Huzzah! You’re baby is ready to eat solid foods and, being the conscientious parent that you are, you’re going to make your own. Pat yourself on the back, Tiger Parent. Making your own baby food gives you optimum control over your baby’s nutrition and can save you plenty of money in a small amount of time. We’ll discuss a few basics here, but there’s also a more comprehensive guide to feeding your children.
When to Start Solids
The research is pretty clear about the optimal time to introduce solid food—not before 17 weeks of age and no later than six months. Introducing solid food too early increases the risk of food allergies. On the other hand, if your baby seems to be hungry, and you’re waiting for six months out of principle, that’s probably unnecessary. Every child grows and develops at a different rate and the latest research indicates that introducing solids while you’re still breast feeding has many advantages (but still don’t start before 17 weeks). As with most parenting choices, take your cues from your child.
Baby’s First Meal
When first introducing solid foods, you want it to be a pleasant experience for you and for baby. Avoid waiting until he’s ravenous and then hoping he’ll chow down. He might, but if he’s already agitated, you may end up wearing what was on that spoon. Let him have a bit of milk first to take the edge off, so you have a happy camper when you offer up his very first bite. (It works well to hold the baby on your lap tucking one of his arms behind your back and holding the other arm down at his side.)
One of the best foods for starting your baby on solids is avocado. It’s chock full of healthy fats and has a creamy texture that makes it simple to puree by hand. It’s also unlikely to cause allergies, but just in case, make sure you introduce new foods at morning or afternoon meals and not right before bed. Adding a few drops of breast milk or formula is the best way to make a new flavor recognizable and palatable for your baby. Don’t forget that in the beginning solid food is not really solid. It should be thin enough to run off the spoon into your baby’s mouth.
In the early days, it’s best to avoid introducing blends of flavors and foods. Introduce one food at a time, and keep an eye out for any adverse reactions. Here are a few good ones to start: potato, banana, avocado, rice, oatmeal, applesauce, carrots, sweet potato. Pay attention for any changes in your baby’s demeanor like fussiness, poor sleep or irritability, which could signal a food allergy. (Speaking of sleep, if it took you three tries to read that paragraph, consider the Gentle Sleep Success workshop.)
As your baby gets older, you can gradually move on to more firm food and more interesting flavor combinations. Baby appetites can be unpredictable. Cooking in batches and freezing the food will be a huge time saver, and it ensures your hard work isn’t wasted. You’ll need to sterilize some baby food jars and lids for storing what you’ve made. If you need a run down on safe food handling, a course might be in order. Mostly, just err on the side of over cooked, over chopped, over sterilized when your kitchen becomes a mini baby food factory.
Organic or Non-Organic
You knew this was coming: whenever possible, opt for organic ingredients in your baby food. While organics don’t necessarily offer better nutrition, you do want to avoid the pesticides and genetically modified organisms as much as possible when feeding your baby. Canned food almost always has BPA in the lining of the cans, so use fresh and opt for glass packaging when buying things like tomato sauce and tuna.
Baby Recipes Basic Porridge
One of the best recipes for homemade baby porridge comes from Ruth Yaron in the book Super Baby Food. The base is just pureed brown rice thinned with water, breast milk or formula.
If you’re worried your baby won’t like plain brown rice, consider this breakfast a bit of payback for the tantrum he threw at 3am. Seriously, it’s fairly easy to make rice mush palatable with the addition of some mashed banana, mango or pear. You can use quinoa, millet, oatmeal or other whole grain bases to find one that your baby prefers. Then you can add things to customize your baby’s nutrition like kelp flakes for iodine or an iron supplement if necessary. The beauty of this system is that you have almost twelve months before your baby can say ‘Yuck!’ and by then, you may have programmed his palate to like this stuff. After age seven months, you can add some cooked egg yolk to make the consistency creamier. Tahini (sesame seed paste) and sunflower or olive oil can also improve the texture and fat content. Remember, cow’s milk is frequently the cause of eczema and allergies, it shouldn’t be used for children under one year. Ditto for soy milk. Other nut milks are not recommended before age two. Always consult your physician about your child’s particular dietary needs before straying too far from the guidelines.
You may be thinking ‘my kid is never going to eat that,’ but hopefully your baby has never had a fudge-covered triple chocolate brownie. If pounding a tub of ice cream is your forte, do it out of sight from your baby, so you’re not inclined to share. Babies learn their eating habits from their parents, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to tighten the reins on healthy eating around your house. You are training your baby’s palate in the early years, so offer lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and pureed fruit to set them on a lifelong track of good eating. Avoid snacks like crackers, chips and cookies. Fruit juice should be diluted with at least sixty percent water if you’re giving it to your baby. Since parenting is full of trade offs (like your dignity vs. completing the shopping in a poo-stained t-shirt) there may well come a time when you decide to sweeten the porridge in order to get your baby to eat more. Just make sure you opt for pure maple syrup or iron-laden blackstrap molasses instead of sugar or honey (which is a major no-no for babies.)
Dinner for Baby
The following combinations will give you some ideas for baby food purees. You’ll need to taste and adjust ratios as you go. Try not to make a face in front of your baby. Cooking for your little one isn’t like cooking for adults. You’ll want to avoid searing or frying the food and opt for steaming and boiling instead. It’s ok to add water, a low salt chicken stock or butter (after six months) to achieve the desired consistency in your puree. Carbohydrates are listed here to offer balance, but you can omit them. Preferably, you want a ratio of 2/3 meat and veg to 1/3 carb.
- Baby Bolognaise: Ground beef, carrots, tomato, noodles
- Steamed cod, spinach, brown rice
- Ground chicken, quinoa, sweet potato
- Ground pork, red pepper, potato
- Hummus blended with boiled carrots
- Tofu, chicken stock, corn, millet
- Artichoke with olive oil and tahini
- Baby Paté: chicken liver boiled and blended with a bit of butter or mayo (8+months)
- Baby risotto: Mushrooms, butter, brown rice
- Chicken, mango, polenta
- Red lentil, pumpkin, couscous
Remember, it’s always ok to add health boosters, like olive oil, to improve the taste and nutritional content of these dishes. Many spices can be allergens, so skip the spice rack and the saltshaker. Once you’ve got your mojo working, it’ll be easy to craft your own combinations, just pay attention to the guidelines for items like dairy, nuts and shellfish which shouldn’t be given to young babies.
You’ll probably notice there are no sausage or bacon recipes on that list. That’s because it wasn’t written by your grandpa. Generally speaking, cured meats and fish aren’t good options for babies (primarily because of the nitrate content.) One study even linked hot dogs to leukemia. So stick with the fresh stuff. Your baby will start eating toxins like the rest of us soon enough.
Alternatively, taking a class at home is a great way to get out of the diaper-changing drudgery during nap time. Now who wants to go make soap?