Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Baby Food - Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes

That's right, I tackled TWO different foods at the same time. I am Mother, hear me roar!

But seriously, things went much more smoothly this time around. Perhaps it's because I had better equipment. Maybe I was simply more careful (make that much more.) It could have been luck. Regardless, my second foray into making homemade baby food was a complete and utter success! And I did most of the work while Wyatt took his afternoon nap. Crazy.

Let's start with the squash.

I wound up buying a decent sized organic butternut squash instead of a regular butternut for a couple of reasons. One, organic is better. Two, when I got to the register at Kroger, the regular squash (which was only slightly bigger than the organic) rang up at $5.35. The organic rang up at $1.95. Yeah, confused the hell out of me, too. Apparently, the regular ol' squash is charged by the pound. The organic isn't. So, while the regular butternut squash might have been on sale for $1.70 a pound, it definitely wasn't the better deal! Add in the fact that my Kroger card shaved off 20 cents from the organic's price, and you can clearly see why I put the regular squash back.

Isn't she beautiful?

By the way, almost all of these pictures will show me doing prep work, etc on top of my stove. My kitchen has no counter space whatsoever, and the counter space we do have is completely taken up by our microwave, toaster oven, bottle drying rack, espresso machine, and dish drying rack. I have all the cabinet space a woman could ever need (and then some) but no counter space. So, until we invest in a kitchen island, on top of the stove it is!

Before I did anything else, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. I made a huge mental note to do this beforehand because otherwise, I would absolutely forget until it was time to bake the damn thing. Then, I removed the stickers and cut the squash in half lengthwise using a really big knife whilst sustaining no injuries. Thumbs up for me. It took about ten minutes. Squash skin is tough, and my right arm is a total wimp. Need to find a better way for next time...

You guys are going to think I'm crazy, but I think that if a watermelon and a pumpkin had a baby, it would be a butternut squash. All I could think about while I cut the squash was, "Wow! It smells like a watermelon!" And the seeds on the inside resemble what my dad refers to as "pumpkin guts." Call me crazy, I don't care.

Anyway, I scooped out the squash "guts" and made sure no little stringy bits were left. Then I took my biggest glass baking dish and poured in about an inch and a half of water. I put the squash halves into the dish, face down.

My baking dish was almost not big enough. I lucked out. Note to self, big squash need not apply.

After coercing the squash halves into coexistence (it was kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle with two really awkward pieces), I put them into the oven for 40 minutes. While they baked, I moved on to the sweet potatoes.

I am not a fan of sweet potatoes. Never have been. But, my child likes them, so there you go. Don't really need another reason to make them, right?

Kroger didn't have any organic sweet potatoes when I went, but that's okay as sweet potatoes are one of the EWG's Cleanest 15 fruits and veggies with the lowest amount of pesticides. So, I don't feel so bad for not buying organic this time.

I had two sweet potatoes handy, so I decided to use both of them. (I considered only using one, but I knew the other would just sit in the fridge.) I scrubbed them both very well and started peeling them.

Remember when I had issues peeling the organic carrots? Well, the sweet potatoes were even worse. Pretty sure I wanted to throw the peeler out the window a couple of times. I finally gave up and use a paring knife to finish the job. Way easier.

When the potatoes were completely peeled, I chopped them both into little chunks. (Have you ever tried to "cube" a sweet potato? You can't do it. There is nothing remotely cube-like about the pieces you wind up with. They are asymmetrical chunks.) I then placed them into my NEW STEAMER BASKET THAT A WONDERFUL CO-WORKER GAVE ME.

That's right, no more ghetto steamer!

My co-worker, Sarah, was nice enough to give me her steamer basket. It helped a lot, since I'm pretty sure the Tupperware lid trick would not have worked with two good-sized sweet potatoes.

After I added the sweet potato, I poured in just enough water to cover the pieces. Once the water started to boil, I turned the heat down a bit and put the lid on.

Wanna know how I know I'm good at this? The squash and the potatoes finished at the same time. Yeah, I've got this down to an art. (I'm completely not serious.)

I took the butternut squash out of the oven at about the same time the sweet potatoes had been "cooked until tender." (Which I still think is just a way of saying, "I was too lazy to time this, but they're done now!") The squash skin looked puckered and had sunken in where I had scooped out the squash guts, and had started to turn a darker tan color. (Both signs of "done-ness" according to WholesomeBabyFood.com.) I took the pot with the sweet potatoes off the heat and let them cool along with the squash.

Just a side note, but when I opened the oven door to check on the squash a couple of times towards the end, the water in the bottom of the baking dish had created this really strange whirlpool effect. It would bubble up from under the hollows in the squash halves and rotate around the dish until it created a whirlpool. REALLY WEIRD.

I waited about an hour before I blended both the squash and sweet potatoes, and they were still a bit warm. The great thing about my new food processor/blender is that I can blend two different things without having to wash anything in between. So that's exactly what I did. (And when I did wash them, I managed to not cut myself. Hooray!) I forgot to do this with the sweet potatoes, but to thin out the squash, I used the water that the squash had been baked in to get back a few of those nutrients. I used a little nursery water with the sweet potatoes. (Side note - I didn't do this with the carrots because they're very high in nitrates! Never use the same water to thin out carrots that you used to cook them in!)

