Today’s expert is Christine Albury, creator of the popular site, homemade-baby-food-recipes.com. The site serves as a guide to solid feeding throughout baby’s first year and beyond. It includes hundreds of recipes calling for healthy ingredients and offers advice and tips for dealing with the various feeding and digestive problems commonly encountered by parents introducing solid foods to their infants. The site also publishes a blog which is regularly updated with new recipes and news of medical research related to infant feeding practices. Both the Homemade Baby Food Recipes website and blog comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
Choosing to make your baby’s food is a building block to a lifetime of healthy eating. Check out Christine’s answers to your most pertinent questions.
1. Why is it important to make your own baby food?
Chiefly, because it’s so much more nutritious than the store-bought variety.
The nutritional value of any food declines over time. This means that food you prepare yourself with fresh ingredients, then serve either immediately or very soon after preparation, is infinitely preferable to food that has been sitting in a jar on a store shelf!
But another important consideration is that homemade baby food can be ‘tailor made’. You can be sure it contains only the ingredients your baby enjoys and that are safe for him to consume. You can also be confident that it contains no thickeners, preservatives or other additives!
Safety is a factor too—food recalls due to bacterial contamination, defective packaging etc seem to be more and more frequent these days. These are things you simply don’t have to worry about when you’ve prepared baby’s food yourself.
And from an environmentally conscious standpoint, homemade baby food rules! You can reduce waste by controlling the size of baby’s portions—plus, of course, no packaging is used.
Last—but by no means least—homemade baby food is cheap to produce! A bag of carrots can provide a week’s worth of meals for a baby food beginner—just compare the cost of that bag of carrots with the equivalent number of baby food jars and the savings become obvious!
2. What tools do I need to start the process?
The equipment needed to prepare homemade baby food can be as simple as basic cookware, along with a fork for mashing and a fine mesh strainer for creating purees … or it can be as sophisticated as a specially designed appliance that cooks, purees and reheats baby’s meals for you!
We usually recommend steaming fruits and vegetables to retain their nutrients, so for this you can use a steamer (which you may already have) or even a heat-proof strainer set on a pan of briskly boiling water. Some foods can simply be mashed with a fork once cooked—sweet potato is an example, as it has such a soft texture it doesn’t always need pureeing. But if you want to get food really smooth, you can push it through a fine mesh strainer. However, that may be a little time consuming, which is where those special appliances come in handy! You can use a hand blender or a regular food processor to quickly create perfect purees—or you can invest in a baby food maker which takes care of the whole process, from start to finish!
The next step is storage. There are many ‘purpose built’ baby food storage systems on the market right now—but if you want to keep things simple, you can freeze your baby’s food in a regular ice cube tray, then transfer the frozen cubes to a zip top bag.
3. Lets talk a little bit about the food stages on your site.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health organization (WHO) and other medical experts generally recommend that breast milk or formula provide sufficient nutrition until baby reaches 6 months of age. If you choose to introduce solid foods earlier than this, then the best option is to keep things simple, offering single ingredients meals using foods that are considered less likely to trigger digestive problems or allergic reactions.
Pediatricians often recommend infant rice cereal as a first food, although more and more parents are choosing to start with other, more nutrient dense foods. Some alternative options include bananas, avocado, apples, pears, sweet potato, butternut squash and carrots. If you really want to start with rice cereal, then we recommend making your own from brown rice, which is far more nutritious than white.
From 6 to 9 months, things really get interesting! Whereas it was once recommended that you should avoid offering your baby foods such as egg whites, berries and seafood—which can be more likely than other foods to trigger allergic reactions—guidelines now state that almost ‘anything goes’ from 6 months of age. This is because experts have found there to be no benefit in delaying the introduction of these foods. Of course, not all foods are suitable for all babies and particular care should be taken when offering these foods to children with a family history of food allergy. In all cases, the safest option is to follow your doctor’s advice.
In addition to the fruits and vegetables already listed, babies at this stage can enjoy more sophisticated menu items like broccoli, legumes, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, yogurt, tofu, pasta and wheat (wheat and other grains containing gluten are best avoided before 6 months of age). You can also try adding herbs and spices—just a little at first—to introduce baby to a whole spectrum of new flavours.
By 10 to 12 months, most babies can enjoy pretty much whatever mommy and daddy are eating … in fact, we often hear from parents who are amazed at the wide variety of nutritious foods their little ones will happily eat at this stage. Many babies are enjoying finger foods, too, which significantly expands thier menu!
