Preparing & Storing Food Like a Pro

All the talk  between parents tends to get us more than a little neurotic as mommies. We imagine all kinds of evil contaminants coming into contact with our precious little bundles. We start out as ‘that mom‘ who gets her visitors to wash their hands before stepping into a 1km radius of the nursery and (although impossible to imagine in those early days)  we soon evolve into the ‘other mom‘ who looks on unfazed by her child licking the dog’s bowl.

The truth is that we get to a stage where we can’t freak out about every unsavoury item entering our child’s mouth because some things are simply unavoidable (and will drive us crazy if we think about them incessantly). Other things, like safety in your kitchen, are things that you have in your power to control. Here are my top tips on what and how to keep things safe and clean:

Cooking & Preparation: 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling any food for your little one. If their little mitts are dirty and you plan on giving them finger foods, then make sure you give their little fingers a wipe too.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly, soaking where necessary to get the dirt off and even consider using vegetable cleaning brushes for getting stubborn dirt off root vegetables. Even if you have gone for organic options (or plan on removing the skin) be sure to give them a good rinse!
  • Use separate utensils and cutting boards for preparing meat, chicken and seafood and wipe down surfaces thoroughly after doing so.
  • Paper towel is generally the safer option to wipe surfaces down however cloths can be used too, provided they have been rinsed in boiling water thoroughly after use.
  • Wash all feeding tools and utensils in the dishwasher or in very hot water to kill any harmful bacteria.
  • Discard any bottles or jars with broken seals (always double check the seals before you buy them). The same goes for any canned foods that have been dented.
  • Cook meat and chicken all the way through (until they are no longer pink inside).
  • Cook eggs until solid all the way through (no runny yolks or egg white).
  • Seafood should also be cooked all the way through.
  • Never leave food standing for longer than 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Reheat food only once.

Storing & Freezing:

  • General rule of thumb is that cooked meat, poultry, fish and eggs that have been thawed beforehand should not be refrozen raw. If they have been thawed and then cooked from frozen, they can be refrozen (but only once).
  • Cooked fruits and vegetables can last up to 6-8 months in the freezer. Meat/chicken or fish should be used within 3 months.
  • Fruits and vegetables, which have either been cooked from raw or from frozen, can be refrozen.
  • It is totally safe to freeze food to which formula or breast milk has been added, provided the milk had not been frozen previously.
  • All homemade baby food (fruit/veg/meat etc.) can be kept in a refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
  • For eggs, refrigerate what you will use within twenty four hours. Freeze any remainders.
  • Freeze chicken, meat and seafood on the bottom rack of the freezer to prevent any drippings onto other food.
  • Your refrigerator should be between 0°C and 5°C.
  • Discard any left over food that your baby or toddler’s saliva has come into contact with (or your own saliva for that matter!) For this reason, rather decant the food you will be serving into a feeding bowl.
  • Freeze food after a brief cooling period.

Although the above timeframes are what has been stipulated as safe, the sooner frozen foods are used the more nutritionally superior they will be. This is because over time the frozen food loses nutrient-containing liquid which forms little ice crystals that end up evaporating in the heating process. Often ice crystals can be mistaken for freezer burn, which unlike ice crystals appears greyish in colour. Freezer burn is totally safe albeit a sign that the quality of the frozen food has deteriorated over time, resulting in little dry patches on the food.

Get into a habit of labelling the food that goes into your freezer so that you can keep track of just how long something has been in there for. I find that keeping a record on my iPhone of how long food has been refrigerator or freezer, keeps me in check (and goes a long way in combatting prolonged ‘pretty brain‘). Do what works for you and when in doubt, throw it out!

Note: the above information should never replace the advice of your GP, doctor or nurse. 

 

 

 

 

Homemade vs. Store-Bought

To make from scratch or buy is the question on every mother’s lips when it comes to baby food.

I am no stranger to questioning my mothering skills when I have opted for store-bought varieties. Like the baby food police will catch wind of the fact that I haven’t been slaving away, steaming and blending every single meal from organic sources, and will be named and shamed publicly for my sins.

As a working mommy, I get it. There just isn’t time to have lovingly prepared every single meal for my baby, made from home-grown produce from the vegetable patch in my garden. For those who can go to these lengths, that’s great (although a little annoying for the rest of us mere mortals). For the rest of us it’s about finding which option suits you (and a particular occasion) best.

