Baby Food Snob

(I have been thinking about writing this post for a while, and I was tentative to start because of how much ground could be covered, should be covered, and would likely be covered by my knowledge.  This topic has come up too many times in the past few weeks for me to ignore it, so I will share with my readers what I know and where they can learn more for themselves.)

A few days ago Beard was telling me about a conversation he’d had with some of his man buddies about their children.  One man’s daughter had just begun to eat baby food, and the other was enlightening him about the different stages and different types of containers that baby food comes in.  They laughed shortly about the weird pureed foods that come in jars, and apparently, my husband was fighting his judgmental disposition from writing itself all over his face.

You see, we are baby food snobs.  There are no two ways about it.

When we found out we were going to have Bitsy Girl, my mother gifted us with the very food processor she used to make my baby food.  (Yes, this appliance is over 20 years old and still works like a dream.)  She explained that I never ate jarred “baby food”; instead she and my father would puree already cooked foods to feed to baby me.  Newly pregnant, I hadn’t really considered anything along these lines; I was more focused on labor and delivery than what I would be feeding this little child over a year from then.

As we grew more accustomed to the idea of parenthood, Beard and I researched things we would like to do for our children, and the topic of baby food came up again.  This time we were paying better attention.  With lots of advice from my mom, the instructor of our birthing class, and an excellent book called Super Baby Food, we felt that we were armed and ready to take on making all of our daughter’s food.

At almost 15 months old, Bitsy Girl has never eaten baby food from a jar or package.  We have literally made all of her food.  Of this, we are both very proud.  And a bit snobbish.

Why did we choose to make our own baby food?

First and foremost, we made this decision because we would know exactly what was in our daughter’s food at each meal.  If we made her food there would be no hidden preservatives.  Foods could be as fresh as we’d like.

Another factor for us was cost.  I tend to be a little bit of a budget freak (hey, we’re still paying off student loans!), so I try to shave little bits out of our budget if possible.  And the fact is that jarred baby food can get very expensive, especially if you are going to buy organic and natural.  A typical jar of baby food vegetables, let’s say carrots, costs between $0.50 and $1.  I could easily buy a pound of organic carrots at the grocery store or farmer’s market for $1.50 and make about 20 – 25 servings of pureed carrots.  It just didn’t make sense to me to purchase something I could so easily make at home at a lower cost.

How did we make our own baby food?

Some baby foods are more difficult than others to make.  Most vegetables and some fruits can be easily pureed after being steamed or boiled.  Foods like carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, potatoes, peas, green beans, and more fall into this category.  We simply cooked a portion of the food without salt or sugar, then put it in our food processor and let it do its thing.  We would add enough water to food to make a thin puree for Bitsy Girl when she was very young, and as she grew older and more used to food, we would use less water, allowing her more of a mashed food.

Some fruits, like pears, bananas, and avocados can be pureed raw or even mashed with a fork.  These were great in a pinch when I didn’t have very much time to make something for Bitsy Girl to eat and had nothing already made for her.  And as strange as it sounds to eat avocado by itself, most babies love it.  It is rich and creamy, plus babies aren’t usually born with an aversion to green foods.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, Bitsy Girl ate a few kinds of homemade baby cereals. My favorite to make was oatmeal because it was easily ground, but you could use rice, millet, barley, etc.  We simply ground up uncooked grains, then cooked them according to instructions found in our trusty Super Baby Food book.  

For protein, we would feed our daughter foods like yogurt, which can be fed to babies without any real preparation.; it is already easy for them to eat!  Several books and websites I had read suggested tofu, but the stuff kind of grosses me out, so we would feed Bitsy Girl beans instead.  Beans could be pureed with other foods to add some protein to the mix.  

How did we store our homemade baby food?

Of course when we were going through the trouble of pureeing and mashing all of Bitsy Girl’s food we didn’t want to make single serving sizes.  Instead, we would make several servings of food at once and store them.  For pureed fruits and vegetables, we would pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze them until solid; then the “food cubes” could be stored in a freezer bag or container in the freezer, labeled with the type of food and date on which it was made.  These foods stayed fresh for up to 6 months.  We stored grains and cereals in a container in the refrigerator, and they kept for 3-4 days.  Yogurt, of course, could be scooped out of its regular container, so there were no special storing processes for that food.

What kinds of finger foods can babies eat and when can they eat them?

Beard and I used a lot of Bitsy Girl’s cues for our parenting, and feeding was no exception.  When we noticed her picking things up and putting them in her mouth (about 8 or 9 months old) we cut up mushy bits of food for her to grab.  Bananas were first because the texture is easy for babies to eat and because they were and still are her all time favorite food.  We moved on from bananas to avocados, then veggies cooked until soft.  Medium textured cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar, etc.) came soon after, and with all that Italian and Wisconsinite blood in her, Bitsy Girl was a fan.  

