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(updated December 18, 2015)
This is quite a long post... I review tools for prepping, freezing and labeling purees, feeding tools and some cooking instruments that are great for the entire family.
Not necessary! Your baby will eat purees for such a short time, there is no need to spend money and take up precious kitchen real estate (at least if you are in NYC) with a special machine. You can just puree using whatever food processor, blender or immersion blender you already have. If you really want a special baby food maker, the Beaba Babycook is considered to be the best.
Storage and Feeding Containers
Initially, I fed S from and stored his food in the refrigerator either in these collapsible silicone snack bowls or four ounce mini glass mason jars (I use the glass only if I'm feeding him). Lately, he mainly feeds himself so I either place the food on his tray or into this silicone suction bowl. I still use the four ounce mini glass mason jars and eight ounce glass mason jars to freeze portions for him. Within a short time, my son started eating the same food that we eat. I use the larger wide mouth mason jars (click for 16 oz and 32 oz) to freeze soups and other foods for the entire family. The best part about using Mason or "Ball" jars is that two sizes of covers fit the various sizes of jars (there are additional larger size jars that I didn't list above). The only negative is that the metal covers rust if put through the dishwasher. To solve this issue, I switched to the plastic caps. I try to avoid storing food in plastic, but am OK with this since I store the jars upright and the food doesn't touch the plastic.
I label the containers and bowls with these Erasable Food Labels. I write what type of food it is and what date it was prepared (unless you taste it, it is hard to differentiate pureed apple sauce from pureed spaghetti squash). I’ve been using these labels for years to label food containers in the kitchen. They really stay on when used on glass, metal (like the plastic covers and metal covers of mason jars), smooth silicone (like the covers of the collapsible silicone snack bowls), or plastic (like covers of Glasslock containers), and the writing stays on until you erase it with a white eraser. You just need a sharpie marker to write and a white eraser to rub off the writing.
When freezing baby food, I freeze in this silicone cube tray and transfer to freezer ziploc bags (I know they are plastic but I have limited freezer space and am careful never to place warm food in them, when feeling extra health conscious, I put parchment paper between the food and plastic) so that I can use the tray for something else. This tray has one ounce pods, which I prefer over trays with two ounce pods like the Beaba freezer tray. Smaller cubes defrost faster and give you more flexibility with portion size, as well as the ability to mix and match foods to make up a portion. For example, my son refuses broccoli but will devour it if mixed with sweet potato. One ounce portions also come in handy to mix spaghetti squash into his fruit when I feel like he has had too much sugar. I also bought the Nuby freezer tray and returned it because the Amazon listing and the packaging described it as silicone while the pamphlet described it as made of soft plastic (and it didn't feel like any of my other silicone products).
I tried a bunch of spoons and my favorites are these and these . My runner up is the Spuni spoon, which comes in two packs of a variety of colors. The Spuni were good in the beginning, but if I had to choose only one spoon it would be an Oogaa one because the tip is flexible, which makes it easy to manipulate most of the food into baby's mouth, plus it is silicone, which is safest.
I like silicone bibs like the Modern twist bucket bib (it comes in blue and orange, blue, pink, red and green). They rinse off really easily and don’t add to your laundry pile (they are dishwasher safe). I have the bib in both blue and orange. By coincidence, they coordinate with the blue and orange Spuni spoons. Silicone tends to stain. I like that these bibs are rich in color so they are less likely to show baby food stains. The bucket/pocket at the bottom catches lots of food, which started to really come in handy when S started feeding himself. Initially, I just flipped the food back onto the tray so that it wouldn't go to waste. Now less falls in there and he knows to look for it there.
The Tommee Tippee silicone bibs are a fraction of the cost and look great from the online description. I tried them at two different friends' homes and found that the silicone feels cheaper and stickier and you end up with a sticky mess on baby's neckline / collar. This is one of those items for which it pays to pay more. I've been using my Modern twist bucket bibs every day for over six months and they still look perfect.
For travel and as a spare in the Diaper Bag, I like disposable Bibsters. They even have a pocket to catch errant food and a waterproof back to keep baby's clothes (relatively) dry. I also recommend this item in my post on traveling with a baby. Bumkins makes good washable bibs that are lightweight and are a more environmentally friendly alternative for the diaper bag.
I like the Nuk Mash and Serve Bowl. It is plastic, which I’m not crazy about, but you can use it to mash avocado and banana really easily. This is good for if you are introducing avocado or banana as a first food. Within a few weeks your baby should get more comfortable with some texture, so you should be fine mashing with a fork. If I had to do without one item on this list, it would be this one.
