As soon as baby tastes that first scrumptious bite of solids, he’ll begin building a palate that will form the stepping stones to healthy eating habits later in life. If you want to give your baby the best start possible (and what parent doesn’t?), DIY baby food is a delicious, nutritious option to explore. Not sure how to begin? Follow this guide to conquering the food processor.
Freshly pureed foods are at their premium. “The nutritional value of food declines over time,” says Christine Albury, creator of homemade-baby-food-recipes.com and author of the e-book Tempting Tiny Taste Buds. “This means food you prepare your-self with fresh ingredients and serve either immediately—or very soon after—is infinitely preferable to food that has been sitting in a jar or on a store shelf.” Making dishes yourself also allows you to ensure your tot’s meal is free of preservatives, thickeners and additives. Plus, homemade meals are at a smaller risk for bacterial contamination, Albury adds.
There’s no need to whip up a turkey dinner just yet—breast milk and formula remain baby’s primary source of nourishment through the first year. Keep in mind, too, that baby adds on new foods in stages. It’s a gradual process, and there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Albury explains that solids at this point are more for practice than nutrition, so take it easy and have fun.
Stage 1: 4 to 6 months
“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,” says Albury. Here are some to try:
Sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Scrub the potato and prick with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes or until soft. Once cooked, split the potato and scrape out the flesh with a spoon. Mash with a fork, and it’s ready to serve.
Butternut squash. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Slice the squash in half lengthwise, remove all seeds and fibrous material, then brush the cut surface with olive oil. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. Once cooked, scrape out the flesh with a spoon. Mash with a fork before serving.
Carrots. Trim the ends of large, older carrots (which are richer in nutrients than the baby ones) and slice. Steam, boil or microwave, then puree to perfection.
Bananas. Simply peel the banana and mash —it doesn’t get much easier than that!
Avocado. Peel and remove the stone of a ripe avocado. Since the consistency of an avocado is similar to a banana, you can mash it with a fork and won’t need to puree it any further.
Apples. Steam cubes of apple until tender, then mash or puree.
Pears. Puree ripe, uncooked pears or peel, core, cut and steam them.
Stage 2: 6 to 9 months “This is where things get really interesting,” says Albury. “Whereas it was once recommended that you should avoid offering your baby foods such as egg whites, berries and seafood (all of which are more likely than other foods to cause allergic reactions), guidelines now state that almost ‘anything goes’ from 6 months of age.”
In addition to the foods in Stage 1, try adding broccoli, legumes, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, wheat and grains to your tiny tot’s diet. You can also mix up the routine by offering fun food combinations—think banana, pear and avocado or apple, squash and sweet potato.
Stage 3: 10 to 12 months
It’s time to get inventive! By this age, “most babies can enjoy pretty much whatever mom and dad 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,” says Albury.
Off the table
Even though baby’s trying a variety of tastes and handling them well, there are a few items that should remain out of his mouth until he hits 12 months of age and gets approval from a pediatrician. “Honey is a no-no before [this time] as it carries a small risk of botulism poisoning,” notes Albury. She also recommends avoiding too much salt, which can put a 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, and liver should only be given infrequently, in very small quantities, as it is high in a type of vitamin A that can be harmful,” adds Albury. Also, be careful to avoid foods that pose choking hazards, like nuts, large chunks of fruits and vegetables, whole grapes, whole cherry tomatoes, chunks of meat, seeds, popcorn and raisins, Albury advises.
Making the choice
Creating delicious meals for your small one can have an impact on his future in many ways. “From an environmentally conscious standpoint, homemade baby food rules! You can reduce waste by controlling the size of baby’s portions—plus, no packaging is used,” says Albury. She also urges parents to at least try to make homemade baby food to reap long-lasting benefits. “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.”