Bitsy Girl began to eat meat around this stage.  Chicken or turkey could be cooked and shredded for her to pick up with her hands.  White fish worked well, too.  We held off on beef for a little while, but by around 10 months, she was enjoying homemade Swedish meatballs.

Once Bitsy Girl could eat foods with her fingers, we began giving her foods that we were eating, as opposed to bland, unseasoned foods.  She would eat the pasta we were having for dinner or some succotash with butter and garlic.  As young as 9 months, our daughter was eating most seasonings that I use in the house.

I should say here that I cook with very little, if any salt, so I felt comfortable feeding these foods to my baby.  If you cook with salt, I would save a small portion for your baby before salting your foods.

Making your own baby food may sound like a scary undertaking, but Beard and I learned that it really isn’t.  It has so many great rewards, and it really only takes a bit time than shopping for baby food, opening a jar, and heating it up.

As a final note I want to leave you with an internet resource that was invaluable to us on our baby food adventure:

This website has so many great charts depicting what foods baby can and should eat when as well as ideas on how to serve and prepare different foods.  Enjoy!.  Enjoy!

For Those of Us Who Don’t Have Self-Cleaning Ovens..

A few nights ago, Beard and I made some homemade pizza.  It came out pretty tasty, but the baking process was less than pleasant.  Since we moved into our house, I’ve never cleaned the oven.  I’m not sure if the people who lived here before us cleaned the oven either because they weren’t here very long.  So I can safely assume that the reason our oven smoked and stank like death was because it hadn’t been cleaned in over two years.  Until this morning, that is.

For this job I rounded up my favorite cleaning products:  baking soda and distilled vinegar.  Consequently these two ingredients also make a nifty “volcano”. 😉

(I’m also very glad I threw the washcloth in this picture, because I was able to take a shot of that after cleaning.)

Here is what my oven looked like before I started:

Lovely, isn’t it?  There was also a chunk of charred stuff on the bottom that I couldn’t photograph properly, but I’m pretty sure that is what was causing my smoking, smelly mess.

To get started, I poured some straight vinegar in the spray bottle and sprayed the whole oven generously.  Then I grabbed a mug and sprinkled my baking soda over as much of the oven as I could.  Again, this was a generous sprinkling.  The baking soda and vinegar fizzled and made crazy bubbles, so I left it for about a half an hour to work it’s magic.

This is how it looked after that half hour:

The fizzing settled down, and the vinegar was able to loosen up some of the grimey stuff in my oven.

I filled a clean bucket part way with hot water and used my washcloth to scrub out as much nastiness as I could.  The baking soda really helped to scrape off some of the baked on stuff without scratching the surface of my oven.

This was my finished product:

Admittedly this is not perfectly clean, but in comparison to what it looked like before, this is beautiful!

But the easiest way for me to tell how much gunk I got out of my oven:

And that was my third bucket of water for this job!



Hang it Out to Dry

At the DP household we like saving money.  That’s pretty much what I pride myself in:  finding new ways to do things that could save us a couple bucks.  I’d read in several places that an easy way to save money on your electric bill is to use a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer, at least when the weather is nice.  Since we have a good-sized yard and places to hook up a clothesline I thought this would be a fun, simple, and cheap project.  Luckily, I was right!

We went to our local hardware store and bought two very simple clothesline pulleys, like this:

These cost about $5 each.

We got 100ft of clothesline (which was plenty for our needs, but we had to make sure, of course).  This cost us another $3 (approx.).

Then we grabbed ourselves a clothesline tensioner.  That is this creature:

Beard tells me this is invaluable.  It maintains the tension of the line and just makes the pulleys function better.  This little thing set us back another $4.

Finally, in order properly use a clothesline, we had to buy clothespins and a clothespin bag.  We found a bag of 50 clothespins and a bag for $1 each at Dollar General.  (I bought two bags of clothespins, though, because I have this horrible fear of starting to hang clothes and not being able to finish because I run out of clothespins.)

This whole project set us back approximately $30.  Not really a ton in the grand scheme of things.

How hard was it to set up?

Not at all!  Each pulley came with a screw hook like this:

Beard screwed one of the screw hooks into a wooden beam on the front of our shed and the other to the top rail of our back deck.  He simply fixed each pulley to each screw hook, then strung the clothesline around the two pulleys.  He pulled one end through the tensioner (those are fairly self-explanatory and most come with some instructions), then he tied the two ends together.

We now have a cool, old-fashioned clothesline.

Our electric bill for last month’s usage was around $85, which included some air conditioning usage (we had quite a few days in the high 80’s and 90’s last month).  This month I’m interested to see just how much of a difference not using the clothes dryer every day can make in our electric bill.  I’ll be sure to update when we get the bill for this month’s usage.

