Enter the marathon cook-offs that occur in our kitchen once every six to eight weeks. And on those days, I curse and swear (and even cry). And then need a massage to recover from the trauma of cooking for six hours straight.
So here is how things go down on bulk cooking days, your step-by-step guide to cooking and freezing en masse:
FYI: The veggie cooking days and the protein cooking days occur on separate occasions. My stress levels can’t handle doing both batches in one day.
1. Buy all the veggies that you want your little one to eat. I buy packets and packets of spinach, sweet potato, butternut, carrots, broccoli, apples, pears. I opt for organic where possible, but if you aren’t able to, don’t stress about it.
2. Wash, peel, and prep.
3. Steam. Don’t overcook them, as you will kill the nutrients. Just cook until soft enough to puree or blend.
Tip: Reserve the steamed veggie liquid at the bottom of the steamer, in case you need it to thin down the puree. This way, you can add back some of the nutrients that are lost during the steaming process.
4. Puree or mash the veg, depending on what stage of eating your baby is at (smooth versus textured). I do this using a stick blender (read my list of must-have baby food equipment over here).
5. Spoon into ice trays. (You could also ‘pipe’ the puree using a ziplock bag with a hole cut into the corner, but this just an extra step that really isn’t necessary. A spoon works just fine). Tap the trays gently to get rid of any air bubbles. If your ice trays don’t have lids, worry not, just use wax paper to separate them and prevent freezer burn, and stack them on top of each other.
Which are the best trays to use? This will depend on your personal level of OCD neuroticism, and whether or not you’ve jumped on the BPA-free bandwagon. The research is not conclusive either way. But I was a bit panicked that plastic poison would seep into #babyjake’s peas (truth be told though, I should be more concerned about my cell phone, Wi-Fi and microwave radiation). Anyway, I succumbed to social pressure and opted for BPA-free trays from Joie. Order online over here (R75 a tray).
Ideally you also want an ice tray with a lid (you can use wax paper if need be). But any ice trays will do.
6. Make an ice bath to cool down the trays of puree. This step is crucial! You need to cool down the trays as quickly as possible. You shouldn’t let the food stand for longer than two hours at room temperature as this is a breeding ground for bacteria. Simply stand the trays in a basin of ice cold water, to drop the temperature of the food as quickly as possible. (Moment of truth: I didn’t always do this and #babyjake survived just fine. But I have since learnt about how dangerous it can be to allow food to stand at room temperature for longer than two hours. You’ve gone to this much trouble already, may as well complete the job properly).
7. Once frozen, about 24 hours later, pop out the cubes into neatly labelled, date-stamped ziplock freezer bags. My freezer resembles a filing cabinet. And then each morning / afternoon, we go shopping in the freezer, picking a few cubes of this and a few cubes of that. I have a dedicated freezer drawer for #babyjake’s ziplocked bags.
- Don’t leave your cubes in the ice-trays, as it’s a pain to pop them out individually each time you need one. To get all the cubes out in one easy shot, run the trays under luke warm water to loosen the cubes. Or stand them in the sink with cool water. Don’t use hot water because otherwise the cubes will start to defrost.
- You can freeze and cook in batches if you don’t have enough ice cube trays to do it all in one shot. You’ll transfer the frozen cubes to ziplock bags so that you can free up another tray for more cooking / freezing.
- Woolies make BPA-free freezer zip-lock bags (again, not sure this is entirely necessary). I’ve even seen one mom who freezes her cubes in individual little mini ziplocks (which you can buy at Plastic Land or Westpack). But that’s just more plastic to recycle. One large ziplock works just fine.
8. To defrost: Just remembering to take out the frozen cubes each day proves to be insanely challenging for me. Thank goodness for the invention of microwaves with a defrost function.
Good to know: It is not recommended to defrost at room temperature (although I am guilty of this!). Baby food should always be thawed in a way which prevents bacterial growth.
So here’s how to best defrost the cubes:
- Ideally you want to take out a selection of cubes the night before (which I never remember to do), and defrost them in your fridge overnight. Or take them out in the morning, to defrost by dinner time. Remember, it must be in an airtight container so no bacteria can get in.
- Or place in a glass bowl inside another bowl of hot water to speed things up (like a double boiler). This can take 30 minutes.
- Or heat on the stove, on low heat, with a teeny bit of water to melt / defrost.
- Or microwave for 30 seconds at a time, on defrost function. Stir and make sure there are no ‘hot spots’. Use a glass bowl rather than plastic.