Baby food garden

Take homemade baby food a step further

The writer’s daughter after a home-cooked meal.

The writer’s daughter after a home-cooked meal.

Photo By kat kerlin

You’ve probably heard of a pizza garden or salsa garden, but how about a baby food garden?

I hit upon this idea during the late fall, about six months after my daughter was born—and after I’d already planted my garden. She was on an all-liquid diet when I’d done the spring and summer seed sowing, so I wasn’t really thinking about baby food, or what the baby-rearing world calls “solids.” So, in those precious moments when she actually napped, or I could set her in her bouncer long enough to plop a few seeds in the ground, those seeds were heavy on what I usually plant—lettuce, spinach, basil, and, of course, way too much squash.

Nearing the end of harvesttime that fall, my daughter was beginning to eat solid food—puréed mush, really. To avoid waste, extra sodium, and simply the atrocious taste of most canned baby food—even the organic stuff—I was committed to making my own baby food. (See how below.) So I was spending a lot of time shopping the farmers’ market and grocery store for organic butternut squash, green beans, cauliflower, peas, carrots and corn—all things I could’ve grown myself with a little foresight.

Babies will eat a surprising variety of foods, if given the chance. For people who want to take homemade baby food a step further into the homegrown, these are my top choices for a baby food garden.

What to plant

Baby food mainstays: Peas, carrots, cauliflower, green beans and butternut squash were foods I found myself puréeing again and again, mixing with other vegetables or serving solo. Potatoes are a good one, too, though my daughter never took to them. Let these make up the bulk of your garden.

In lesser amounts: Zucchini, summer squash, beets and steamed spinach all work nicely when blended with other foods.

Good luck: I can never get corn, cantaloupe or watermelon to grow—the quail don’t give them a chance—but if you’re a better gardener than I am, which isn’t hard to imagine, those make great baby food choices.

Trees: If you’re lucky enough to have some fruit-bearing trees in your yard, babies tend to love apples, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines and nearly any kind of fruit. Just peel the skins to reduce choking hazards ,then steam and mash.

Strawberries and allergies: Some say strawberries are a high-allergen food that shouldn’t be introduced to babies until they are a year old. Others say six months should be fine. If your baby is prone to allergies, you may want to wait. Otherwise, strawberries grow well here and are good mixed with bananas.

A note on growing methods: Remember that if you’re putting chemical pesticides and herbicides on your plant, your child will likely be ingesting it. Instead, keep unwanted critters away with things like netting, fencing, and natural insecticides like soap and water or cayenne pepper sprays (on the leaves, not the vegetable, or else you’ll really hear how loud a baby can cry).

Frozen cubes of homemade baby food are easy to combine and defrost in a glass jar.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

From homegrown to homemade

Now that you’ve grown it, what do you do with it? In a word: purée.

Step 1: Lightly steam until soft whatever vegetable or fruit you’re working with.

Step 2: Purée it in a food processor or blender. Special, expensive baby-food making contraptions are not necessary.

Step 3: To preserve, spoon or pour into ice cube trays. I had about four on hand. If eaten within a couple of days, there’s no need to freeze, but I made big batches to save time.

Step 4: Put frozen cubes into large ziplock bags. Label and date. Frozen cubes are good for about three months in the freezer.

Step 5: Defrost frozen cubes (one cube equals about 1 ounce) in a glass jar in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator. Feed to baby.

Even without growing it, I found that I could buy organic produce and make homemade baby food for about two to three times less than the price of prepared, non-organic baby food. It required me to cook a couple of batches of something—sweet potatoes, pears—every week. In a few weeks, I had a variety of foods with which I could mix and match. I’d grab a couple of cubes of peas and mix them with a cube of carrots and corn. Or I’d mix cubes of green beans, sweet potato and cauliflower. You can also get a little gourmet by blending carrots, apples, ginger and tofu. This one was actually a hit.

To carry all this stuff with you on errands or to day care, canning jars work really well. You can reheat them in the microwave without worrying about chemicals leaching from plastic. Then seal them tightly for easy transport. And they’re all dishwasher safe.

The food preparation does take time, but it was worth it to me—I knew where the food was coming from, that it didn’t have any extra gunk added to it, and it was cheaper and less wasteful than buying prepared baby food.

Now planting time is here again, and this year, with my now 1-year-old, I’ll be planting a new kind of garden—the baby finger-food garden. Except my child, who used to eat the strangest concoctions of vegetables, suddenly hates anything with a pigment. If only I could grow Cheerios, I’d be set.