Food has been a very important thing to me for as long as I can remember. It has been a dear friend, an enemy, a shoulder to cry on and more recently, a way to earn a living. I have struggled with food for most of my life and we have had many arguments over the past several years. I tried very hard to live without it, tried to find a quick way to get rid of it, and ultimately decided that I needed to stop depending on it. I now have a healthy relationship with food and we are equal partners in my life.
The turning point for me and my food issues came when I was pregnant with my son, 4 years ago. I knew that when I raised him, I would try my hardest to raise him with a positive attitude towards the thing that kept me awake in tears so many nights as a child. He would know that food is not to be taken advantage of, and that it should be taken as lightly as possible. I wanted him to learn about food from a very early age, know what it is really supposed to taste like and never think about it in a negative way.
When he became 4 months old I started making his baby food. I started with rice cereals, barley, and oat cereals, then the sweet potato, the banana, the avocado, apples and pears. I peeled and steamed each organic fruit or vegetable, pureed them, then spooned them into ice cube trays and/or mini muffin tins until solid. I would then pop each cube out, place them in large zip bags that I labeled and keep them in the freezer for his next meal. By the time he was around 8 months old he was eating stone fruits, parsnips and poultry, then at 10 months I was feeding him beef and pork, pasta, melons, berries, beets, asparagus and broccoli.* He loved every bite. Each item was pureed and frozen into cubes awaiting their destiny in my freezer. I set aside one day out of the week or month to go to the market, buy my organic ingredients, and then come home and cook it, puree it, freeze it, then bag it. The baby cubes last for up to 3 months in the freezer (1 month storage is preferred), and I always had a plethora of types in mine at any given time. (*Note-he was also breast-fed during this time, as it is important for your baby to receive the much-needed nutrition from either breast milk or formula, and I continued to nurse him until he was 1 year old.)
It was important to me that he know what the actual fruit or vegetable tasted like, not what a big company said it tasted like after sitting on a shelf, canned for months. I have tried baby food from the store and understood why so many babies push it away. It’s horrible! It tastes like brown mush, no matter the intended flavor. I wanted to be in control of what I put into my son’s mouth and I have to say that my husband and I loved everything we fed him. Often, I would look forward to the end of the meal when I could lick his spoon…sometimes his face.
The way I went about preparing his meals was like this- Each night before I went to bed I would look into the freezer and decide what his 3 meals would be the following day. I would take out different cubes and create different meals out of them. One of his favorites was lasagna. The lasagna dinner was 1 pasta cube, 1 beef cube, 1 tomato paste cube, and 1 ricotta cheese cube. I would place those cubes in a small, plastic container and then add my spices. I would add a pinch of dried oregano, a pinch of allspice, a pinch of garlic powder, and a tiny portion of the frozen, finely chopped and preserved basil** that I had stored as well. No salt, no hot spices, just flavorings to teach him what food in the adult world tasted like. Then they would thaw in the fridge over night, so that when I was ready for each meal, I would pop the lid off, stir the contents together and feed him his meal.
He had pureed versions of guacamole, sweet potato mac n cheese, burritos, cauliflower curry, apples and pears with cinnamon and ginger. I became so creative with the things I gave him and it was so exciting for me to watch him eat. I never stopped cooking ‘adult’ meals for him and now he eats everything that we eat. He loves tapenade, pickled garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower (or white broccoli as he calls it), zucchini, parsnips (or white carrots), asparagus… he really loves most everything that we eat. I’m sure he was born with the predisposition to advanced taste buds, seeing as how his parents are both foodies, but I would like to think that it is because I fed him the way I did from a very early age that he eats as good as he does today.
I hope to market this idea one day to allow other parents who don’t have the time that I did to make their own purees to feed their babies excellent foods. Until then, I hope to merely continue this tradition with my daughter and her little friends who were all born at the same time. I feel very strongly about this subject, and hope that this post has inspired any moms-to-be out there that it is the best way to go about feeding your child if you can make the time to do it.
**How to Freeze Fresh Herbs
(I recommend doing this in the summertime when most herbs are at their best. Things like cilantro, however, is a colder weather herb, so that would be when the best time to freeze cilantro would be. And I always recommend growing your own herbs, even if it’s in small pots indoors. This saves you a ton of money and the flavor is incomparable to store-bought herbs.)
-Wash your picked fresh herb leaves well and pat dry with a paper towel.
-Finely chop them and pack tightly into ice cube trays.
-Fill the ice cube trays half way with water and place in the freezer (it’s OK if the herbs float)
-When the cubes are almost frozen solid, fill up the trays with more water and place back in the freezer until solid.
-Once the cubes are completely frozen solid, pop them out and store in zip bags, appropriately labeled.
You can not only use these herb cubes in flavoring baby food, but it is a great alternative to dried herbs in the months when it’s hard to find good quality fresh herbs. They work well in soups, stews and sauces.