so the mixture is sticky rather than watery, and then roll into balls that your child can handle themselves.
Food Safety, and Freezing, Thawing and Age Guidelines
Heidi suggests the following website for guidance regarding storage and freezing.
Heidi Hickman began making her own baby food after she and her husband, Brad, an attorney at Sprouse Shrader Smith, welcomed their first son four-and-a-half years ago. “I like cooking anyway,” she says. “It was fun to be in the kitchen, see what he liked and didn’t like, and then make it in bulk.”
Now with a household of five – since then, the Hickmans have added a 2-year-old daughter and another son who is now 5 months old – Heidi says she is drawn to self-prepared baby food more for economical reasons than nutritional ones. Simply put, it saves money. “There are some great options out there that are organic or don’t have any additives,” she says. “It’s definitely convenient and there are good choices, but at home you can make a lot more for a lot less. It’s a huge money-saver.”
She finds herself willing to purée just about anything, despite the variety of baby foods available on store shelves. While her children definitely didn’t like store-stocked, baby meat products, all three have enjoyed Heidi’s homemade spaghetti puree – complete with noodles, tomato sauce and ground beef. “It’s nice when my husband and I are cooking meat for us that we can just puree for the babies,” she says. “I think it’s a good habit as the kids grow older. With our older two kids, we want them to be around the table eating the same foods we do. Otherwise, they’d just be wanting chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese every night.”
Heidi shares her recipes for a delicious homemade applesauce mix, a protein-rich green-pea hummus, and puréed butternut squash. “I tried this one out with my son a week ago and he loved it,” she says of the squash. “It’s a vegetable and it’s healthy, but it’s also a little bit sweeter than, say, green beans,” she laughs. “A more enjoyable experience for the baby right off the bat.”
Despite the personal and financial benefits she’s found in making baby food for her own family, Heidi says she’s far from a do-it-yourself zealot. “I think different routines are going to work in different homes,” she says. “It works for us because I like to be in the kitchen, I like to plan, and I get to be home. It doesn’t work for everybody. A lot of people are crunched for time and on-the-go, and a jar of organic baby food is a great choice. In different seasons of life, sometimes I make my own and sometimes I’ll buy from the store. If I’m an advocate of anything, it’s finding the option that makes the most sense for your family.”
by Jason Boyett
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.