DO-IT-YOURSELF NUTRITIONAL PUREES

Home-made baby purees are nutritious and cost-effective. And they introduce children to the inconsistencies and varieties of flavours that characterise real food.
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The Independent Culture
Commercial Baby foods are as prone to keep up with passing trends as as any other products. So it's no surprise that they are becoming increasingly exotic, with flavours like vegetable and coconut korma and courgette and banana risotto being launched to tempt the taste buds and titillate the palates of Nineties babies. Nearly all the major manufacturers are also turning to organic baby food - long-life, bland, processed purees no longer feature in the supermarket trolley of many mothers. And a husband and wife team have started the Original Fresh Babyfood Company; for pounds 1.29 you can buy a lentil casserole for your baby which is freshly prepared with a sell-by date of one week.

But at a time when diet is most crucial to our children's health, why rely on jars and packets? There is no great mystique to making your own baby food, and nothing better for your child than home-cooked purees made from good quality fresh ingredients (don't be overwhelmed by the impressive lists of nutritional information on the back of commercial baby food, your own will contain the same). Not only do home-made purees taste like real food, they also work out much cheaper. Even busy working mums can give their baby the best start in life since foods like mashed banana and avocado or mashed papaya with cottage cheese make excellent no-cook baby purees. You can plan your baby's menus ahead and in just a couple of hours you can prepare a whole months' food supply for your baby, freezing extra portions in ice-cube trays.

You can also turn many baby purees into delicious soups for the rest of the household by adding stock, while family meals such as a chicken casserole with vegetables can be suitable for your baby if you set aside a portion and cook it without salt or spices.

Food preferences are decided at an early age and introducing your baby to a wide range of fresh, vivid flavours will help to establish a healthy eating pattern. Commercial carrot purees always taste the same, but with home-made purees, babies get used to the natural variations in the taste of home-cooked food which helps them to adapt to family meals as they grow up.

These purees are suitable for babies from six months old and can be frozen.

APRICOT AND PEAR MUESLI

A tasty and nutritious breakfast.

Makes 4 portions

6 dried apricots

150ml/5fl oz milk

15g/1/2oz porridge oats

1 large or 2 small ripe juicy pears, peeled, cored and cut into pieces

Simmer the apricots in water until soft (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, heat the milk in a saucepan, stir in the oats, bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally for three to four minutes. Combine the cooked oats, apricots and fresh pear, and blend together.

POTATO, LEEK AND PEA PUREE

This puree is easy to prepare and also makes a delicious soup for the rest of the family. Simply set aside your baby's portion and then add extra stock to the remainder. You can buy unsalted chicken stock in cartons in many supermarkets; chicken stock cubes are high in salt and are not suitable for babies under one year.

Makes 3 portions

1 large leek, carefully washed and sliced, white part only

30g/1oz butter

180g/6oz potato, peeled and chopped

250ml/8fl oz chicken stock

60g/2oz frozen peas

Saute the leek in the butter until lightly golden (five to six minutes), add the potato and pour over the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the peas and continue to cook for about five minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Puree in a blender.

EASY ONE POT CHICKEN PUREES

Makes 6 portions

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

15g/1/2oz butter

120g/4oz chicken breast, cut into chunks

300g/10oz sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 medium (90g/3oz) carrot, trimmed and sliced

300ml/1/2 pint unsalted chicken stock

Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion until softened. Add the chicken breast and saute for three to four minutes. Add the vegetables, pour over the stock, bring to the boil, and simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables tender. Puree in a blender until it reaches the desired consistency.

Annabel Karmel's books are available from book shops; or phone 0171 355 4555

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