Baby Food – To Go

Around here we have been getting excited for our upcoming road trip back east.

Did you catch that?  I already sound Midwestern.

I said “back east”.

I digress.

Beard and I are packing up our three kids in our new-to-us mini-van and driving half way across the country to see a lot  of family.  We are excited.  The girls are excited.  Heck.  Baby Brother is excited, and he doesn’t even know it yet.

Our girls are definitely no stranger to long road trips.  They had made the 8 hour trip between Virginia and my home state of New Jersey at least three times every year, plus they each made a few journeys out here to Wisconsin from Virginia.

There was this one crazy year where my husband and I drove to Wisconsin, stayed a week, then drove to New Jersey for my cousin’s wedding, then we drove back down to Virginia.  With a 15 month old Bitsy girl.  And I was 30 weeks pregnant.

That trip was made pleasant by our friends at Pepperidge Farm and their genius invention called the “goldfish”.

This summer will be Baby Brother’s first big road trip, and it is the first time I have brought a baby that still requires purees on a long road trip.  I have taken babies that exclusively nurse, and I have taken babies that can eat a lot of table foods.  Little Guy, though, is just not ready for much table food at all.  It means I have to be creative (and probably a bit industrious) about having enough for him to eat without relying on pre-packaged baby food.**

There are some foods that are no-brainers when it comes to feeding babies quickly, easily, and conveniently:

  • avocados:  I love feeding my babies avocados.  They are easy to mash up, have tons of good fats, and they are green.  What mom doesn’t love to have a baby covered in green mush?  At this point, Little Guy eats between 1/8 and 1/4 of an avocado in one sitting.  By replacing the avocado pit into the remainder of the fruit and putting the fruit, in its peel, in a sealed bag or container, I could feasibly keep an avocado for a few meals.  I highly doubt Baby Brother would like to eat avocado for 4-8 meals straight, so I eat some of it myself or pawn some of it off on his older sisters.  They ate the green mush as babies, too!
  • bananas:  Bananas are another of those foods that are easy to mash and come in their very own container.  Heck, I can slice off tiny slivers of banana with a baby spoon.  Bananas require no prep at all.  Like an avocado, Little Guy could probably eat 1/4 – 1/8 of a banana in a sitting, but bananas don’t keep as well as avocados once they are peeled.  Fortunately, those are also easy to feed to other family members.
  • applesauce:  I almost never buy anything that is packaged into individual serving sizes.  I will forego this rule with applesauce on road trips.  I can buy individual cups of sugar free, organic applesauce that make a very easy meal for a baby on the road.
  • watermelon:  This may be the first in this list where you think HUH?  If I buy a watermelon, or even half a watermelon, I can slice it up and put it in a large bag or container.  Little Guy can hold a slice of watermelon and gnaw on it while we are stopped.
  • hard-boiled eggs:  I have gotten Baby Brother absolutely hooked on egg yolks.  For the most part, he likes the liquid yolk from my hard-boiled eggs, but unfortunately there is not way I could bring those with us.  Hard-boiled eggs, on the other hand, are super easy to keep on a long trip, as well as easy to mash and eat.  Fortunately for me, I have a daughter that will only eat hard-boiled egg whites, so those won’t go to waste.

These are great foods to keep in the car for feeding babies while on a road trip.  I am, however, going to put together some purees to bring along in my favorite “baby food cubes” in a cooler.  I am working on a post about which purees to make and take and which are best left at home, as well as how to keep them frozen, and how to thaw them and feed them to baby.

Stay tuned!

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:

http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/

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!

A Breakfast Favorite

Around here we try to keep the costs of our everyday necessities low and that includes our grocery bill.  One of the main ways we do this is by choosing lower cost breakfast options.  Name-brand, boxed cereals can be very expensive per serving, and they really can rack up a bill all to themselves if that’s your main breakfast option.

I usually buy off-brand cereals when we have them, or I’ll buy just plain old bran flakes (which are super cheap).  To those we can add just about anything, and they become a healthy and tasty breakfast.  One of our favorite things to add to bran flakes is homemade granola.  We’ve also been known to eat granola with yogurt or with some dried fruit as a grab-and-go snack.

