After six months or so on a liquid diet, most babies (and their parents!) are thrilled to start solids. But the introduction to real food can be as confusing as it is messy and fun. How to begin? What to begin with? Which foods will my baby like best and which are most healthful?
No doubt about it: Making your own baby food – be it rice cereal or a minted pea puree- is both more nutritious and less expensive than any store-bought box or jar. It’s also tastier. No time? Zero skills? No sweat. Making baby food is easy and fast; and anyway, you may as well get used to cooking for your kid. You’ll be packing school lunches soon enough!
What You’ll Need
Baby steps to buying organic. Buy fresh, preferably organic, fruits and vegetables. True, organic tends to be more pricey — if it isn’t doesn’t fit in your budget, at least try to buy organic versions of the most pesticide-heavy produce: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots and pears. (Go to FoodNews.org for a printable wallet-size list or iPhone app.) Pound for pound, babies take in more harmful pesticide residues than do adults; but because they eat far less, one organic apple won’t set you back much. When it comes to less heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables, try to at least buy local, seasonal produce for your baby.
Can your cans. If you want to give your baby a veggie that isn’t in season, choose frozen over canned. Since foods like corn and peas tend to be frozen right after being picked, their nutrient levels will be higher if buy them from the freezer. Plus, the linings of cans often contain bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical that is currently being banned from many made-for-baby items like bottles and formula canisters. Home on the (free) range When the time comes to introduce meat, dairy and eggs, try to choose foods from pastured or free-range animals that haven’t been fed hormones or antibiotics.
Let’s eat! For some great recipes, visit SuperBabyFood.com
Don’t go overboard. For steaming the food and then mashing it up, there’s no need to buy a lot of equipment — so you can skip the just-for-baby food steamer or food processor.
In fact, you may already have all the equipment you need: A metal or bamboo steamer insert for a pot, plus a food mill, processor, or blender (your least costly option) will work just fine.
Freezer faux-pas For freezing baby food, use an ice cube tray marked #2, #4, or #5 on the bottom (plastics with these markings are considered free of unsafe chemicals). If yours are unmarked, you might want to invest in a stainless steel ice cube tray. Safe storage For storing baby food, use glass containers — such as old jelly or tomato sauce jars — rather than plastic, which may contain harmful BPA.
Ask the doctor. Your pediatrician will tell you which foods to introduce and when; you can also visit this site for more info. Think outside the box A common first food is rice cereal. Sure, you can buy boxed cereal, but it can be expensive and may have been on the supermarket shelf for longer than your baby has been alive, plus it might contain unwanted additives and preservatives. And making your own is easy and cheap. Take half a cup of uncooked brown rice (preferably organic), pour it into the blender and grind it to a powder. Put the ground rice in a pot, mix it thoroughly with enough filtered water to make a thin paste, and cook, stirring constantly, on a low heat until it has a nice, creamy consistency. Add more water if it thickens too much — it should look like cooked oatmeal. To serve, put a few teaspoons of the cereal in a bowl and mix in enough breast milk or formula to thin it out — and so the taste won’t be entirely foreign to your baby. And remember, children react differently to first foods. If yours refuses her first spoonfuls of cereal, keep adding breast milk or formula until the cereal is just a shade thicker than the milk, then try again. There’s no exact recipe here, just trial and error.
Banana-rama. Another great first food is a banana, which is loaded with potassium, and couldn’t be easier to “make”: Break off the tip and mash it in a bowl with a fork. Thin it with breast milk or formula if necessary. An avocado can be prepared the same way.
Perfect purees Pureeing is easy and fast — and you can do large batches whenever you have the time and freeze the leftovers. You don’t even need to cook apples and other fruits before you puree them — just peel them the first few times you offer them to your baby. For vegetables like carrots, beets and greens, briefly steam (cut them into small pieces so they steam faster) until they’re soft. Then place them in the blender with some of their cooking water and puree until smooth. Add more cooking water to the puree if it seems too thick. By the way, greens blend well with other foods, like squash or cooked grains.
Ready for chunks and flavorings?
Love the lumps. When your baby has been eating purees for a while, try feeding him something more textured. Some babies are ready for chunkier purees and finger foods sooner than others.
Texturizing techniques. To make the transition, start cutting down the amount of time you’re steaming and pureeing the food, and thin it out less, too. Depending on your baby’s age — but around eight months, on average — and family history of food allergies, you can also start adding texture to your baby’s meals by mixing in starches like whole small pasta or couscous, or protein-rich grains like millet, amaranth and quinoa — a ratio of one part fruit or veggie to one part grain or pasta is a good bet. Later on, for extra protein, add a spoonful or two of lentils or beans; if you have time, buy them dried and cook them yourself rather than buying canned, since the can linings contain BPA. Check your pediatrician’s guidelines for the correct age to introduce beans.
Family-style dining. If you eat relatively healthily, by all means let your baby share your meals. If she’s too young to eat everything you’re having, make at least one item per meal that she can eat, and grind or puree it to her desired texture. A baked sweet potato or plain steamed veggies work just as well for babies as for adults, for instance. Once she has safely been introduced to the various ingredients in your meals, just grind up a small portion of your whole dinner and serve it to her. What could be easier?
But how does it taste? As you play with texture, don’t neglect flavor. Try blending fresh mint leaves into pea purees, cinnamon into oatmeal or fruit mixtures, or a little rosemary into meat. It’s a great way to wake up little taste buds.
Hands-on options. Finger food doesn’t have to mean boxed cereal. Try small berries, small pieces of well-cooked meat, beans, peas, pieces of banana and other soft fruits, and small cubes of cheese or tofu. For a full meal, give him small pieces of meat, sticky brown rice rolled into small balls, and cubes of boiled-till-mushy carrot — your baby’s own combination platter! Or try whole-wheat elbow noodles, avocado chunks and beans. The combinations are endless.
Cube your food. If you don’t have the time or desire to make food daily, pre-make and freeze it. For purees, this is easiest done in ice cube trays. Once the puree is made, pour it into ice-cube trays, and when the cubes are frozen, put them in a container marked with the name of the puree and the date. Frozen purees can last in the freezer for a year. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight.
Pay attention to plastic. Report after report has shown that certain plastics can release questionable chemicals into food, so use a BPA-free ice cube tray and try to store the frozen cubes in glass, not plastic. If you don’t have glass storage containers, use old jelly or tomato sauce jars. Be sure to leave room at the top for the liquids to expand and also so the food won’t touch the lid, which may contain BPA.