These are the pros and cons to both options:

HOMEMADE BABY FOOD

It has been proven that homemade baby food is nutritionally superior to store-bought varieties. Even though many store-bought options available don’t include the harmful stuff like preservatives, pesticides or colourants, the extreme heating processes that are used to minimise bacteria and maximise shelf-life result in some of the precious nutrients being stripped away (as per a recent study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry by  Dr Nazanin Zand).

A study published in 2013 on the Nutritional Content of Commercial Weaning Food in the UK, which examined the nutritional content of 479 baby food products in the UK market (some of which line the shelves of SA retailers) found that the energy content provided from store-bought baby foods was similar to that of breast milk (which is not ideal when your baby hits the 4 month mark and has increased energy requirements). It was found that comparable homemade foods were nutritionally superior. Store-bought food was also found to be significantly smoother and sweeter tasting than homemade food, which means less variety for your little one.

Homemade baby food means knowing exactly what is going into your child’s food and, most importantly, that you are exposing your child to different tastes, textures and consistencies as they sample new foods and flavours. As your baby graduates past the initial first tastes, when finely pureed consistencies are the most palatable, they should be exposed to as many different foods and textures as possible before their first birthday. Textures form a fundamental role in your child’s sensory experiences around food. Remember that the more textures you expose your baba to, from the time they begin solids, the less likely they are to become fussy little eaters in the long-term.

Homemade food allows you to make food differently every day, from soup-like consistencies to chunky combinations. If your baby didn’t respond well to the chunky stew you gave to him yesterday, you have the option to try a smoother consistency the following day before going back to the chunkier consistency once more. Likewise, if you want to avoid a particular fruit or vegetable (potatoes and bananas are the most common culprits found in the majority of store-bought foods) you have the option to tailor your recipe accordingly.

Preparing baby food also means cooking with healthy produce that will benefit the entire household. As you experiment with different fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins in your baby’s diet, you have the opportunity to cook healthy dishes that everyone in the family can enjoy together (and potentially even con your other half into trying).

Another plus is that it is a much more cost effective option than ready-made food, which is especially true for many of the imported options on the market.

Believe it or not, preparing your own food and freezing ahead for the week means that you may be better prepared, as you’ll have access to a variety of wholesome combinations without having to run out to the shops.

STORE-BOUGHT BABY FOOD

Store-bought food on the other hand is generally a super smooth consistency which doesn’t really allow your child to become used to sampling different textures. Having said that, many store-bought options today are preservative-free and packed with nutritious produce including herbs and spices for variety. There are also a number or organic options on the market that go the extra mile in ensuring your little one is not being exposed to any pesticides or chemicals.

The up-side to store bought is undoubtedly the convenience factor. The majority of them come in easy-to-feed containers, tubs and tubes that make feeding on-the-go a pleasure. Store-bought options are fantastic for busy mommies who simply don’t have the time to concoct different food combinations from home. They are also ideal to store in the pantry for when a quick meal is needed that doesn’t require any thawing or additional preparation.

Leading retailers (‘a la Woolworths) have created their own ready-made line (found in the refrigerator section with the other ready-to-eat foods) that is similar to homemade baby food.  They come in little pots so that the food can be heated and fed to your baby directly from the packaging. These also have a lumpier consistency than the other jar and pouch options and are fantastic to freeze.

THE VERDICT

A combination.

When you have the time, lovingly  prepare homemade dishes that make use of a variety of flavours and ingredients, and can be frozen in individual servings. As a working mom, I use Sunday afternoon as my day to prepare my son’s food. Making sure all my steaming, blending, pureeing and freezing is taken care of for the week ahead.

For convenience, find the most nutritionally beneficial store-bought options (paying careful attention to buy options that have no salt, sugar, pesticides or preservatives of any kind added to them). Keep these on-hand in your pantry (or freezer for the fresh varieties)  and use them when you are going on an outing or simply don’t have the time.

In situations where you have the opportunity to do so, rather combine smooth store-bought foods with something chunky and homemade –chicken pieces, mince, tuna, cottage cheese, grated cheese or even some cut up fruit pieces will work  –  to ensure your little person is getting the best of both worlds.