Laura Yoshida's nanny showed her how to make and preserve food for her newborn and she's been forever grateful for the lesson. "Our baby ate a much greater variety than the options available from in-store baby food," says the New York City mom. "Now that both my children are older, we feel that they are better at eating fruits and vegetables than many other children their age. And there was less of an environmental impact and [it] was so simple to do."
Yoshida says the process of making and freezing homemade baby food is downright simple:
- Buy the vegetable or fruit you want to cook.
- Wash, chop and boil. (Peel if it's something you don't normally eat the skins of.)
- Put some of the water you boiled the vegetable or fruit in into the blender along with the now soft food. (You can do this while it's still hot; you don't need to wait.)
- Blend it up and pour puree into ice trays.
- When frozen, release the veggie cubes into labeled plastic storage bag and put in the freezer.
- Pull out a couple of cubes when ready to use.
"We had a lot of different fruits and veggies including apples, pears, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, corn, squash, even bean soups—I think we had 18 to 20 different foods!" Yoshida says. "As long as you're following your pediatrician's advice about when to introduce foods and waiting the three days for any allergic reactions, etc., you can offer the baby a lot of options. And while I've never really done the math, it probably saves money."
But as with any homemade foods, there are some precautions you need to keep in mind."We recommend when you preserve anything that you start with the freshest, highest-quality produce or meats," says Lauren Devine, the FreshPreserving Community Manager for Jarden Home Brands, marketer of Ball® and Kerr® fresh preserving products. "And of course you want to worry about safety, so always wash your hands and thoroughly wash produce and cook meats appropriately."
And Albury says that parents should never freeze food containing previously frozen breast milk. "Many parents stir breast milk into purees, but if this breast milk had already been frozen, it is not safe to freeze it again," she says.
How to Freeze
Ball® fresh preserving recommends storing the puree in freezer-safe jars, such as the Ball® Plastic (8-ounce) Freezer Jars. There's even a fill line that takes the guesswork out of figuring out the space needed for the upward and outward expansion of the food during the freezing process. Or if glass jars are more your style, the company offers 4-ounce glass jelly jars. Since these jars are small, they're perfect for freezing smaller portions; just be sure to leave 1/2-inch headspace to allow for expansion during freezing. Yoshida says regular ice trays work perfectly, too.
The Use-By Date
Regardless of how you store your homemade handiwork, know that, as with anything, there is a use-by date. As to just how long things can safely be stored in your freezer, much depends on the food item you're freezing. "Once fruits or veggies have been cooked and are being frozen as a meal, then they should be stored for a maximum of three months to preserve nutritional value," says Christine Albury, who writes a blog on baby food. "For dishes containing meat, we'd also recommend a maximum storage time of around three months."
"It's always important to label and date the food with the day it was prepared before freezing," says Devine. "And you want to make sure and keep the freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower."
Thawing and Warming
Everyone is in agreement that the best way to thaw baby food is overnight in the refrigerator. Anything that's not used within two days of sitting in the refrigerator should be tossed—much like with store-bought baby food.
"Food can then be reheated by using a warming dish or a microwave and should be warmed until piping hot, then cooled to a safe temperature for serving," Albury says.
Devine urges parents to be cautious when using a microwave, as it can generate hot spots that can burn. Make sure the food is safely cooled before serving.
"And one more thing about freezing baby food," Albury says. "Some foods can seem really watery when they've been defrosted. For this reason, we don't recommend thinning purees before freezing them. Instead, it's best to check the consistency after they've been thawed. Further thinning may not be necessary."