For many parents, a pediatrician’s green light signaling a baby’s ability to start solid foods marks yet another foray into unfamiliar territory. All the chapters on feeding baby in those handy parenting books may not fully explain the feeding options available. Often, books simply suggest the familiar, the convenient, the specially-packaged-to-be-attractive commercial foods. However, many modern parents are discovering that homemade baby foods are healthier and more nutritious choices for babies, and that at-home food prep is easy, cost-saving and satisfying.
Homemade baby food looks as great as it tastes. And, free of factory processing, added sugars, starches, salt and preservatives, homemade food has many beginning eaters developing healthy diet habits from infancy! If you are considering homemade baby food for your baby, here are a few tips to heed before putting on your apron.
DO consult your pediatrician before your baby begins any solid food. Breast milk and/or formula are perfect first foods for your baby, and solid food should not be introduced until your pediatrician says your baby is ready. Just because your neighbor started little Johnny on solid foods at 4 months does not mean it is the right thing for your baby at 4 months.
DON’T be intimidated or overwhelmed at the thought of making food for your baby at home. Baby food is simply single ingredient fruits or vegetables pureed. There are many processes to choose from. Some parents prefer to make their foods fresh for each meal, while others like preparing foods in bulk batches to store in the freezer. Carefully pick a process that fits your lifestyle and is convenient enough to stick with every day.
DO carefully select your produce. Make sure it is blemish free and fully ripe. Thoroughly wash all produce before cooking, despite if the vegetable or fruit will be peeled or skinned before use. Even fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmer’s markets can have residual pesticides that could leave trace amounts on cooking surfaces. If you live in an area where fresh produce is not available— or is not available when you are making baby food— flash frozen fruits and vegetables serve as good alternatives because they are frozen at the peak of ripeness and retain precious vitamins and minerals.
DO carefully cook all fruits and vegetables you will use for homemade baby food. Steam cooking retains many of your food’s nutrients and helps prevent loss of soluble B vitamins. You may need to cook your produce for baby food longer than normal because it is easier to puree vegetables or fruits that are soft throughout. Fruits need much less cooking time than their vegetable counterparts because their flesh is already tender.
DO puree homemade cooked fruits and vegetables well, and thoroughly strain all first foods. It takes your baby at least a month to tolerate and enjoy additional texture in food. Even unstrained pureed foods intended for experienced eaters need to be carefully examined. Lumps of unprocessed food are choking hazards.
DON’T add salt, sugar, spices or preservatives to your homemade baby food. Your baby’s taste buds are already on “high” due to new flavors and textures. Additional spices and flavorings are not only unnecessary, they are not particularly healthy for a new eater. You want your baby to enjoy the taste of each new food on its own merits. Just because you add a tasty cheddar-cheese topping to your toddler’s broccoli does not mean that your baby will not enjoy plain broccoli.
DO wait at least three to four days after introducing a new food to your child before you offer another untested food. Watch for signs of allergic reactions or food reactions before moving on to another vegetable or fruit. Follow this procedure with each new food item and contact your pediatrician if your baby exhibits any unusual behavior, rashes, fever, gas, diarrhea or vomiting.
DON’T stop offering a refused food to your baby. Babies are born picky! They have an inherent aversion to new foods, flavors and tastes. It can take eight times or more for an infant to accept, tolerate, then like a new food. If you give up too soon, you could endanger a burgeoning love affair with broccoli.
DON’T force foods. Mealtime should be a fun way for babies to explore their world. The way you present and offer new foods— often and consistently— changes the way your infant thinks and feels about them.
DO offer homemade vegetable baby food before introducing fruits. The high sugar content in most fruits may influence your baby’s preference for fruit and increase the likelihood that he will refuse new vegetables. By offering vegetables first, you give your baby an opportunity to like and enjoy a wide variety of nutritious, less-sweet, flavorful veggies. As a result, your baby can become noticeably less picky and a more well-rounded eater.
DON’T be afraid to make vegetables or fruits for your baby just because you don’t like them. A dislike of cauliflower is not genetic! Your baby is starting with a clean eating slate (or palate). Many vegetables and fruits have unique nutritional signatures and pack healthful wallops. The number and variety of homemade foods you introduce can only enhance your child’s diet. Further, the homemade meal choices and combinations you select for your child are only limited by your own creativity and imagination.
DO give yourself praise for the gift you have given your baby. Even if he does not recognize the impact of the nutritious habits you have introduced to him, the healthful lifestyle you initiate in infancy may save him from the epidemic of childhood obesity. Nearly one-third of young American children have no vegetables in their diets and are overweight. It is never too early or too late to take an active role in providing children with a foundation for a lasting healthy lifestyle. Good luck and great eating!