If your baby is eating directly from pouches, this silicone pouch topper is a must have. It is a small, simple and brilliant little device that controls the flow of the pouch. I can't promise that you won't end up with any mess, but it will certainly limit it. Even at 12 months, I still find these really useful. When I don't use them I end up with a mess.
If you are using pouches of baby food on the go and your baby doesn't finish an entire pouch in one sitting, you can store and transport the leftovers in the Tommee Tippee insulated bottle bag. These also work for insulating short and wide bottles like the Comotomo bottles.
For the first few weeks I cooked and pureed all of S's food and really enjoyed it. Pretty quickly, I started to just cut up blueberries, peaches, cherries and other summer fruits and put them in this silicone feeder. It cuts the prep time and my son is able to feed himself. He has a serious appetite, so I often use this to help him pace himself. The cover makes it easy to fill it in advance and transport it or just keep it ready in the refrigerator.
These are great for keeping sippy cups, toys and other items from being thrown on the floor. I have two leashes -- the L'il Sidekick Leash and the Brilli Baby Cup Catcher. They can both be used for toys and sippy cups and are both made of food grade materials and are dishwasher safe. I think they are both great to have. I always have one attached to my high chair and one to my stroller and they have both come in handy on trips (see my post on traveling with a baby). If I had to choose only one, it would be the L'il Sidekick Leash as it is suited for more purposes, is cuter (if you have read enough of my blog, you know about my star obsession) and less food gets caught in it.
I started my son on feeding most things to himself at about 6.5 months. In the beginning, a lot of food would end up on the floor because he wasn't very coordinated. Now, at 10 months, he is able to pick up a crumb or grain of rice and get it in his mouth on the first try, but he deliberately drops his food on the floor when he doesn't like the food or is done eating. I have a hardwood floor under his chair and it is a pain to clean food off of it (I clean my wood floors with this cleaner). Whatever floors you have, unless you have a dog, I recommend getting a splat mat.
I looked at a bunch of mats and decided on this one because it is a nice size, can easily be wiped down, is waterproof (so liquid won't soak through to your floor), and is also machine washable. The chevron pattern. is also muted enough for my taste. And, as a bonus, you can easily fold it up to bring with you on trips and outings. I've even considered getting a second one for when this one is in the laundry, but decided that I need to draw the line somewhere.
Cooking Utensils, Pots, Pans & Slow/Pressure/Rice Cooker
I try my best to avoid cooking with plastic. I recently chucked the last of my remaining plastic cooking utensils and got this great set of silicone cooking utensils (the set comes in red, black and blue). They have a solid silicone coating, which means that there is no head to pop off and no seams between the handle and head of the ladle, spatula turner, mixing spoon, spoon spatula or slotted spoon for food to get stuck or bacteria to grow. I use these for cooking food for my entire family.
I also got rid of all of my old pans and most of my pots and purchased a set of Scanpan CTX cooking ware. They are just all-around amazing. They cook evenly, heat quickly, clean up easily and are so effectively non-stick that I barely use any oil (I generally use a bit of this coconut oil). According to the company, they are made of a patented ceramic titanium surface with PFOA-Free GreenTek non-stick that allows the use of any utensil, including metal utensils. I started with just the eight inch pan for eggs a few years ago and built up my set over time. I can't bring myself to use metal utensils with it but I do put some of the pieces in the dishwasher. The eight inch pan has probably been through the dishwasher over 100 times and still functions perfectly.
My son loves his protein. He cleans his high chair tray at every meal in order of preference -- protein first and green veggies last. To make it easy to prepare beef, poultry, soups and stews for him, I recently invested in a slow cooker that also serves as a pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker and even allows you to easily sear or brown within the same unit. It is made by Breville, a brand that I know and trust (I have their food processor, blender and immersion blender and love them all). There aren't too many slow cookers or pressure cookers that have a searing function. This device is truly an all-in-one. The brand is really innovative and very focussed on the details -- for instance, the outlet plug on their appliances has a ring so you can easily slip your finger in and pull the plug straight out of the outlet instead of straining the cord or prongs by pulling at an angle.
I like that on the weekend I can see how my schedule is going and prepare a stew for dinner in the early afternoon by slow cooking it and arrive home at dinnertime, or start it less than an hour before dinner by pressure cooking it. In short, it is super convenient and makes my life easier.
What are your favorite tools, tricks and foods to feed your baby?