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We’re in a recession. Nobody informed my twin daughters, who go through about 40 diapers a week or my son, in his first year of day school. Fortunately, we’ve found ways to save money while giving our children a great head start.
The most obvious way to save money with a newborn is to breastfeed. I guess cloth diapers would save money and the environment, but I imagine most of us would employ a diaper service, wiping out any savings incurred.
Almost as valuable as breastfeeding, to my mind, is making our own baby food. While at first intimidating, I’ve found that the satisfaction far outweighs the hour or so a week I spend steaming, pureeing and freezing.
But why do it? Since I started with the recession, here are some financial omparisons. According to the website and all around great resource www.wholesomebabyfood.com, a 2.5 oz. jar of banana baby food costs 59 cents while 2.5 oz of mashed banana comes out to about 3 cents. As a health conscious mother, I try to buy organic when I can. But organic baby food can cost a dollar or more a jar. I’ve calculated that making my own food saves an average of about $5 a day (for twins). Those savings allow us to buy the more expensive organic fruits and vegetables at the supermarket.
Another reason for making my own food is that I know exactly what goes in it. There are no preservatives or fillers in the bananas that I mash and freeze. Furthermore, I have more variety. After getting the okay from my pediatrician, I actually gave my girls avocado before cereal. Although I gave them cereal soon after, I also introduced them to sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, apples and any number of creative mixes I could come up with. Sometimes, I’d stir in cinnamon or wheat germ, and generally try to keep mealtime a creative and bonding ritual.
There is also the future to think about. As the mother of an extremely picky four- year-old, I vowed to try as hard as I could to introduce, and keep my children exposed, to a wide range of foods. A few months into solid eating, my daughters eat kiwi, chopped liver, pumpkin and papaya. I know that it’s way too early to give myself a pat on the back. Books and experience tell me that children, toddlers especially, can turn on a dime. Children who tried asparagus and peas when younger, close their mouths to anything but fish sticks and macaroni later. Still, I’ll try to do what I can now.
I can almost hear the screaming – “who has time for pureeing baby food?” You’d be surprised at how effortless it can become, especially when integrated into a routine. Some foods, of course, don’t need to be cooked or pureed by any utensils other than a fork. Avocados and bananas fall into that category, as do pears (after 6 months only). Papayas need to be pureed but not cooked.
An immersion blender is salvation with homemade baby food. Other important tools include a collapsible steamer and an ice cube tray. Of course, there are as many ways to prepare the food as there are babies to cook for, so a food processor and Ziploc bags work just as well.
There are several ways to prepare the fruits and vegetables. Most can be boiled, steamed or roasted. Steaming, however, is fairly simple and retains the most nutrients. To steam, simply fill a pot with about an inch of water. Put in a steaming basket and then the sliced fruit or vegetable.
Here’s what I do: I steam or roast the fruits and vegetables. After they’ve cooled, I blend them with an immersion blender. I’ve found great baby food storage jars from the website www.OneStepAhead.com. They are freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe, and come with trays that can be labeled with erasable markers. To use the ice cube tray method, just spoon the purees into the tray and freeze. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into a sandwich bag labeled with the food and the date. In the beginning, a serving consists of one cube, and later on you can serve more as necessary.
A few recipes: As I said before, the quickest foods are the ones that require opening and spooning out, such as an avocado or a banana. After a few months, there are more fruits and vegetables that don’t need to be cooked or pureed, but both avocados and bananas are healthful choices. Obviously, you should consult with your pediatrician, but I actually gave my daughters avocados as a first food, even before rice cereal.
Papaya also does not need to be cooked and can be introduced quite young. Simply cut it open, scoop out the seeds, and puree. You can always add breast milk or a little formula.
Zucchini should be sliced and steamed in about an inch of water for 15 minutes. When you puree it, add a little bit of the cooking water.
Butternut Squash is made the same way, but the vegetable must be peeled first.
You can make homemade rice cereal, but this is the one I left to the pros. I made it once and found it tedious and of course, it doesn’t freeze. The other advantage to store-bought rice cereal is that it can be mixed into fruit and vegetable soups and purees as a thickener.
Potatoes need to be washed well and steamed for about half an hour. After it’s cooled, peel the potatoes and mash. Potatoes are one vegetable I would use a fork to mash with some liquid. As with the others baby milk is fine, but I like to mash it with Imagine Organic Vegetable Soup. It adds flavor and doesn’t have the preservatives that many other types have.
Babies also enjoy mixes-you can be creative. I’ve served bananas with avocadoes (bananacado) as well as zucchini, and plums with applesauce (homemade applesauce is one of the all time joys in homemade baby food, and I challenge you to prepare applesauce without stealing half of it for yourself). Your imagination is the limit.
Again, wholesomebabyfood.com is a fantastic resource with instructions, recipes and food charts. Although it is imperative to check and keep in contact with your pediatrician, the website does have a chart of what foods can be introduced at what age. Another resource is an English lady named Annabel Karmel. She’s written The Healthy Baby Meal Planner and my own copy is dog-eared. The book is divided by age, and Karmel also includes advice in an easy-to-read and non-preachy manner.
This is such a small window in your child’s life. After about eight months all fruits may be served raw; including apples, peaches, plums and mangos. Soon you will introduce cheeses, raisins, berries (but not strawberries) and pasta. For me, homemade baby food is second only to nursing. I’ve long felt that nursing is one of the few choices I have to make for my child that is all good. So often, the choices we make for our children are ambiguous or full of trade-offs. For instance, do you send your daughter to the school with the good education that lacks the warmth, or a school with a welcoming, cozy environment but a less-than-stellar education? Do you buy her the new toy that has all the bells and whistles but leaves no room for imagination, or provide simple toys that are less flashy but offer more stimulation?
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is great for mother-child bonding, is the most nutritious food for her, saves the parents money and even benefits the mother’s health. So why end it there? Homemade baby food is a great, simple and inexpensive way to prolong the closeness and the health benefits before you’ll be forced to cede a little more control. It is a wonderful way to send a child into the world fortified with the best food and closest feeling possible.
Shoshana Greenwald is the mother of one extremely picky 4-year-old, and two daughters who will eat anything in sight.