Baby food ~ Batch cooking for babies
Once your baby has mastered the basics of moving food around their mouth and swallowing, it’s time to progress to proper little meals that include the protein and carbohydrate they need to fuel their quickly developing bodies.
Some people like to make a spare portion of their own meal and puree it for their baby’s lunch the next day. I’ve never had much success with this as I like to season my cooking as I go along and I don’t tend to hold back on the chillies (plus, what do these people do if they have sushi or pizza or pasta with gorgonzola and walnut sauce?!). Instead I make a big batch of something baby and pre-schooler friendly, keep a couple of portions in the fridge and freeze the rest.
I’ve usually got 5 or 6 different meals in the freezer at any one time, but once the initial stocking is done, you only need to make one batch of something new every week to keep up supplies. I find it really takes the pressure off on a day-to-day basis. I tend to puree half of what I’ve made and leave the rest chunky so my pre-schooler’s taken care of too. New things can be a hard sell for the older one, but the chunky version will last until the baby is big enough to cope with it, so it won’t go to waste if they refuse to try it again.
I make all of my baby food without the starch element so I can diversify the dish with coordinating carbs each mealtime. That way, beef ragu can become pasta bolognaise or cottage pie, and fish curry can be transformed into seafood laksa with a handful of chopped rice noodles.
- Pasta – look out for the small pasta shapes traditionally used in soups like orzo (shaped like barley grains) or stelline (little stars). Cook fresh in unsalted water each time.
- Couscous – makes a really convenient alternative to rice or pasta and it’s the natural accompaniment to tagine-style stews. Wholewheat versions and even barley couscous are increasingly easy to find to add variety and extra fibre. Cook fresh each time – usually it’s just a case of adding boiling water and covering for a few minutes.
- Rice – rice is a bit more of a pain to cook in small batches and I’m still wary of reheating it, even though cases of food poisoning from leftover rice are largely thought to be urban myth. For small babies on smooth food, I found it easier just to stir a bit of baby rice into the puree and add a drop of milk or water if the texture got too stiff. When they progressed onto little lumps, I found it more convenient to crush fine rice noodles (vermicelli) and soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Potato – I make a big batch of mash and freeze it in cubes. Click here for my revolutionary mash method!
- Bread – when they’re big enough to chew lumps of bread, I sometimes don’t add any extra carb to their main course, especially if it’s something quite hefty like coconut dhal or chickpea curry.
I freeze all of my baby food in silicone cube trays, then pop them out and transfer to big freezer bags to free up the trays for more batches. While you’re cooking, note down each ingredient you use on the freezer bag as you go – it’s handy in case you come across an allergy or general aversion down the line, and if the dish turns out to be a hit, it’s easier to recreate.