Friday, April 29, 2011

Oh, Baby! Baby foods that don't break my piggy bank

I am a day nanny.  I provide food for the children in my care as part of my service.  Excluding formula and breast milk of course!  I have found that baby food is an expensive venture.  If you increased the portions to adult standards, you would be paying more than dining in a four star restaurant every meal of the day!  My make do on less mentality won't allow for that.
I was resistant to the making of baby food.  It just seemed like more work than I could handle, on top of meal planning, preparation, baking, and child care.  When Joel was a baby, we lived in Big Sandy Montana, and the ranch I was cooking for wouldn't allow me to buy any prepared goods, including baby food.  Joel was old enough that he could have whatever we were having, so I ground up (or mashed with a fork) chicken and rice, eggs and bacon, roast and vegetables:  whatever I fixed for the ranch hands.  It was often disgusting looking, but he loved it.
I am a little better prepared now for making food for babies.  I got a little bullet blender for Mother's day last year, with the idea that I would start making smoothies for breakfast.  Well, that hasn't happened yet, but I have been able to blend food for 1 year old Shaelyn, and am starting to use it and my immersion blender to prepare ahead foods for new eater Alayna.
Last shopping day, I bought a bag of frozen peas for $1.89 at the store.  After thawing, I blended it with the immersion blender, and it has fed Alayna all week.  That is a serious savings from the cost of  store bought baby food, and it only took a few minutes to prepare.  I of course had to taste it for quality control, and found it delicious enough to create a recipe for grown ups from it also:
Fresh Pea Soup
1 bag defrosted frozen peas, blended until smooth
2 cups chicken broth
2 T finely minced fresh mint
1 C plain yogurt
serve cold with cheese and toast.  Delicious spring meal at lunch!

I purchased ice cube trays, and spray them with baking spray, and fill them with blended vegetables, if the amount is more than I will use in a few days.  Once these little cubes of squash or carrots, etc... are frozen, I pop them out and store them in a zip lock bag.  They are great for babies just learning to eat, as they are a perfect serving size, equal to those tiny jars of first foods.  My girl Alayna has moved on to eating two at a setting, close to what you'd get in the second stage jars.
1 large sweet potato can provide six meals.  I just scrub it clean, and rub the skin with crisco, and wrap it tightly in foil.  An hour at 350*F, and it is steamy soft, and can be scraped out of the skin with a metal spoon.  It then gets blended with a little water, (or for my 1 year old, a little chicken stock,) and stored in the fridge, or frozen in the ice cube trays. 
The best thing about feeding your baby this way, is that you can introduce your child to food not available in the store bought varieties.  I have blended spaghetti and sauce, baked potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, swiss chard.  My children's palate was developed for more than just bananas and strained peas!  They were eaters, from the very start! 
We are off to make applesauce today.  We like to snack on tart apples, but in our busy lives of late, have waited until they are past the crisp stage.   They are still good to eat, just not snapping fresh.
Making of applesauce requires the use of a food mill.  The food mill is that contraption that has holes in the bottom, and curved blades that sweep around the inside of the pan to force the ingredients through the holes.  It is a real time saver, especially at canning time.  I will prepare them this way:

8-10 tart apples cut into wedges
enough water to cover
In a large stock pot, place the apples and water.  (Don't bother to remove the skins and core them, as they will be run through the food mill after they are soft.) Cover the pan, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, until the apples are soft enough to slip off a knife when pierced.  In a food mill placed over a large bowl, process the apples through the mill, and either place them in jars for refrigeration, or put them in the freezer.  I will reserve part of the applesauce, and season it with cinnamon and a little vanilla for flavor.

You can also make a fresh version by coring and peeling an apple and blending it until smooth, but I would suggest using a sweeter flavored apple for this.  It is good to mix tart apple with the flesh and skin of a dark plum, too for the fresh version of plum applesauce.   

If you don't have a bullet, you can certainly use a regular blender, or food processor.  I find the immersion blender is my favorite tool for blending baby food, IF the food is in a  deep sided pan, and I remember not to lift the blender up far enough to splatter myself with hot baby food!

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