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
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
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.
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