Admit it—you’ve sampled some of your baby’s food before. Whether you buy your baby’s food or make it yourself, there’s something soothing about pureed peaches or chunky rice pudding. But baby food isn’t just for babies. You can use leftover baby food in meals for the whole family. It’s not only convenient, but you’ll be surprised how good baby food-inspired recipes can be.
Changing Your View of Baby Food
“I don’t like the term ‘baby food’,” explains Lisa Barnes, mother of two and a member of the American Personal Chef Association (APCA). “Baby food for many people conjures up the image of [food in] jars.” Barnes adds that many people think that baby food—especially the store-bought, jarred varieties—is bland and unappealing. This isn’t necessarily the case. (Check out these new palate-expanding baby foods as proof!)
Barnes, the author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby & Toddler, explains that you shouldn’t consider baby food as separate from what the rest of the family is eating, but instead simply think about it as the same food made age appropriate. You eat an apple; your baby eats an apple that has been pureed until the consistency is right for her.
Making Baby Food Convenient
Before you start preparing baby food-inspired meals, make it easier on yourself by having plenty of choices on hand. Julianne E. Hood, mother of two and the author of The Basic Baby Food Cookbook, buys fresh fruits and vegetables in season and prepares them for storage by washing them and pureeing them in a food processor. Hood then pours the puree into ice cube trays and later stores the frozen cubes in freezer bags so they’re ready to use.
“Start to finish it takes me 15 to 20 minutes to prepare a big bulk batch of fruits,” says Hood. “Two pounds of fruit makes about 40 ice cube servings.” She reminds parents not to forget to strain out seeds in fruits for beginning eaters.
You may also want to freeze larger portions of savory foods, such as meats and chopped-up pastas. For this, Hood uses muffin trays, pouring the baby food into the tins, freezing, and then storing. A few minutes in microwave and her toddler’s meal is ready.
Using Baby Food to Add Flavor
Once you have plenty of baby food on hand, it’s time to start cooking!
Start with mixing in baby food to add flavor. For savory dishes, try using meat-based food to thicken sauces or create richer casseroles, stews, and soups. For example, if you’re preparing beef stroganoff, add a beef or tomato-based baby food to create a more complex flavor. Enliven your vegetable soup with pureed zucchini, tomatoes, or another hearty vegetable.
During snack time, mix fruit baby food into plain yogurt or a veggie baby food into plain cream cheese to spread on crackers (with either, simply thaw a food cube or two for seconds in the microwave and you’re ready to go). Use fruit puree as jam on bread or crackers.
When it comes to desserts, fruity baby foods make the perfect accompaniment. Stir pureed strawberries, peaches, or cherries into whipped cream to top cakes. Create simple sauces to drizzle on whole fruit or chocolate creations. My favorite: chocolate cheesecake with dollops of tangy mango puree. Barnes says she serves cherry puree to her baby and cherry sorbet to her husband—both love it.
Using Baby Food for a Nutritional Punch
You want to be careful about what you feed your baby. Yet the same quality ingredients and care that you put into your baby’s dishes can make yours healthier, too. Tossing some of your baby’s food into your own meals can make it easier to get your full servings of vegetables and fruits.
For breakfast, Hood suggests adding a cube or two of fruit to pancake or waffle batter. Her children rave about her strawberry pancakes.
In baked goods, such as coffee cakes and muffins, try substituting pureed fruit for part of the butter or oil called for in the recipe. For instance, my favorite recipe for pound cake muffins that calls for eight tablespoons of butter, I use six instead and use pureed baby food peaches for the other two tablespoons.
Snacking becomes fun when you add baby food veggies. Gigi Lee Chang, who was inspired by the birth of her son to create Plum Organic baby foods, loves to spread bread with her own blend of super greens, which include spinach. Mix pureed spinach with plain yogurt for a dip to accompany pita chips or thin slices of baguette bread.
Dinnertime is the perfect opportunity to create healthier meals by sneaking in quality baby foods. Hood throws an assortment of baby food extras into her spaghetti sauce—zucchini, carrots, meats; any baby leftovers can add extra nutrients. Chang tosses pureed spinach with pasta for a quick pesto.
Get creative with ways to use savory baby foods like vegetables and meat into your recipes. Try adding a little green beans into your gravy, sweet potatoes into regular mashed potatoes, and zucchini into casseroles.
As with baked goods for breakfast, you can create healthier versions of your favorite sweets by adding in some extra baby food. For instance, pureed prunes are a secret sweetener and fat substitute in chocolate chip cookies.
Healthy fruit desserts are simple and tasty with baby food. Hood tops off meals with fruit smoothies—she tosses a variety of fruit ice cubes in with frozen yogurt in the blender.