Of the many hopes and dreams that I had for motherhood, the one I knew I'd most likely uphold was the promise to make Charlie's baby food. My mother made my food when I was little and since I enjoy being in the kitchen, I just couldn't justify the cost of buying pre-made baby food. Plus, as I start to make changes to our eating habits as a family it feels good to have control over the quality of the food that goes into the purees we feed Charlie.
201 Organic Baby Purees, written by Tamika L. Gardner, is a great go-to resource for homemade baby food production. Tamika's website, Simply Baby Food Recipes, has helped answer many of my questions as I started thinking about what Charlie should eat. The book provides even more information with intro sections on the importance of using organics, ways to stock your pantry with healthy whole foods for baby (including tips for doing it on a budget) and advice on the process of making homemade purees. The book is then divided into sections based on the age so that the user can easily add new flavors and textures as baby gets old enough to handle them. I especially like that the final chapter introduces finger foods for children who are ready to transition out of a diet of only pureed foods.
If the title doesn't make it clear, this book contains a great variety of recipes that provide a wide array of options for children as young as six months. Another one of our food goals for Charlie is to expose him to as many foods as possible when he's very young in the hopes that it might inspire a varied palate as he gets older. As he is just getting ready to move beyond simple vegetable purees and start eating meat and grains, I can't wait to whip up some of Tamika's meat-based purees like Fruity Chicken Stew and Meaty Squash Pasta.
Q & A with Tamika L Gardner
Tamika was kind enough to answer a few questions. Check out the Q&A for info about traveling with homemade purees, the reasons why organic is best, and much more!
Laura, TSM: Your website was a great starter resource for me when I first started making purees for my 9-month-old son. (I've wanted to throw a Puree Party for months, now!) What inspired you to start making homemade purees for your children and then to share them with the mommy blogging world?
Tamika: I started out breastfeeding, the natural and healthier way of feeding infants, and I wanted to stay on the natural path. The thought of purchasing commercial baby food as a primary feeding method was not appealing to me, at all! Initially, I reluctantly bought a few jars because I didn’t know any better. However, I noticed I was over-buying because I would purchase fresh bananas, sweet potatoes and frozen veggies and would purchase the same thing in the jar for my baby. I’m extremely thrifty so I new wouldn’t keep that up for long!
I can recall my first experience at the dinner table with my husband and new daughter, eating a meal I prepared and giving her baby food from a jar. I felt really bad that she wasn’t eating the same meal that we had in a form that she could eat. There was something totally wrong with that picture.
I did a little online research and found a few sites that explained the basics of putting the food in a blender to puree. Then I spoke with my grandmother who told me all she did was “mash up” the food with her hands or with a fork. That was all I needed to know to start my new mission.
I started blogging the baby food recipes because I wanted to inspire other moms to start making their own food and try the recipes I discovered. I love to cook and I also love the internet so it was also a great hobby!
TSM: What is your advice for moms who want to make purees for their babies but might not be able to afford organic options for every ingredient?
Tamika: I highly recommend purchasing foods that are highest in pesticides organic, such as apples and peaches. The Environmental Working Group, www.foodnews.org, publishes a list of foods that should be purchased organic due to the pesticide load. I rely on this list when I’m confronted with a sale on produce. If a particular food item is on sale, but also high in pesticides, I often will pass up that deal and go the organic route.
There are also many foods that are low in pesticides, such as cabbage, avocado, peas, and asparagus, which are great foods for babies. So, if every ingredient is not organic, I would recommend at least choosing organic options for those ingredients high in pesticides.
There are also many ways to get more bang for your buck, such as stocking up and freezing seasonal produce or cutting back on the weekly trips to Starbucks to acquire healthy foods.
In my book, I go into more detail on what to do when organic options are out of reach and ways to stretch the family budget.
Laura: When my family travels, we usually just buy enough organic pre-made baby food to get us through the trip. When you travel as a family, do you bring your purees with you? Do you have any tips for moms who want to bring their homemade purees with them on the road?