4. Are there any foods that should be avoided?
Honey is a no-no before 12 months as it carries a small risk of botulism poisoning. Salt is also best avoided, as too much salt can put strain on baby’s immature kidneys. Some fish—particularly certain varieties of mackerel and tuna—can be too high in mercury to be safe for baby. Liver should only be given infrequently, in very small quantities, as it is high in a type of vitamin A that can be harmful.
Some foods may present a choking hazard—these include nuts, large chunks of fruit or vegetables (raw or cooked), whole grapes, whole cherry tomatoes, chunks of meat, seeds, popcorn and raisins.
5. How can parents be on the lookout for allergies?
New foods should be introduced using the four day rule. This means that only one new food should be offered within a four day period. If several new foods were offered simultaneously—and one of them triggered a reaction—then it would be impossible to distinguish which one was responsible.
Signs of an allergic reaction include skin rashes, vomiting, nausea, constipation, blood in stools, watery/red eyes, stuffy/runny nose and wheezing. You should always consult a medical professional if you feel your baby is experiencing an allergic reaction to any new foods.
6. How can parents save the food they make for later?
Food should be cooled as quickly as possible to minimize the growth of bacteria, then transferred to the refrigerator for up to 48 hours or frozen for up to one month.
There are several different ways to freeze baby’s meals. One method is to spoon prepared food into a lidded ice cube tray, then press out the frozen cubes into zip-top bags, which take up less space in the freezer. An alternative method is to use silicone mini-muffin pans instead of freezer trays – later on, you can actually use them to make mini muffins!
If you don’t have any appropriate freezer containers and the puree you’re freezing is fairly thick, you can use a baking sheet/cookie sheet instead. Just spoon the puree on to the baking sheet in little ‘mounds’, then loosely cover with foil. Freeze until firm, then transfer the frozen food portions to a zip-top bag.
7. Do you have any time-saving tips for making the food?
Cook and freeze individual portions of fruits and vegetables, then mix and match them to create different meals. Start a baby food group and have each member cook one particular ingredient – then you can all exchange food cubes, which drastically cuts back on the time spent cooking!
Set aside parts of the meal youre preparing for the rest of the family and serve them later to your baby. Cook the family’s vegetables without salt – adults can add it later if they wish, but the vegetables will be safe to use in your baby food recipes.
Whenever you’re prepping ingredients for the family meal, cut up a bit extra and pop in the freezer to cook for baby.
On really busy days, use foods that don’t need cooking, like bananas and avocados.
Splash out on a baby food maker, which cuts out all the individual steps needed to prepare baby food and allows you to do something else whilst your purees are in production!
8. Do you have any tips for making food for daycare/travel?
Frozen baby food cubes are ideal for travel and can be packed in a cooler with ice cubes for longer journeys. Avocado and banana are ideal for short trips as you can just pop them in your bag, then take them out and mash them as needed… no cooking or pureeing required!
When preparing food for daycare, be sure to check if your facility allows all foods—some will ask that you do not send foods containing egg or nuts, for example, in order to protect children with food allergies. Be sure to label any food you send for your child with their name and the date of preparation.
Contrary to popular belief, baby food does not have to be bland! Aromatic spices and herbs can be used from 6 months of age, helping broaden baby’s palate and avoid picky eating later on. Remember that to ‘season’ food doesn’t always mean to add salt—it’s so easy to enhance the flavour of baby’s meals without it.
If baby refuses a new food, don’t assume that he’ll never like it! Sometimes it takes several tries before your little one will accept a new flavour and his taste buds change a great deal at first. A favourite food one day can be refused altogether the nextlikewise, a food he’s always previously refused may later become a firm favourite!
Despite your best endeavours, there are times when your baby just won’t want to eat—particularly when he’s teething or otherwise unwell. It’s important to remain calm and not to worry too much—babies tend to pick up on tension at mealtimes and it can make the situation worse. It’s also important to remember that milk remains baby’s primary source of nutrition through the first year! Solids at this point are more for practice than nutrition—so you don’t need to be concerned if your baby seems unwilling to tuck into three meals a day.
Making homemade baby food is one of the most rewarding things you can do for your child. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as watching your little one thrive on nutritious food that you’ve prepared for him yourself … and knowing that you’ve set him on the path toward a lifetime of healthy food choices.