I wound up with one cube short of two full trays of sweet potatoes. I probably could have managed to fill that last cube, as some of them turned out to be quite full and the puree was a bit on the "chunky" side.

Unfortunately, I tossed the receipt that had the price for the sweet potatoes, so I don't know exactly how much I saved. My expert guesstimation would be that making the sweet potatoes at home cost between 5-7 cents per ounce, depending if they were on sale or not. I can't remember.

One organic butternut squash yielded three full trays! (It was almost one and a half trays. When the squash finished baking, it smelled and tasted so delicious -and not like watermelon - that I almost saved half to make into soup. Oh well, guess I'll have the buy another squash for myself!)

Math time! One organic squash was $1.75 and yielded 42 oz/cubes. So how much per ounce, my mathematically inclined friends? 4 cents! I would have spent $10.50 for 42 oz of Gerber squash.

Lessons Learned:
- Since sweet potatoes have a shelf life of 2 weeks in the freezer, I'll only use one next time. I guess my intuition was right!
- Butternut squash is great to make in bulk! (And considering the size of one squash, you pretty much have to make it in bulk.) But that's okay, because while sweet potatoes have a relatively short freezer life, butternut squash (and any type of winter squash) will keep for up to 4 months in the freezer!
- The sweet potatoes came out kind of thick, while the squash came out much thinner. I think I might have added too much water to the squash and not enough to the sweet potatoes. This is easily fixed, though. When thawed, if a puree is too runny, add a little rice cereal or oatmeal. Too thick? Stir in formula or breast milk. (By the way, when I took out a couple of cubes of squash for Wyatt's lunch today, the consistency was just right when it thawed. No biggie!)

Of course, it's always important to label and date your baby food when placed in the freezer. From left to right - squash, sweet potatoes, and (*?$@!) carrots.

Maybe next time I'll make something not quite so... orange. =)

- Mother Nature Mom

Wyatt Baby Reads Books

I'm a sucker for a good deal - groceries, clothes, books, anything - so I love it when I find good sales on baby stuff. Wyatt's growing out of his clothes so fast that it causes me physical pain to pay full price for an outfit, and while he still likes most of his toys, the day will come when he will outgrow them. (I'll probably cry when he's finished with his Eric Carle Stack-able Very Hungry Caterpillar.)

I'm pretty good at discovering awesome finds on sale racks and in clearance sections. Kenny and I have hit up Old Navy a couple of times in the past month or so, and we always find cute shirts or onesies on sale. Of course, most of the clearance clothes are off-season, but Little Man is already wearing some 9-12 month clothes, which broadens our finds a little bit.

My favorite clearance finds at Old Navy, however, aren't clothes. I've managed to score three books from the Urban Babies Wear Black series, which are whimsical little board books with a wry sense of humor. (For instance, in Winter Babies Wear Layers, the line "Winter babies are angels" is accompanied by an illustration of a baby making a snow angel... and pitching a fit. Rocker Babies Wear Jeans features a baby eating strawberry jam while wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt. What's the line? "Rocker babies do jam sessions," of course. ) On two separate occasions, I've run across this book series on sale for less than $2 a book. And while I think they're absolutely adorable, the real test is if Wyatt likes them.

Oh yeah.

Of all the books we've gotten, these are probably my favorites to read, and the illustrations are absolutely priceless. And hey, the price was right.

- Mother Nature Mom

PS - Wyatt is "reading" Eco Babies Wear Green. =)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greetings and Salutations

Hi everybody! Welcome to my new blog, Mother Nature Mom! (I'm not sold on the name, to be honest, but I had to enter something... and it does encompass what I'm trying to do here... Let me know if you've got a better idea!)

Technically, this is my second post; I've already imported my first foray into baby food making from Facebook. (I felt it wouldn't be fair to exclude the adventure that started the ball rolling.) If you haven't read it yet, it can be found below this post at the bottom of the page. And I do recommend reading it. It's... humorous, to say the least.

In baby food news, I successfully made sweet potatoes and butternut squash today! And I didn't injure myself whatsoever! It's a miracle. The little nuggets of goodness are still in freeze mode in their ice cube trays, so I'll make a separate post later tonight or tomorrow to tell how it all went down. And this time, I took pictures! Fun stuff.

For now I leave you with a couple of before and after pictures of Wyatt with his homemade carrots, that I painstakingly (literally!) made for him. Enjoy!

- Mother Nature Mom



Sunday, July 25, 2010

My First Attempt at Homemade Baby Food

Before I even start, I just want you guys to know that I am damn proud of myself. Because really, who would have thought a year ago that I would willingly be slaving away (ok, not exactly "slaving") in my kitchen making homemade baby food for my child? Nodamnbody, that's who.


