When it comes to feeding their littlest ones, all parents know that mealtimes are a balancing act. Between convenience, nutrition, taste and affordability, parents face quite the task. (Though as they get older, snacking gets a little easier!)
But as a parent, you always ask yourself how you can provide your little ones with healthy, affordable meals that also won’t get spit back in your face or dribbled all over the high chair. Well, I have a few tips for making baby food that won’t break the bank. Check out a few of my favorite baby food recipes—all approved by my daughter.
4 Ways to Make Your Own Baby Food
Brown Rice Cereal for Babies
When you want to make your own baby food, rice is perhaps the most versatile ingredient to use. It’s inexpensive and can be made in large batches. It’s also healthy, containing phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, vitamin B6, niacin and thiamin, just to name a few benefits (no wonder it’s a great foundation for our favorite meals in a bowl!). Rice can also be mixed with other mushy baby food to add heft to meals without sacrificing flavor.
Step 1: Mill
Break the rice down into a coarse powder with a food processor (here’s our Test Kitchen’s favorite brand). A blender with a milling blade will work, too.
Step 2: Cook
Cook the rice over the stove using 4 cups of water for every 1/2 cup of rice. Bring the water up to boiling, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Serve or store
Once cooked, your brown rice will keep in the fridge up to three days or can be frozen up to a month. This is a great basic recipe and it can be easily mixed into any of the following baby-inspired dishes.
Pureed Produce for Babies
The crossroads of healthiness and low cost intersect at a catch-all baby food recipe technique for produce. To puree food, you’ll need a food processor, blender or immersion blender (here’s how those last two are different). Any of these is a great investment if you plan to make baby food regularly. By using these machines, you can quickly puree most veggies and fruits, and when you’re done making baby food, put it to use making pumpkin puree or gazpacho!
If you’re wondering what you can puree for baby, the answer is: almost anything. Fruits like apples, pears and peaches can be added to the puree without cooking and require little or no water to thin out for the right baby food consistency. Cooked vegetables—sweet potatoes, carrots, you name it—all work well once they’re steamed. But let’s break this down into steps.
Step 1: Cook (if necessary)
Like I said, most fruits will not need to be cooked ahead of time, but tougher veggies should be cooked. I think steaming is the best method because it helps the produce hold onto the most nutrients, but baking and boiling both get the job done. I avoid the microwave since it can aggressively break down the produce, but it works if you’re in a pinch.
Step 2: Puree
Move the cooked vegetable into the blender and puree. Easy.
Step 3: Thin it out
This is not always necessary, but thinning vegetable mash makes it easier for babies, especially those around the six-month mark, when they first begin solids. As you puree, add water slowly to create a smoother, more easily digested consistency. (You can even use the water your veggies steamed in.) Feel free to mix so it’s thicker than store-bought baby food, but don’t let it get thinner. If the food is too watery, it can taste slimy and won’t keep as well in the fridge.
Some tips: A pinch of salt or dab of butter is useful for making green vegetables like spinach or peas more palatable. Do not use butter before your child starts dairy. Breastmilk or formula can also be added during the thinning process—the familiar taste is comforting.
Soup for Babies
Soup is a great baby food option because it gives parents the freedom to add a variety of vegetables. I recommend using veggies that soften easily, like celery, for kids who are just starting solid foods.
Step 1: Cook
Add 2 tablespoons of uncooked pastina (find that here) to 3 cups of low-sodium chicken broth. Bring to a boil and stir while cooking for 8 minutes.
Step 2: Add veggies
Celery can be added directly to the broth. Or feel free to soften carrots or small chicken squares by cooking them separately and adding after the broth boils.
Step 3: Serve or store
Serve the soup while warm. The broth and noodle mixture keeps in the fridge for three days or in the freezer up to a month.
Squash and Potatoes for Babies
Squash and potatoes are a fantastic flavor-packed, vitamin A-filled option for even your fussiest tyke. These ingredients create a safe go-to recipe, especially for filling hungry bellies before nap time. This recipe works for children comfortable with chewy, solid foods and it serves as a great snack until—well, my daughter is in first grade and she still loves ’em!
If your baby is just starting solids, you can puree the mix. And if your pantry looks a little bare, this recipe also works with just potatoes or squash.
Step 1: Prep the potatoes
Cut your squash and potatoes into small cubes. Season with cinnamon and a dash of rosemary.
Step 2: Roast
Drizzle the cubes with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, or until tender and browned.
Step 3: Snacktime
Once cooled down, these are great snacks for kids who are just starting slightly more solid foods. If you’re child is still in the soft-foods-only stage, pop this recipe in the blender to smooth it out. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
With a little extra prep and a smidge of time (during a nap?), you can have nutritious, homemade baby food that is perfect for your tiniest tots.
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