09/28/2010 08:55 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Raising a Real Food Baby

By guest blogger Jeffery Lindenmuth, a full-time writer focusing on food and drink.

People are always saying that our baby girl, Elke, resembles the Gerber baby. And as the time came for her to begin eating fruits and vegetables, my wife and I reached for organic baby food from Gerber. It was a decision we felt good about, considering the Environmental Protection Agency says that children may be "especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides" because their organs are still in development and they consume far more fruits and vegetables per pound of body weight than adults.

Nonorganic commercial baby food is a minefield of the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen--produce like peaches, apples, strawberries, nectarines, and blueberries, the fruits that have been confirmed to contain the highest levels of pesticide contamination. (Bananas and pineapples are exceptions, among the least likely pesticide offenders.) As a bonus, most organic baby foods also have no added sugar or sodium. This is all comforting information for us; however, Elke can't read.

As our dinner simmered in the Le Creuset, I grew sad that Elke was coming to know food only from a jar or a little plastic tub. She developed a Pavlovian response to the beep of the microwave, even though baby food was actually one the few processed foods in our house. And, not even organic commercial baby foods are safe from the contamination and recalls that plague industrial foods.

Always eager to solve a challenge with a cool gadget, I surprised my wife with the Béaba Babycook. Sure, you can make baby food on a stovetop, but wouldn't you rather steam carrots and potatoes with the power of a pressure washer, then puree them in the same bowl? The recipe booklet for the pricey French-made Béaba was its one downfall (Baby want whiting fish with courgette?), so we planned Elke's next dinner, along with our own, at the Emmaus Farmer's Market. We'd buy local, organic whenever possible, and thoroughly wash or peel other produce.

Yes, we want our baby to eat organic, but it's equally important that her early food experiences include a smile from a farmer, the feel of fuzz on a warm peach, and family time in the kitchen. Cooked yellow squash met with toothless approval, so we got to work and soon discovered several websites and Facebook groups dedicated to the benefits of homemade baby food. Perhaps most surprising, flavor isn't off-limits. At 9 months, Elke dines on carrots with thyme, snow peas, and spinach with a hint of garden mint, and organic apples with nutmeg and cinnamon--culinary treats that don't exist in commercial baby food. A 2008 study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia suggests that infants have excellent taste discrimination, and that both repetition and variety of flavors increase their acceptance of fruits and vegetables.

As Elke grows, there will be everything from store-bought organics to unavoidable junk foods in her future, but we're encouraged that some of the joy of whole foods and organic farming has entered her young life. When people comment on Elke's blue eyes, eager smile, and rosy cheeks, it's not that she's a Gerber baby. She's a real food baby.

Jeffery Lindenmuth lives with his family in Pennsylvania, where he contributes to Men's Health and other national publications.

Related Links:
A Visitor to My Kitchen: Anni Daulter from Organically Raised - Maria's Farm Country Kitchen
Nickel Pincher: How to Make Your Own Baby Food -
How to Get Your Kids to Eat the Healthy Stuff, the Basics - Organic Authority

For more from Maria Rodale, go to