Making your own purées and baby food from scratch can save money – and you know exactly what’s in your baby’s food. Feeding expert Annabel Karmel explains how to get started
It feels like there’s a lot to think about when you start weaning, especially if you want to make your own purées. What do you need to sterilise? How much is one portion? Do you need any new kitchen equipment? Luckily, Annabel is on hand to answer all your questions with her step-by-step, stress-free guide to making your own baby food.
Step 1: Get kitted out
Most of the equipment you need will already be in your kitchen (for example, mashers, graters and sieves). But here are three important pieces you might consider buying.
- Electric hand blender: This is easy to clean and ideal for making small quantities of baby purée.
- Food processor: Ideal for puréeing large quantities, ready for batch freezing.
- Steamer: Steaming food is one of the best ways to preserve nutrients. It’s worth buying a multi-tiered steamer, but a basket over a saucepan with a well-fitting lid is a cheaper alternative.
- Ice-cube tray or food cube tray: Flexible trays are great for storing batch-cooked purées in small, meal-sized portions. You can buy special food cube trays for weaning, but an ice-cube tray can work just as well.
Step 2: Choose your first food
From 6 months, most babies are ready to have some solid food alongside their usual milks feeds. It’s important to remember the transition to solids is more about introducing food rather than giving a full meal as they’ll still be getting most of their nutrition from milk at this stage.
First foods should be simple, easy to digest, and unlikely to provoke an allergic reaction. Start with a single ingredient, ideally a fruit or vegetable. Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash are very popular first foods because they are packed full of nutrients, have a naturally sweet flavour and can easily be puréed to a smooth texture. Try mixing them with a little breast or formula milk to ease the transition.
Other great first fruits include apple and pear, which you cook and purée, and banana, papaya and avocado, which don’t require cooking provided they are nice and ripe.
Step 3: Prep food and equipment
Preparing and cooking baby foods isn’t difficult, but because you’re dealing with a baby, good hygiene is really important. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully before cooking. Frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of being picked. This seals in all of their nutrients, so it’s absolutely fine to use them to make your baby’s purées.
If you’ve chosen to bottle feed, you’ll be very familiar with sterilising. With a new baby, it’s very important to sterilise bottles properly, and you should continue to sterilise all milk bottles and teats until your baby is one year old. However, once they’re crawling and trying to put anything and everything in their mouth, there’s no point sterilising spoons, food containers or other feeding equipment. Just wash them in a dishwasher or by hand (wearing rubber gloves) at roughly 27°C.
Step 4: Choose your cooking method
- Steaming: This is the best way to preserve the fresh taste and goodness. Vitamins B and C can easily be destroyed by over-cooking, especially when foods are boiled in water. Broccoli loses more than 60% of its antioxidants when boiled, but less than 7% when steamed.
- Boiling: Try to use only a little water and be careful not to overcook. To make a smooth purée, add just enough of the cooking liquid or a small amount of formula or breast milk.
- Microwaving: Place the vegetables or fruit in a suitable dish. Add a little water, cover, leave an air vent and cook on full power until tender (stirring half-way through). Purée to the desired consistency and stir well to avoid hot spots. Always be sure to check that it isn’t too hot before serving to your baby.
- Baking: Baking can be useful when you’re already cooking a family meal in the oven. Simply add a sweet potato or butternut squash for your baby. Bake until tender and then cut in half, scoop out the flesh and mash with water or milk.
Step 5: Get the right texture
If you are opting for spoon-fed purées they should be quite runny – roughly the consistency of a thick soup or yoghurt. You can always thin purées down by adding extra cooking liquid or their usual milk. You can then start to gradually reduce the amount of liquid you are adding, which will encourage them to chew a little.
It’s important to introduce texture and small lumps as early as possible, as the older they are the harder it is for them to accept lumps. One benefit of making your own baby food is that you can start to introduce lumps gradually. From 6 months, babies can go straight onto solid food in the form of soft finger foods too – banana, steamed carrot and sweet potato are good starting points.
Step 6: Make the right amount
It’s difficult to say exactly how much you should be feeding your baby because every baby is different. At the very beginning, don’t expect your baby to take more than 1-2 teaspoons of a fruit or vegetable purée. For this, you will probably need one portion, which means one or two cubes from a food cube tray.
As your baby develops, you can simply increase the amount of food gradually. Babies have a strong sense of appetite – eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are not – usually turning their head away is a sign they are full. As a rough guide, from 7 months babies should ideally be having three small meals a day, alongside their regular milk feed.
Step 7: Batch cook and freeze!
As a baby only eats tiny amounts, especially in the early stages of weaning, it’s easier and saves time to batch cook larger quantities of purée. Then freeze extra portions in flexible food-cube trays or small plastic food storage pots for future meals. Be sure to label them clearly with the contents and date so you don’t get them muddled up.
If frozen at -18°C (-0.4°F), baby purées will keep for up to three months. Don’t reheat foods more than once and don’t re-freeze meals that have previously been frozen. If you have defrosted baby food in the fridge overnight it should be used within 24 hours.
To defrost frozen purées, remove them from the freezer several hours or the night before a meal, and reheat in a saucepan. Alternatively, reheat in a microwave, but stir the purée thoroughly to remove any hot spots.
For lots of recipe inspiration, essential advice, tips and meal planners, Annabel’s New Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner is the No.1 guide for giving your baby the very best start. Visit www.annabelkarmel.com.