"If you can make a margarita, you can make baby purees," says Norah O'Donnell, mother of three, MSNBC correspondent and co-author with husband Chef Geoff Tracy of Baby Love Purees. "We use a VitaPrep, a commercial grade blender, but you can use any blender."
The fact that many households already have a blender is definitely a plus. If you need to buy one, the uses it has beyond baby food makes it a practical investment. But while blenders may be great for making substantial amounts of food (extras can be frozen as individual servings in BPA-free ice-cube trays), some moms may find them too cumbersome to use and clean. A different option is the Magic Bullet®, a coffee-mug-sized gadget that Brooke Crawford, a mom from Los Angeles, California, describes as "essentially a mini blender."
"The Magic Bullet pureed the food into a nice, smooth texture, which was great when my daughter was really young," says Crawford. "As she got older, I wouldn't blend as long to allow for a chunkier consistency so my baby could practice chewing."
Jill Goodrich of Amarillo, Texas, found the Magic Bullet "terrific because I was able to start feeding the same foods I was making for the rest of the family." She says she has thrown everything from spaghetti to Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes to grilled chicken breast and veggies into the device and also likes that she didn't even have to peel apples to create homemade applesauce.
Another popular option is a food processor, which is essentially a unit with a large plastic container on top that contains a blade for chopping, dicing, grinding, or pureeing. Like a blender, its ability to perform various functions gives it a life beyond homemade baby food. Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, notes that food processors tend to be faster and more powerful than blenders.
A top priority for many mothers, such as Julie Cordua of Manhattan Beach, California, is to save time by making food in large batches and then freezing it into several portions. "I bought a Cuisinart® smart stick hand blender," says Cordua. "I thought I'd steam some veggies, put in a cup, and 'voila!' I'd have baby food. I found it to be a total mess—it was hard to get the food really blended, and it only made a small amount. I also looked at baby food makers—the small devices that steam and blend—but again felt it was too small and I'd be making food each day, which I didn't have time for as a working mom."
Eventually, Cordua found that putting the items she wanted to make into baby food into a 12-cup food processor was her easiest route. She also likes that "with the food processor you can make it very smooth or more chunky."
Food Mills and Grinders
For many generations, food mills and grinders were common tools for making baby food, and some moms still opt for them today. Relatively inexpensive manual gadgets (fancier versions may require electricity or batteries), the preparer just turns the handle or disc to press food items into baby food.
An advantage of mills and grinders is that they are highly portable, making them great for travel or dining out. They also can be good at holding back indigestible husks, skins, and seeds.
Some people think mills and grinders leave meat too coarse. Others just don't find these machines as efficient as other options. "I did try a baby food grinder but found it to be more work and less productive," says Tee Taylor, a mom from San Diego, who ultimately opted for a blender and a sturdy whisk.
Don't underestimate the value of items already in your kitchen. A plain old fork or potato masher can do a good job of smushing foods such as bananas and avocados into a baby-pleasing consistency. For meat, which some babies do not take to eating as easily as other foods, Executive Chef Michael Kramer of VOICE restaurant in Houston, Texas, recommends cooking until very tender and then simply using a knife to cut up into very small pieces that are easy to swallow.