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You don't have to be Julia Child to make your own baby food—all it takes are the right tools, a little time and a bit of imagination. Virtually any fresh food you can think of can be safely prepared for your baby. Bananas and other soft fruit, such as mango, papaya, avocado, peaches and kiwi, are ideal because they don't need to be cooked and can be mashed with nothing more than a fork. Firm fruit, such as apples and pears, may need to be cooked and then mashed.
Vegetables are another great option. Steam or bake them to preserve the nutrients and keep them plain, without added butter, salt or other seasonings. Once they're soft and well-cooked, mash them or put them in a food grinder or blender; for the older infant, use them as finger foods.
Meat and chicken also can be introduced after your baby turns 4 months. Just be sure they are well-cooked and very soft and then either chopped into tiny pieces (no bigger than the tip of your pinky) or put through a blender or food processor. If your baby balks at the texture of your homemade foods, add a few drops of breast milk, formula or water until the foods are about the consistency of applesauce.
But how do you actually get the food into your baby's mouth? "At first, you will have to feed your baby from a spoon, but by around 9 months of age, many babies want to 'help' feed themselves," says Nancy F. Krebs, M.D., M.S., immediate past chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on nutrition. Small slices of soft fruit and cooked vegetables, cubes of tofu and beans are ideal finger foods.
Finally, keep an eye on the calendar. Homemade baby food can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator (make sure the temperature is consistently kept at 40* F or lower) for one to two days and frozen for up to two months. When freezing, pour the food into an ice cube tray and then transfer to Ziploc bags and thaw as needed. Each cube is the perfect single-serving size.
Want more inspiration? Check out The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler by Lisa Barnes (HP Trade, 2005) or Simply Natural Baby Food: Easy Recipes for Delicious Meals Your Infant and Toddler Will Love by Cathe Olson (Goco Pub., 2003).