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Batch cooking

Cooking in batches is the perfect way to prepare several meals, or the bases for a number of meals, in advance and then freeze them for later use, especially when time is tight.

To prepare batch-cooked items for freezing, it is a good idea to divide the food into individual portions to defrost as required for your baby or toddler. (Smaller portions also take less time to defrost). Sauces and purees can be poured into ice-cube trays for freezing, other items placed in airtight containers or sealed in freezer-proof bags. The frozen food should be used within 6 - 8 weeks on average, defrosted fully before use, then stored in the fridge and eaten within 24 hours.

Babies are much more susceptible than adults to food poisoning, so you need to take particular care to defrost and reheat food thoroughly and not to reheat it more than once. Please remember too that food that has been cooked and frozen before should not be refrozen; otherwise raw food that has been frozen should be cooked before being refrozen.

Tomato sauce

Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants and a great source of vitamin C, as well as being one of the most versatile food ingredients. When I worked in Italy, we would make a huge batch of tomato sauce every couple of weeks and store it in different-sized containers in the fridge and freezer. It is a wonderful complement to pasta and can be used as a base for many other dishes. Cook it in large batches, transfer to several airtight containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

From 7 - 8 months
Makes about 1.7 litres (3 pints)
Suitable for freezing

  • 1.8kg (4lb) plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (omit for babies under 9 months)
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp each of dried basil, oregano and thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1.25 litres (2 pints) of water or vegetable stock

To skin the tomatoes, cover with boiling water and leave for 1 minute, then peel, cut in half, deseed and roughly chop.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, dried herbs, bay leaves and water or stock.

Stir well and bring to the boil, then leave to simmer for at least 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Allow to cool, then remove the bay leaves and either pulse or puree the tomato sauce in a food processor, depending on how lumpy you'd like it to be,

Bolognese Sauce, Shepherd's pie, Creamy beef and pasta bake

Before starting to cook these dishes, it is a good idea to prepare all the vegetables and lay them out in their different piles on a clean chopping board, then measure and lay out all the other ingredients.

From 9 - 10 months
Makes 4 servings of each (12 in total)
Suitable for freezing

  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 3 small or 2 medium onions, peeled and very finely chopped
  • 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1.4kg (3lb) lean minced beef
  • 2 x 400g (14 oz) cans of chopped tomatoes with herbs
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) chicken stock

For the Bolognese sauce

  • 50g (2 oz) streaky bacon (omit for babies under 18 months)
  • 1 stick of celery, trimmed and finely diced
  • 50 g (2 oz) mushrooms, wiped and sliced

For the shepherd's pie

  • 450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 25g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp cranberry jelly

For the creamy beef and pasta bake

  • 250 g (9 oz) cooked pasta
  • 125 g ( 4 1/2 oz) cottage cheese
  • 1 courgette (diced)
  • 3 eggs
  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
  • 75g (3 oz) mild Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onions and garlic and cook for 3 - 4 minutes until softened. Add one third of the mince, and cook until browned, stirring occasionally and breaking up any lumps as it cooks, then set aside.

Bolognese sauce

In another pan, sauté the bacon for 3 - 4 minutes, then add 1 can of tomatoes, the celery, a third of the carrots and the mushrooms. Add a third of the minced beef and onion from the first pan and 150 ml (1/4 pint) of the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 45 minutes.

When cool, transfer to individual containers and freeze. Defrost and warm through thoroughly to serve with spaghetti.

Shepherd's pie

Place the potatoes in a steam pan with lots of water, bring to the boil and then put the remaining carrots in the basket on top and continue to boil rapidly until both are tender. Drain the water from the potatoes and mash well, adding the milk and butter

Place half the remaining mince in another pan and mix in the carrots, 2 tbsp tomato puree, the cranberry jelly and the remaining stock, then simmer for a further 45 minutes. Set aside to cool, then transfer the mixture into four small cooking dishes and top with the mashed potato, ready for freezing.

After defrosting fully, heat through in a moderate oven (180 C, 160 Fan, Gas Mark 4) for 15 - 20 minutes

Creamy beef and pasta bake

Mix the cooked pasta with the cottage cheese and 1 egg, and spoon into four small, greased ovenproof dishes.

Stir the remaining can of tomatoes, the remaining tomato puree and the courgette into the remainder of the minced beef and onion. Simmer for 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Divide between the four dishes, then whisk together the remaining eggs, the cream, grated cheese and breadcrumbs, and pour over the top.

Pack individually and freeze for up to one month, defrosting fully before heating through in a moderate oven (180 C, 160 Fan, Gas Mark 4) for 20 - 25 minutes.

Taken from The Gina Ford Baby and Toddler Cook Book by Gina Ford

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