I love the idea of baby food. Not in the way that someone loves something like a kitten, or chocolate, or flannel sheets. No, I just love the idea that babies have their own food, not entirely dissimilar to fish food, cat food, or chicken feed. But miraculously, babies grow up and stop eating, by design, this mysterious “baby food” and settle for the more pedestrian people food, or as parents call it, “adult food.” I wonder if they miss it?
Not likely. When I was in the first few months of feeding my son, I sampled a few store-bought baby food options, just to see what they tasted like, and they were overly sweet and beyond revolting (and I am talking about the homey organic kind emblazoned with pastoral images). It just seemed somewhat remiss to be introducing my child to the abundance and variety of food with jarred, reconstituted and highly processed baby-friendly foods. I opted for something different, as did parent and New York Times writer Keith Dixon.
In a recent article for the New York Times, Dixon writes about how he and his wife skipped over the multitude of ready-made baby food options, and simply passed along a sampling of what they were eating, albeit in a pureed form. Using a miniature food mill, Dixon and his wife pureed dishes like pasta Bolognese, and passed it along to their eager and appreciative daughter, who loved every bite.
In our house, it was a similar scenario. We opted for fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, pulverized by a food mill or, more conveniently and effectively, a hand blender. Sometime we would give our son mashed and pureed millet with parsnips and spinach (a savory sweet combination that seemed to rock his world) or we would just present him with a more palatable liquefied version of whatever was on the menu (obviously being cautious about potential allergens like nuts, shellfish, etc.).
Dixon and I seem to agree on the merits of exposing your child to as many food tastes and textures (within reason: spicy chorizo is not recommended) to develop their palate and pave the way for a less fussy, more adventurous, eater. That said, I know that time is of the essence when it comes to feeding your infant, and that opening up a jar may seem easier than this alternative. But, I assure you, with a few more twists of the wrist using a food mill, your child will benefit and you will marvel at your baby’s ability to eat onions, curry, and a wide assortment of vegetables that maybe you wouldn’t even consider trying.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.