Looking at the big pot of baby-friendly minestrone soup she had just prepared from scratch for her nine-month-old daughter, Jordyn, Rebecca Sutcliffe of Winnipeg thought: “This is a ridiculous amount of food. Jordyn will be eating it for a month!” Which got her thinking, “People have holiday baking exchanges—why not a baby food exchange?” Why not, indeed. Here’s what you need to know to start your own club.
Pick Your Food Exchange Partners
Sutcliffe talked with 12 friends from a drop-in parenting group to see if they were interested in getting together to trade portions of homemade baby food. Four said yes. Their babies were mostly in the eight- to 10-month-old range—the right age to be moving away from puréed foods and into chunkier textures. Sutcliffe then set up an invite-only Facebook page so they could get organized. “We were all friends, and we saw one other on a regular basis; I had been to everyone’s homes,” says Sutcliffe. “I knew everyone involved had similar ideas on what they wanted their kids to eat.”
Have a Planning Play Date
The moms met at Sutcliffe’s house to discuss which recipes to make. They made sure there were a variety of meal options, finally deciding on turkey chili, salmon casserole, rice pudding, a couscous dish and mini apple-carrot muffins. Each mom used a recipe from her own favourite website or cookbook—which for Sutcliffe was Top 100 Baby Pureés (Random House) by Annabel Karmel. This kind of nutritional variety is essential when introducing your child to solid foods, says Kim McGibbon, a public health dietitian in Thunder Bay, Ont., who teaches parents about feeding babies and how to make baby food. “Studies show that kids who are introduced to a variety of textures are healthier eaters later on,” she says. “You need to catch them while they’re curious.”
Set Some Ground Rules
Sutcliffe and her friends talked about a few basics: Choose whole-wheat pasta and low-sodium recipes; organic and local was nice but not necessary; and steer clear of potential allergens like nuts and egg whites. McGibbon says parents have also been asking her which containers to use for freezing food. “We recommend that you place hot foods in a glass container in the refrigerator to cool for a few minutes before putting them in plastic containers, including ice cube trays. Chemicals can leach out of the plastic when it comes in contact with hot food.” (If using plastic, #5 polypropylene is generally considered one of the safest.) You can also use BPA-free ice cube trays and silicone moulds.
Meet and Swap
Two weeks later, the moms and babies arrived at Sutcliffe’s again, coolers in hand, for a food-swapping play date. Each had stashed about five cubes of food in labelled freezer bags, one for each baby. “Everyone had a really positive experience,” says Sutcliffe. “It was a real time saver—it’s exhausting to think of creating such a variety on your own. Plus, I got to introduce Jordyn to things I hadn’t thought of making, like couscous.” The group met for another round, this time with an additional three moms who were eager to get in on the action. By the time everyone had worked through their swapped food, the kids were turning one and eating coarser, chopped foods, so they didn’t meet a third time, but the club certainly made feeding their babes easier for a few months, says Sutcliffe. “There were quite a few Facebook wall posts saying ‘Thank goodness for the baby food exchange!’”
Food Safety Tips from EatRight Ontario
• Wash your hands before handling food, and use clean utensils, workspaces and containers.
• Wash the surface of vegetables and fruit before cutting and peeling.
• Once foods are cooked, cover and refrigerate right away. Foods will keep in the fridge for two to three days.
• Prepared foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
• Once food is frozen, label with the name of the dish and date and store in freezer bags for up to two months.
• Thaw cubes in the refrigerator, a double boiler or in the microwave. Do not thaw at room temperature.