Chef Michelle Bernstein’s beef with boniato and potato is one of her baby boy’s favorite homemade meals. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food

So much has happened in the nine months since my son Zachary was born. He learned to sing ee-i-ee-i-o. He grew two inches and six teeth. He began to walk, always holding onto something, his chubby legs still wobbly. As for me, I’ve done quite a bit of growing myself. And there’s been no more important lesson than the one I’d like to share today: learning to trust my instincts, both as a mom and as a chef.

In the beginning, I read everything there was to read about what to feed my baby. I read about steaming vegetables with nothing but water. About boiling ingredients into oblivion to make them soft and mushy and easy to digest. About not using onions or olive oil or salt or anything that had a hint of flavor. Once, I bought a can of baby food at the market to taste it and was amazed to discover…it tasted like nothing! But ever the anxious new mami, fearful of screwing up something so vital, I followed the rules. The result wasn’t good. Zachary pursed his lips, spit things out and wouldn’t eat. He was disinterested and, frankly, who could blame him? The food wasn’t very inspiring. I’d put that spoon in front of him without a lot of enthusiasm because it wasn’t my food, my sabor. In my heart I knew Zachary could tell.

Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food   michelle zach food NBC Latino News

Chef Bernstein with her baby, Zachary. (Photo/Courtesy Michelle Bernstein)

Then one day something clicked. I reminded myself that I know a thing or two about food and nutrition and cooking things people enjoy eating. I told myself that, after 22 years of cooking, I needed to trust my experience and my gut. Most important, this was the moment I realized, in my mind and in my soul: I am Zachary’s mom and no one knows what he needs more than I do.

Read Chef Michelle’s Bernstein’s previous post on “Cooking for Kids” here.

I began to experiment and have fun cooking for him: I made an avocado smoothie and mixed it into his formula. He loved it! I whipped cream cheese into mashed calabaza, spinach and quinoa and created one of his favorites, which he announces with a certain joyous leg kicking, head bobbing thing that ensues when something delicious is happening in his mouth. Once, after he spit out peas at me, offended I’d given him something he didn’t like, I figured out a way to sneak them into his next meal—this time folded into cooked plátanos drizzled with olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt. It worked! Soon enough, I discarded the advice books and instead tapped into a more powerful source: my mother’s intuition.

See Chef Michelle Bernstein sharing an easy way to make gnocchi, plus 3 fresh sauces, on the Today Show.

Cooking for my baby is one of the most important and meaningful things I do. I could easily bring home things like chicken stock or steamed vegetables from one of my restaurants. But I don’t. I come home and make the chicken stock I use for many of his meals from scratch. I simmer vegetables. I mash, puree, fold and portion a couple of times a week, leaving fresh food prepared in the fridge. There’s nothing like the feeling of making something with your hands for someone you adore. There’s nothing like nourishing a body and a soul, like cooking food that brings about a smile, or in Zachary’s case a leg kick and a head bob. Food isn’t the only way I express my complete adoration for my son, but it is the most gratifying. I want to say to my fellow mamis: Cook for your baby, even if you’re not a chef. In my opinion, few things will bring you as much satisfaction. And always remember: no one knows more about what your child needs…than you.

Below are two of my most recent recipes that Zachary loves. When shopping for any of the ingredients listed, try to purchase organic products in order ensure they are free of unhealthy chemicals.

Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food   img 1806 food NBC Latino News

A spoonful of beef with boniato and potato (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Beef with boniato and potato

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 T yellow onion, minced

3 ounces filet of beef, diced very, very small

4 1/2 ounces of boniato (about ½ of a large boniato), peeled and diced

1. In a small saucepan place, the boniato with water to cover. Cook over on high heat, for about 10 minutes or until very tender. Drain all but ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
2. Place oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. When oil has heated, add the onion and cook until tender. Add the meat and cook for only 1-2 minutes to cook through.
3. Season the meat with the tiniest pinch of salt.
4. Place the cooked boniato and beef with onions in a food processor. Run until smooth, drizzling in the liquid little by little.
5. Cool to room temperature.

Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food   img 1773 lo rez food NBC Latino News

Calabaza-spinach-quinoa-cream (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Calabaza-spinach-quinoa cream

1 cup calabaza or butternut squash, diced into ½-inch pieces

1 cup homemade organic chicken broth or organic “no salt” chicken broth

¾ cup spinach

2 T cooked quinoa

1 tsp cream cheese

Tiny pinch of salt

1. Place the squash in the chicken stock with the tiniest pinch of salt in a small pan on high.
2. Allow it to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 12-15 minutes or until tender.
3. Add the spinach, stirring. Remove immediately from the heat.
4. Pour into a blender. Add the cooked quinoa, cream cheese and puree until smooth.
5. Cool to room temperature.

