More Babies Are Eating Homemade Food

At 8 1/2 months old, Maya Walker of Upper Marlboro loves the pureed peaches her mom, Adrienne, gives her.
At 8 1/2 months old, Maya Walker of Upper Marlboro loves the pureed peaches her mom, Adrienne, gives her. (Mark Finkenstaedt - For The Washington Post)
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By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A bustling crowd of 50 or so has filled the seats in Art and Soul's private dining room on a chilly Saturday morning. Soon the wait staff streams in with trays of marinated shrimp and fried balls of mac and cheese. Tempting, yet no immediate takers.

Instead, attention is fixed on Ryan Morgan, the friendly executive chef of this Capitol Hill hotel restaurant. The dish he is demonstrating smells earthy and rich. He has used butter and garlic, thyme and cremini mushrooms, pearl barley and a house-made vegetable broth.

It is baby's first "risotto," he says, and that makes the grown-ups giggle.

Moms and dads of the mostly stay-put set (8 months and younger; about a dozen total in tow) plus a few parents-to-be have come to find out whether making baby food is something they can handle. Their specific reasons represent the voices of a food nation in a recession, with issues:

"My daughter won't eat pre-made baby food."

"It's bland and boring."

"Mine has a lot of food allergies."

"We want our kid to eat organic, too."

"We want to save money."

Making baby food, or even buying it, can be daunting to new parents. It's a whole other realm of concern and responsibility that is building small organic brands and has driven the big names in baby food, such as Gerber, to launch organic lines of their own. Then again, to some parents it is as simple as giving children just about whatever is on the grown-ups' plates.

The care and feeding of Morgan's own 3-month-old daughter prompted him to organize the class and develop baby-food recipes, some of which will be offered on the room-service menus at the Liaison, an Affinia hotel, beginning in May. (The chef has contracted with Eco Farms in Lanham to grow seven acres of organic fruit, vegetables and herbs that will be used for the infant and toddler offerings.)

"We do bowls and treats for pets as a lifestyle-brand hotel; I thought, 'Why not baby food?' " says Morgan, 31. The next class, scheduled for early summer, already has a waiting list.

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