Some More Green Updates: Spring is Really, Really Here

It feels like we have had some of the craziest weather I’ve ever seen in the past few months in central Virginia.  For New Years Day, our family went for a walk in the 65 degree weather, then February brought in some mild, but cool weather.  In March we saw 80 and almost 90 degree days, but April was chilly and rainy.  Now that May is nearly over it finally feels like spring has arrived.  I was afraid it never would.  I was also afraid my garden wouldn’t know how to handle all the changes in temperature and sun exposure.

But it did, thankfully.

I had planted some cool weather crops in late February including carrots, spinach, kale, and rhubarb.  I also have lettuce that I have personally never planted, but it continues to grow beautifully every year.  I start harvesting that in mid to late April.  I’ve harvested some spinach, but no matter how many spinach plants I plant, I never seem to get a great yield.  I wonder what it is I’m doing wrong.  I pluck a few leaves off each plant every few days, but never enough to really through into a green monster smoothie or make a salad.  My kale failed horribly, and I have no clue why.  I was a little bummed because I love through kale into stews and soups.  I may try a late crop to see what happens with that.  I haven’t yet harvested carrots because I’m honestly not sure when to do that.  I have to do a little research into how big and fluffy the top of a carrot has to be before the tuber is orange and delicious.

I think by far the biggest gardening success we’ve had this year is our strawberries.  Last year my in-laws gave us a medium-sized strawberry plant in a hanging basket.  It survived and did pretty well through the summer and most of the fall.  We did not, though, harvest very many strawberries; I think we ate four of our own berries.  Just four.  Barely enough to slice and put on your morning cereal.   By the time early fall rolled around, I thought the strawberries could use a little more room to grow, so I put our fairly small plant in the middle of one of our 5’x5′ raised beds.  Through the fall, winter, and early spring, that one strawberry plant nearly filled the entire bed, and starting in early April we’ve been harvesting about half a pint of strawberries a week!  I’m finding that for their yield, strawberries are super easy to grow in our area.  I would venture to say they’d do well all over the mid-Atlantic region and similar climates.  The only thing to watch out for is containing the plant’s growth and spreading by clipping the extending tendrils before they take root.

Other things I’ve got planted that are about ready to bloom and fruit include string beans, zucchini, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, and fennel.  So far my string beans seem to be extending their tendrils out, so I expect they’ll be climbing the trelisse very soon.  I’ve also seen some tomato flowers already.  That makes me more excited than anyone can imagine.  As an Italian woman, I probably cook my body weight in tomato products 7 times over in the course of one year.  In order to be more frugal and proficient about this fact, we’re growing and preserving our own tomatoes and tomato sauce.  I seriously cannot wait!

Anyone else have anything coming up already and soon to come up from the ground?  I’m curious to know what’s growing where. 🙂

The Start of a Long Project and Manly Peeps

Where we live we aren’t able to put most plants in the ground until April 1st, and because I’m excited and impatient I’ve begun our garden in the kitchen window:

These are our tomatoes and cucumbers.  There are two trays of ten seedling spots; 16 of them are tomatoes, and only four are cucumbers.  Why yes, I am Italian. 🙂

If you can’t see what these are the left packet is long, thin, cayenne peppers (hot) and the right packet is sweet banana peppers.  Boy do I hope we don’t mix these up!

And these are my pretty plants.  🙂  The back packet is dahlias, and the front one is lavender.

In addition to these I’ve also got carrots, spinach, kale, rhubarb, and strawberries in the ground already (planted around March 1), since they can tolerate a frost.  I’ve got seeds to start pumpkins, zucchini, beans, cilantro, oregano, fennel, hollyhock, poppy, and chamomile (to be planted around April 1).  I may be mildly ambitious with this gardening business, but it’s for a good reason!

We grow this garden so that we can have some homegrown, organic vegetables.  I’m a firm believer that no tomato tastes better than the one you pulled off the vine just a few minutes before, and no herb flavors a dish better than the one harvested just before use.  Plus, growing some of our own food saves us some moola.  I’m a vegetable fanatic, and buying different kinds of veggies at the grocery store can get expensive.  I’m hoping we’ll save a bit of cash by growing our own.

I’ll be posting photos of our garden this week and I’ll post about progress we make along the way, and of course, I’ll post useful information I find out along the way.  Feel free to post comments and questions.

And now for our Silly Beard Moment of the Week:

Since it’s near Easter, I had to buy Beard his favorite Easter-time treat:  Peeps.  The store had a variety of colors, and I selected the two manliest colors I could find:  blue and yellow.  Upon informing Beard of this, he grabbed his beloved treats and gave me this pose:

“Now I just need a beer can.”