NBC Latino contributor Michelle Bernstein is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning Miami chef known for her Latin-style flavors and various acclaimed restaurants, including Sra. Martinez and Michy’s. Michelle, a new mamá, writes regularly about her experience in cooking for children.


  1. […] American culinary professionals (previous Latino winners include José Andrés, Jose Garces and Michelle Bernstein). And while hundreds of the country’s best chefs have been nominated at this year’s awards – […]

  2. […] así llamados “latinos”), sin sabor. La cocinera residente en Miami Michelle Bernstein cuenta cómo su hijo Zachary odiaba estos alimentos comerciales, pero rápidamente cambió su disposición […]

  3. […] Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food See Chef Michelle Bernstein sharing an easy way to make gnocchi, plus 3 fresh sauces, on the Today Show. Cooking for my baby is one of the most … 1 cup calabaza or butternut squash, diced into ½-inch pieces. 1 cup homemade organic chicken broth or … Read more on NBC Latino […]

  4. […] Baby foods tend to be pretty bland,  lacking in sabor.  Miami-based chef Michelle Bernstein shares  how her son Zachary was repulsed by those store-bought baby foods, but quickly changed his […]

  5. […] Cooking for Kids: Homemade baby food – NBC LatinoJul 2, 2012 … So much has happened in the nine months since my son Zachary was born. He learned to sing ee-i-ee-i-o. He grew two inches and six teeth. […]

  6. C says:

    Chef Michelle,
    I saw you on the TODAY SHOW this morning and I honestly believe that your baby may have a wheat intolerance. Talk to your pediatrician, but It is obvious to a mother who has a child with Celiacs. When you said this morning that starchy food helps with your babys reflux, that said it all. Your pediatrician may have told you that the baby was tested for celiacs and it came back negative. If the test came back negative, it is not a guarantee that the person does not have celiacs. The testing that is being done today is not a sure thing for everyone. So, unfortunately, you just have to try the gluten free diet to see if it works. You said that he is feeling better, but something in your voice made me think he is not 100% yet. Try to take all gluten products out of his diet. If you just take a little gluten out of your babys diet, it will not work, gluten is gluten is gluten. If your allergic to a bee, a little sting is not different than a big sting. If your allergic to peanuts a little bit of peanut dust does not bring about less of a reaction. Don’t forget, as you know, there is hidden gluten in many foods such as emulsified chocolate, modified food starch, soy sauce, canned beans etc.That being said be careful of the products you use as well, such as lotions, soaps, shampoos, etc. and because the baby is held by you and your significant other, you too must use gluten free products. RICE, believe it or not, they are finding is another culprit lately with hidden gluten. Although in my experience, so far, my daughter is able to tolerate rice products, but there are many that are not. So, you may want to deter from rice for awhile as well. The head of the Celiacs Association will tell you that shampoos and lotions will not affect a person with celiacs because they do not eat it, but I will tell you all of these products get on your hands and lips and you pick things up to eat and when you take a shower and rinse, the water flows over your lips. So, YES,you do eat it. CHECK ALL PRODUCTS! Just because it says GLUTEN FREE does not mean that it is GLUTEN FREE unless it has a certified GLUTEN FREE symbol on the product. CALL COMPANIES AND ASK IF THERE IS WHEAT IN THERE PRODUCTS. If the companies tell you that they allow for the FDA regulated amount of gluten, you can not use that product, This happens with many products. If the company tells you that the product is made in a factory that also makes wheat products, you can not use that product. In order to make sure, you must be extremely diligent with all products in the beginning. So, you must be extremely careful with anything that is not fresh from an animal or fresh from the ground. Now, wait six weeks, it may take longer depending how bad the intolerance is, but it is worth the wait. If no change, you have hurt nothing. However, if there is a change you have discovered what is wrong and will save your baby from many horrific days and nights of agony that you do not know about because that poor little boy can not talk and tell you what is really happening in his tummy. I did not find out until my daughter was 18. Celiacs was not a popular word back then, so doctors did not know that much about the problem. She was diagnosed with reflux etc. It was not until she was having such bad breathing problems that I found what was wrong with her. I hope you do not wait until then to discover that your baby may just have a food allergy. God Be With You and me!

  7. Connie Horne says:

    Michelle, I really love your take and ideas. I made my baby banana, coconut water & baby cereal for breakfast. Thanks for sharing I will give these a go.

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