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Kelly Bernstein uses a food processor to puree fruit as part of her recipe for making homemade baby food for her son Braden. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald

Making baby food at home

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life Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

GRAND FORKS — Sarah Herland can tell right away if her daughter, 8-month-old Lilly, likes her baby food.

How?

“Her face,” she said. “I can see by the first face she makes when she tastes it. It may be sour or she just starts crying.”

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Herland recently got into making her own baby food, inspired by a friend. She started with carrots, sweet potatoes and peas.

When Lilly gets the homemade stuff, “she opens up like a little bird. That tells me she just wants more,” said Herland of Fargo.

She and other parents who make their own baby food share a desire to get away from the processed, store-bought foods — laced with sugar, preservatives, fillers and other additives — that are convenient but — they maintain — not as healthy.

Making baby food may sound like a lot of trouble, but it’s a “win-win” situation for her and others who have tried it based on nutritional and money-saving benefits. 

“You know exactly what’s going into the product. It’s healthy,” Herland said. “Lilly is getting the best source of all the good things that vegetables offer, and no preservatives.

“The savings alone make it worth it. But, at the end of the day, she has to like it, and she does. I think she’s getting more flavor.”

The young mom has taste-tested the foods, too, comparing hers to store-bought.

“It’s amazing how much better-tasting homemade is,” she said.

She’s also impressed by the color of her carrot baby food.

“It was like highlighter-orange almost. The store-bought brand was darker and not very vibrant.”  

The homemade process

She concedes that making baby food “does take time, but it really wasn’t that bad.”

For example, she peeled, chopped and steamed the carrots, then pureed them, adding just enough water to achieve desired consistency. She poured the mixture into ice cube trays for freezing.

She recommends placing baby food in ice cube trays that are labeled as “BP-free” — they don’t contain chemicals sometimes found in plastic that could leach into the food.  

From 2½ pounds of carrots, she filled eight ice cube trays, each holding 16 cubes, she said. Each cube equals 1 ounce of baby food.

“That’s 128 ounces,” she said, for which she spent about $1.50, compared to 4.5 ounces of a package of store-brand baby food costing about $1.20. 

She pops three or four frozen cubes at a time into individual plastic bags and stores them in a freezer. When serving, she suggests heating the cubes in a glass bowl in the microwave or, while inside the bag, in warm water on the stove. 

“You can give the child multiple flavors at each meal,” she said. “Instead of one, 3-ounce jar, you could serve 1 ounce each” of different foods.

She’s looking forward to trying other vegetables and fruits, and exposing Lilly to foods she wouldn’t have otherwise.

“You can make your own recipes,” she said. “I definitely want to do bananas, and I’d like to get into apples and pears.

‘Simple’ decision

For Kelly Berntsen of Grand Forks, the decision to make her own baby food was “simple,” she said in an email. “If food can sit in a jar, on a shelf, forever, then how could it be good for my child?

“We don’t buy a lot of canned or pre-made food for either my husband or myself, so there was no way I was going to give my children pre-made foods either.” 

Before she had her first child, Braden, in fall 2010, she “would never have thought about making baby food,” she said.

During her pregnancy, she bought a cookbook that led her in that direction.

The book “helped change our whole household,” she said, “and made us more aware of what we were putting into our bodies.”

As a new mother, she started making baby food at home and, in the process, discovered “it is so easy to make so many things outside of the box…

“Once I learned how easy it was, it just kind of snowballed.”

Using a food processor, she “took whatever foods we were eating and blended it up,” she said. “It made (Braden’s) transition from baby food texture to real food texture no problem at all.”

As a result, her son is an “amazing eater,” she said, consuming all manner of fruits and vegetables as well as Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Italian foods. He refuses any fruit roll-up that’s not made from scratch, she said. He’s not much for sweets, either.

Berntsen purees fruits such as strawberries and kiwi and freezes it, like Herland, in ice cube trays.

She makes her own bread, butter, pasta, peanut butter and some cheeses. As an assistant general manager at a local hotel, she has “an extremely busy schedule,” she said. “However, my family comes first.”

Making homemade foods takes time and “a lot of planning — to make sure you have everything” on hand, she said. “I do this on my day off.”

Starting out

For anyone starting out, “you don’t have to buy all this equipment,” she said. “You can use what you already have.”

Berntsen envisions long-term advantages, health-wise, for her kids.

“We’re doing everything we can to make our lives healthier, so they make good choices growing up,” she said. “Will they ever eat at McDonald’s? Yes … Will I get mad? No. But we want to give them the tools at a young age” to choose healthier options. 

Even though her husband, Craig, was a little skeptical at first about her foray into homemade everything, she said, “he’s become one of my biggest advocates. When I come up with a wacky idea, he says, ‘OK, let’s try it.’” 

Her “homemade” craze has also fueled her interest in other products. She makes her own body lotions and scrubs, baby wipes, oil diffusers and cleaning supplies.

She’s noticed growing consumer interest in healthier, safer products, she said. “It’s nice to know there are better choices now.” 

Environmental impact

That interest, in part, may be due to a heightened public awareness of the need to better protect the environment.

Herland is pleased that by making her own baby food, her family’s impact on the environment — in jars and plastic containers — is lessened, she said.

“I just think of all the waste of glass or plastic” that containerizes brand-name baby food, she said.     

She saves the fuel it takes to drive multiple times to the grocery store — as well as the time she spends making food selections.

And what does she plan to buy with the money she’s saving?

“Probably diapers,” she said, with a laugh, “or maybe a college fund. That’s the best answer, right?”

Article written by Pamela Knudson of the Forum News Service

Pamela Knudson is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, a publication of Forum News Service.

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