Granola is pretty inexpensive to make (though it could get expensive if you add fancy-pants additives), and it is super simple.  I made a batch this morning, and I’d like to share with you how I make granola:

Homemade Granola


6 cups whole rolled oats

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1 cup chopped nuts of your choice (optional)

1/2 cup whole flax seed (optional)

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup honey

3-4 tbsp brown sugar

2-3 tbsp flavoring of your choice (I usually use almond or vanilla)

1-2 tbsp cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Combine your dry ingredients (except brown sugar) in a large bowl and stir them to combine.  In a small saucepan, combine wet ingredients and brown sugar over low-medium heat.  Heat these until brown sugar melts and all ingredients combine.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir.  Stir until your arm hurts, or until all the oats and nuts and other goodies are coated in sweet, tasty honey-flavored goodness.

Spread the mixture onto two large cookie sheets and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring and switching top and bottom cookie sheets half way through.  Your granola will not be crispy when you take it out, but it will be golden brown.  It gets crunchy after it cools.  Keep in an airtight container.

I hope you enjoy making granola.  With fall approaching, granola makes a tasty breakfast or snacktime treat!

Whole Wheat Tortillas, Take One

I love to cook and have tried to cook many, many things, but I had never thought about making my own tortillas until I read this recipe.  The Pioneer Woman (who has gained some serious popularity recently) describes her tortillas in such a way that saliva uncontrollably dribbled down my chin while scrolling through her pictures.  So after wiping my mouth, I decided I had to make these.  In a word, they are awesome.  Soft, light, heavenly.  We have a hard time keeping them for more than a few days around here.  My only issue was that they were made with only all-purpose flour.  I am a bit of a fiber fiend, and whenever possible I prefer to eat whole grain or whole wheat bread products.  Naturally, I wanted to substitute some whole wheat flour into these tortillas for that extra fiber punch.  My original 1:1 ratio of whole wheat to regular flour failed miserably; the tortillas tasted more like cardboard than an edible Mexican delight, and they wouldn’t properly wrap around my chicken fajita filling. 🙁

So I had a quest before me:  determine how to make delicious, soft, lovely, homemade tortillas but still keep the health benefits of whole wheat.  The following is my first attempt to make healthy and delicious homemade tortillas.

First up is my software:

I’m using both whole wheat and self rising flour (because sometimes I am inept at buying what I really want at the grocery store..), as well as salt, baking powder, and Crisco vegetable shortening.  I realize that PW swears by lard, but I still have a hard time coming to grips with spreadable animal fat, so I happily spoon hydrogenated vegetable goo into my tortillas.  (Yes, I realize the irony of this statement, but bear with me; I’m still a bit of a Jersey girl.)

I tossed 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of *other* flour with 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt.  I gave these a quick stir:

Then I dropped 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening in the bowl with the dry ingredients in small chunks.  (Please, please do not dump this entire amount of Crisco into your dry ingredients; you will have a heck of a time trying to distribute it to make a proper dough.)

For the next step you really should use a pastry cutter, but I don’t own one, so I use a regular old dinglehopper (or fork, for those of you who haven’t seen “The Little Mermaid”).  Cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it is well distributed and forms a sort of crumbly mixture like so:

Then I poured in 1 cup of hot water slowly while mixing the dough until it was combined. And then I kneaded it for a few minutes for good measure.  My dough was beautiful:

Then I whispered “Good Night” to my dough and gently covered it with a tea towel, to let it rest.

Now I let my dough rest for about an hour while I tended to this stinky little moose:

(Please don’t mind my throwing a picture of Bitsy Girl into my tortilla recipe.  She was actually a taste tester for this recipe, so the picture is relevant.  For the record, she found the tortillas to be quite delectable; she told me so.)

Anyway..

After letting the dough rest, I rolled the dough into balls roughly 11/2 to 2 inches in diameter and set them on a cookie sheet to rest for a little while longer.  (This is a particularly sleepy dough..)

I covered my little uncooked tortilla balls back up for about 20 minutes and got out my trusty electric griddle and set the temperature to 350.

Yes, yes, I know.  Most Mexican grandmothers didn’t cook their tortillas on an electric griddle.  I promise that they come out taste, plus they don’t stick to the griddle, so it leaves me with an easier clean up.

I use a rolling pin to roll the tortilla dough balls flat and thin, one a at time:

This tortilla rolling is delicate business.  I try to get them as thin as possible, and I usually end up ripping a few.  Luckily they still taste delicious. 🙂

I cooked the tortillas about 20 seconds on each side so they looked like this:

To keep them warm I put the tortillas on a plate and cover them with a towel.  This also serves to distract me from eating them as I cook them.

This version came out super tasty.  I was impressed how the texture held up with the whole wheat flour.  I would definitely make these again.  Please try them and let me know what you think!