Tamika: As a busy mom with two kids just over a year a part, I did not take homemade purees on family trips. Because we would do a lot of camping and spontaneous trips, I would always pack commercial baby food because I didn’t always know what to expect! When your in a traffic jam or stuck in an airport, the pre-made jars come in handy when your out of fresh options. I would also pack fresh, whole foods, such as bananas or avocado, because those foods can be mashed up.
However, when my kids would visit their grandparents for the day, I would pack up frozen puree cubes to send with them.
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For parents who want to take homemade purees on the road, I would pack the purees in a cooler with plenty of ice packs or dry ice. Also pack fresh foods that can be peeled and mashed up with a fork while on the road if the baby can tolerate chunkier textures.
Laura: I can't wait to make some of your meat purees for my son! Do you have any suggestions for how moms can ensure they get the meats that are best for their babies even on a limited budget?
Tamika: When my kids were babies, I always had plenty of extra chicken, beef, or fish to incorporate into purees from meals that I prepared for my husband and I. I found that I wasn’t purchasing a lot of extra meats because the babies’ portions weren’t that big. For example, I would normally cook one extra chicken breast, or one extra cup of ground beef with our meals, and that would last the babies a few days.
I primarily purchased meats in bulk at the Farmer’s market in Michigan, or at Sam’s Club, which really stretched our budget! I would make sure the meats I purchased had no hormones, that the cattle or hens were grain-fed and caged free when possible. Sometimes, I would even split the bulk with my parents (and the cost too!). Buying in bulk and splitting the costs with other family members or friends is a great way to stretch your dollar.
Laura: Has your oldest child graduated to "normal" food at this point? Do you feed him/her whatever you are eating or do you make separate grown-up and kiddo meals? How do you think that feeding your kids a wide variety of purees influenced their eating habits as they got older, if at all?
Tamika: My kids are now 4 and 5 years old and well past graduation. I do not make separate meals for them, and I don’t recommend for moms to do that because your kids will always expect something different from what you’re eating. I would, however, make their plates more kid friendly. For example, my husband and I like our pasta combined with sauce, chicken, and vegetables. My kids prefer everything to stand alone. So I would use the divider plates and put the pasta, veggies, and chicken in their own sections of the plate.
I think making homemade purees made the transition to the family meals a lot easier. Actually, my children preferred homemade purees and eventually would not eat commercial baby food at all!
My children enjoy many of the foods that I gave them as infants. My daughter is a great eater and she often tells me that she’s going to eat her “greens” first because she wants to be strong and healthy. She is well versed in healthy eating and organics.
My son, on the other hand, who was a great eater as an infant, thoroughly examines his food and may decide he doesn’t like it (even it he liked it a few days before). His personality is a lot different. However, I talk very positively about the food we eat and my husband and I will never express that I don’t like a particular food in front of them.
I strongly feel that speaking positively about nutrition and explaining why we need to eat healthy benefits my children tremendously. I hear my son and daughter repeating things that I say when they’re role playing with their toys. So I know they understand!
Laura: What were your children's favorite selections from the recipes included in your book?
Tamika: Wow! There is so many. To name a few:
- Blushing Bananas
- Fall Pumpkin Yogurt
- Cucumber-Melon Mashup
- Simply Sweet Potato
- Blueberry Pomegranate Parfait
- Banana Colada Ice
- Soulful Grits
- Parmesan Crusted Chicken
- Mika’s Rainbow Corn Medley
- Green Bean Bliss
Laura: What do you think is the biggest barrier to children's nutrition today?
Tamika: Honestly I think the biggest barrier to children’s nutrition is the processed food industry.
Children rely on their parents to provide their nutrition, and many parents resort to pre-packaged, processed foods for their nutrition. Many of the products found in grocery stores today are deceiving people into thinking their eating healthy, when the products loaded with sugar and sodium.
I found out that some of the foods that I used to purchase for my family are not healthy like I thought. Even salad dressings, ketchup, and other condiments are loaded with MSG and high fructose corn syrup. I think it’s important that parents read the ingredients on every label! I now make my own salad dressings and sauces, and I purchase a lot of whole foods.
Shop!201 Organic Baby Purees: The Freshest, Most Wholesome Food Your Baby Can Eat! is currently available from our affiliate Amazon for less than $12! Get more information at Tamika's website Simply Baby Food Recipes.