Most of us at Lafaza are in the habit of adding natural vanilla to many creations that we make in the kitchen at home. This carried over to making baby food when children started to come into our lives. It is now suggested that babies, like grown-ups, enjoy many flavors in their food, and parents are encouraged to use spices in the preparation of food for children of all ages.
This made us think that we should share our top three easy ways we use natural vanilla in baby food. In each dish, the vanilla brings the pure flavor of the food to life in ways that keep babies and toddlers interested and inspired without adding sugar! We prefer to use pure ground vanilla bean powder or a gourmet vanilla bean when making baby food, since vanilla extract uses an alcohol base.
Vanilla has always been associated with a feeling of home, with our mother’s kitchen and with good home cooking. We salute all the parents out there who are making great food at home for their babies and toddlers. It is these daily routines that create kitchen memories that stay with them forever. If your child eats apples, yogurt, or squash, here are some easy ways to spice up these simple dishes for your little one:
1. Vanilla applesauce
Core 6-8 apples. Apples may be pealed, or cooked with skins on to add color to the applesauce. Chop the apples into cubes and put into a small or medium sauce pan. Add just enough water to cover the apple pieces. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. If cooking with a vanilla bean, split one vanilla bean lengthwise and add it to the apples and water. Reduce heat and simmer semi-covered for approximately 30 minutes. Add water as needed but don’t add more than necessary to cover the apples. Stir occasionally. When the apple pieces are thoroughly cooked, remove from the heat, and take the vanilla pod out of the mixture. It is important to remove the pod before you blend the applesauce. Put the apples in a blender with some or all of the water left from cooking and blend to the desired texture. If using pure ground vanilla bean powder, add a 1/8 – 1/4 tsp to the apples before blending.
No sweeteners are needed for this recipe and the vanilla bean brings out delicious characteristics of the apples. If you wish, add a pinch or two of cinnamon or ground clove to build flavor in the applesauce. We have found this applesauce to be good on its own, or it can be stirred in to natural infant oatmeal or rice cereal in the morning as a healthy natural sweetener. If you wish to use pure ground vanilla powder instead of a whole vanilla bean, it’s no problem. In that case, we usually just add 1/4 tsp or so at the end before blending up the apples.
2. Vanilla yogurt
Many kids love eating yogurt, and the more natural and wholesome the type of yogurt, the better! However, plain yogurt can sometimes use some spicing up. One way we found that seems to go over well is to add a pinch or two of pure ground vanilla bean powder to 4-6 fl oz of plain yogurt in a bowl. It makes an instant natural vanilla yogurt that has no added sugars or unnecessary ingredients. Sometimes we also add a pinch of cinnamon too. Mix the yogurt until the spices are blended evenly. As an occasional treat, a small swirl of maple syrup compliments all flavors very well. If using a whole vanilla bean, try about 1/4 of the bean. Spilt and scrape, adding the inside seeds to the yogurt instead of pure ground vanilla powder.
3. Vanilla ginger squash
Vanilla goes wonderfully with all vegetables in the squash family. If you think of how good a vanilla bean might taste when added to the mix of regular pumpkin pie spices, you can start to imagine what this flavor brings to the dish. This dish is easy, and can be made in larger batches and frozen into manageable units in the freezer for ease of use.
Peal, scrape and cube one small to medium butternut squash. Put the squash cubes into a sauce pan and add water until just covering the squash cubes. If using a whole vanilla bean, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the inside seeds with the back of the knife or with a spoon. Add the seeds from inside and the pod to the pot of squash. Bring to a boil. reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the squash is soft and cooked all the way through. Stir occasionally. When finished, remove the vanilla bean pod, as it is not edible and does not blend.
Put the squash cubes into a blender with some of all of the water in which the cubes were cooked. Add only enough water to allow the blender to puree the squash evenly. Add 1/8 – 1/4 tsp of good quality ground ginger root to the squash. If you are using pure ground vanilla powder instead of a whole vanilla bean, add 1/8 – 1/4 tsp to the mixture now. Blend squash and spices together until you achieve an even, smooth puree.
As an added tip, a similar approach works well with sweet potato. The vanilla and ginger combination brings out its natural sweet flavors when mashed and blended together. For sweet potatoes, try blending in your spices after mashing (not during the cooking process).