Starting solids can be both an exciting and daunting affair, but these six tips will make that journey much smoother and successful.
1. Cooking methods
Steaming, cooking in just a little water in a covered saucepan, and boiling are preferable to other methods, and the first two are better for preserving nutrients. Cook foods for a fairly long time (adjust the cooking times to suit the size of the pieces and the steamer) so that the vegetables are soft and can be puréed easily until smooth. For the very first purées, which are really more about introducing flavours than nutrition, boiling is probably the quickest and most practical option.
Pan-frying is not suggested for many dishes. When you start preparing small meals (at around nine months), you can brown food quickly in a little fat, over medium heat, for the flavour.
In the beginning, vegetables, fish and meat tend to be cooked separately. This is more practical for combining different foods to suit your baby’s tastes and what they are familiar with or have yet to discover. Bit by bit, the meals move closer to more traditional ways of cooking, where ingredients are combined for the flavour.
2. Salt, sugar, fat and spices
Eliminate salt and sugar altogether to start with, and then introduce them sparingly (at about 12 months or a little before, but only very tiny pinches). Fat is not forbidden. Adding a little bit to purées is a quick way of improving their flavour. You can use all kinds of herbs and spices, introducing them little by little in very small quantities, and making sure you purée them well.
Your baby’s food can be adapted from the family meal: set aside a portion of pumpkin to cook without salt, purée a small piece of broccoli . . .
Cooking for your baby doesn’t require any special equipment, but these can help save time:
- A saucepan and lid
- A steamer, a Chinese bamboo steamer basket or a metal steamer insert
- Something for puréeing (blender, processor, stick blender), mashing (masher or fork) or you might even want to use a food mill (it takes longer but it produces a very nice texture). Don’t purée potato in a blender or food processor as it will become gluey.
4. Choosing produce
Just as for adults, it’s a good idea to eat seasonally. The more organic fruits and vegetables, the better.
Peel fruits and vegetables in the beginning to make very smooth purées. Later, if the fruits and vegetables are organic and well washed, there’s no reason to peel everything.
In theory, a homemade fruit or vegetable purée kept in the refrigerator should be consumed within 48 hours. This is why, when cooking for your baby in advance, we recommend freezing anything that won’t be eaten the next day (or the day after). The ideal is to thaw each day’s food the day before or in the morning, in the refrigerator of course.
If you use frozen raw foods, such as peas or spinach, add them to a dish that is cooked. If you are pre-preparing a meal, it is safe to freeze the preparation afterwards. When you freeze a preparation, be careful not to fill containers right to the top, especially glass ones: the liquid in the food expands during freezing and can cause the glass to break. Do not refreeze any thawed food.
If you have leftovers, don’t hesitate to freeze them in ice cube trays, and once they are frozen you can put the cubes in freezer bags. Don’t forget to label your food clearly (weight, date and contents), otherwise you’ll quickly lose track.
You will need 150 ml and 250 ml jars or containers, and some a little larger for meals for babies who are over 12 months old. You can reuse the jars from store-bought baby foods if you use them. You can also freeze food in ice cube trays if you don’t have enough containers.
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Images and text from Baby + Toddler Meal Prep Plan by Keda Black, photography by Pierre Javelle. Murdoch Books RRP $29.99