There are a couple of reasons why I decided to try out this homemade baby food business:
1. It's cheap. 4 oz of Gerber's Stage 1 carrots cost 97 cents on sale at Kroger. An entire bag of whole organic carrots costs $2.50. (And hey, on WIC, it's free!)
2. I wanted to know what it would feel like to make food for my child and know that everything he's eating is good for him and fresh and wonderful and awesome.

And there's also a tiny part of me that did it because some people thought it was a stupid idea. But that's not important.

So! I decided to start with carrots, since Wyatt loves them so. (See my profile pic.)

If not for WholesomeBabyFood.com, I would have been completely lost. I would have been left standing in my kitchen with a bag of carrots in my hand, willing it to puree itself into something my son can manage. Lucky for me, I did happen to find this site (thanks to MoneySavingMom.com), which has tons of information ranging from what types of equipment to use, age ranges for certain foods, recipes, and how to cook the damn stuff. (Well, they didn't call it that, but that was the question on my mind at the time.) Apparently, the best way to cook most fruits and veggies (carrots included) is to steam them. Steaming retains the most nutrients. This is where I ran into my first problem: I don't own a steamer.

I own a lot of kitchen gadgets; I have a crock pot, a toaster oven, a hand mixer, and about 20 or so little scoops and spoons to measure things out with. No steamer. So I got crafty. I put one of my many coffee mugs in the bottom of my biggest pot, upside down. Then I found the biggest tupperware lid that I had that would fit inside the pot while still leaving enough room for the steam to rise. Voila, Ghetto Steamer. Poured in some water, started heating it to a boil. Then I began peeling the carrots.

I realized almost immediately that they sell already-peeled carrots for a reason... convenience! Who has time to stand around peeling carrots all day? No one! Hence the prebagged baby carrots - already peeled and cut up into manageable pieces. Hooray 21st century! I made it through six carrots before my arm began to scream at me (thanks for the tendinitis and nerve damage, Starbucks!) I cut the carrots into little chunks and put them on top of the tupperware lid. Once the water started to boil, I turned the temperature down a bit and put the lid on it.

The recommended cook time was "until carrots are tender," which is helpfully specific. I let them steam for about 20 minutes, which was probably a little longer than necessary. But hey, they were cooked. And now this is the part where I put on my Momma pants and tell you what you guys already know - steam can burn you! Lift the lid away from you! Use a friggin' pot holder! Your hands will thank you. (Mine currently hate me, both for this reason and because of a previous injury involving a very hot sandwich oven at work.)

After hopping up and down and cursing, I took the lid o' carrots out of the pot and let them cool. And here is where I ran into my second problem.

My parents had given me a food processor/blender combo that had been given to them umpteen years ago by my nana, who is notorious for giving people gifts they don't want. This is one of those gifts. It sat in the attic, still in the box, for years. When Kenny and I moved in together, my parents gave us a bunch of stuff - vacuum cleaner, kitchen table and chairs, and a bunch of other awesome, useful things. They also gave us this blender which, granted, they have never used. I'm sure if they had, it would have been in appliance heaven by now. This thing has one setting. One. It has a lever that you push down on to make it go. That's it. No crush ice button, no puree button. Nothing. I burned up the motor in five minutes. I then spent another five minutes trying to mash up the carrots with a fork before putting them in a bowl, covering it with Saran wrap, and sticking it in the fridge.

At this point, carrots were my least favorite food ever.

So today, I ventured to Walmart and purchased a new food processor/blender combo that has all the things the last food processor/blender combo did not. Granted, it could have had two settings and it would have been more, but no, I bought a nice food processor/blender with lots of settings. I was very happy. So happy in fact that while washing my new food processor/blender, I got a little overzealous and cut open the palm of my hand with the very, very, very sharp blade.

Did you know that I am squeamish about blood? You do now.

After not passing out while hunting for the Band-Aids, I managed to reassemble my sharp, shiny new appliance and puree the most beautiful carrots I have ever seen. It was so wonderful. I pushed the puree button which - guess what! - purees! I simply added a little nursery water as needed to achieve the right consistency. Once everything was blended, I scooped my masterpiece into an ice cube tray. As it turns out, six carrots is exactly the right amount to fill one whole tray. I totally knew that. (No I didn't.)

Here's the part where I do a little math. (I heard your gasp from here!)
As I said before, 4 oz of Gerber carrots is 97 cents on sale. For the sake of ease, we'll say that's 25 cents per ounce.
The bag of carrots that I bought had about 20 whole carrots. At $2.50 a bag, each carrot cost 13 cents, so six carrots cost 78 cents.
Six carrots filled up one ice cube tray, which has 14 individual cubes. Each cube is one ounce. (I measured this beforehand.) So, one tray is 14 ounces. That equals out to 6 cents an ounce.


And since Wyatt typically eats 2 oz at a time, one tray is seven servings.

So yes. Making your own baby food is extremely easy on the pocket. And I'm sure next time I'll be much more prepared and careful. While it was kind of a pain in the butt this time, it really is so simple and easy. I swear!

Lessons Learned:
Buy carrots that are already peeled next time!!!
Test equipment before use to ensure it's worth a damn.
Wear leather gloves at all times. (Kidding, sort of.)
Don't listen to the haters.