Every once in a while, popping open a tiny jar of brightly colored baby mush can be...unsettling. You don't get your sustenance from processed blobs, after all. Why should your tot?
Don't worry, this isn't where we admonish you for taking the easy way out and then implore you to start pureeing your own plums and carrots. But serving fresh meals to your munchkin is easier than you might think, thanks to a number of organic baby-food brands available locally.
This writer decided to put them to the test, by both tasting them myself and using my one-year-old daughter, Lula, as a guinea pig. She's usually up for anything when it comes to eating, and for this experiment she did not disappoint.
We started with some of the offerings from the Brooklyn-based frozen, organic baby food pioneer, Happy Baby (happybabyfood.com). Tempting flavors include Baby Dahl (red lentils blended with veggies), Mama Grain (quinoa whipped with black beans and banana) and Grrreat Greens (spinach, mango and pear), as well as straight-up mashed pears or carrots. The packaging is genius, with two flavors in each box, divided into 12 individual 1oz cubes. The box with Baby Dahl and Mama Grain was our favorite: The consistency was nice and thick, like pt, and the flavors fresh and unique. Although I could've eaten the whole package, Lula inexplicably turned up her nose at the lentils; however, she devoured the black-bean blend with excited gurgles. And I had to hide the brand's Baby Puffs snacks—little o's made of puffed rice and wheat, with kale and spinach—after she went bonkers over them.
Next up was Plum Organics (plumorganics.com), which packages its infant foods two ways: in frozen 4oz cups and shelf-stable foil pouches (they require refrigeration after opening). The frozen food—in flavors like Super Greens (peas, spinach and green beans), Pasta with Veggies and Chicken, and Mango Muesli—had a nice grainy consistency and just-made taste. But I found the cups too big; we were never able to get through a whole one before it started to turn (within a few days) and needed to be tossed. Aside from that quibble, Lula and I both savored the Super Greens and the Mango Muesli. The pouches, meanwhile, were perfect all around. Lula was going through a phase that week in which she refused anything presented in a spoon (too babyish!). But she delighted in sucking the Plum concoctions right out of the pouches, whether she was in her high chair or on the playground. She polished off every flavor she tried: pear and mango; pumpkin and banana; spinach, peas and pear; and sweet potato, corn and apple. (I enjoyed them too!)
Similar to the frozen Plum is the organic Tasty Baby (tastybaby.com), created by a pair of mom friends, one a Manhattan native. Each box contains three frozen 3.5oz cups in one of many cutesy-named flavors, like Peas on Earth (peas with mint), Bangos (banana, mango and vanilla) and Mama Mia (butternut squash with quinoa and Parmesan). Again, the size of the cups was too big for us, but the flavors were generally wonderful. Lula had to fight me for both the Peas on Earth (I am contemplating serving it as dip at a dinner party) and the Bangos, which makes a perfect low-cal snack for moms. The squash, though, had a strange tang from the Parmesan and a disappointing watery consistency.
Kosher, organic, Long Island--made Bella Baby (bellababyfoods.com) comes in boxes with nine 1.5oz packets of frozen purees. The simple flavors (apricot, mango, pear, green bean), which are meant to be mix-and-match, taste straight from the garden. The plastic pouches can be a little awkward once you tear them open, but the serving size is perfect. Lula and I both liked the fruit flavors best.
Parents without a second to waste in the kitchen should try the gourmet offerings from GustOrganics (gustorganics.com), a lovely caf on Sixth Avenue just below 14th Street. All of its baby purees—including zucchini, carrot and potato made with salted water; chicken breast with zucchini, carrot and bay leaf; and baked squash (each $9 per 10oz container)—can be ordered at the table. Home delivery is also available in four-day or seven-day supplies. Lula and I loved the zucchini, carrot and potato, which was thick and creamy like a bisque, as well as the silky-smooth pure pear.
Think creating homemade purees is too time-consuming? If you're already cooking to feed adults or older tots, it'll be easier than you think. I swear.
My first "recipe"—and my daughter's first food—was a mash of Japanese sweet potatoes (much more sugary and dense than the regular ones). All I did was pop an extra into the oven with my partner's and mine, then scoop out the cooked flesh and mix it with some breast milk. It was an instant success. Other early favorites:
Carrots or beets Simply peel and steam, then toss them into a mini chopper. Use water to soften the consistency.
Peas Buy frozen, boil, and push through a food mill, which forces the center out of the hard-to-digest skins.
Prunes and oats Simmer prunes with some oatmeal until soft before blending it in the mini chopper.
Try to use organic ingredients, and always make extra, which you can freeze in ice-cube trays and then keep in freezer baggies. Defrost a cube or two each morning for that afternoon. At one year old, Lula is moving on to tiny pieces of whatever we're eating—broccoli, quinoa, winter squash, tofu. Yes, that's easier than pureeing. But to me, that window of making baby food was over too soon, like everything else in my daughter's first year. Try it and you're bound to miss the ritual as soon as it ends.—BG