You want only the best for your child, right? So when it’s time for your little one to start eating solid food, why not make meals from scratch? Although not for everyone, cooking homemade baby food can be extremely beneficial to your baby (if you can find the time and energy!). Here’s why:
- You have control over the ingredients
- It can be served fresh, free of additives and preservatives
- It can be flavored according to your baby’s taste
- The texture can be customized according to your baby’s age
- You can increase the nutritional value
Also, think of it this way: if you go organic, not only is it good for your baby, it’s also good for the earth. According to EcoCradle contributor, Kimberly Danek Pinkson, founder of EcoMom Alliance, “You’ll avoid herbicides, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, and help keep these chemicals out of our environment.” You’ll also keep all those plastic jars out of landfills.
See our articles Ask EcoMom: Organic Baby Foods and Organic Advantage: Identifying Healthy Baby Food.
When to Start Solids
Dr. JJ Levenstein, MD, pediatrician and member of The Cradle advisory board, says that parents should start their babies on solid foods between 4 to 6 months.
She cautions that “if there is a parental history of allergies, eczema, or any intolerance for a component of mother’s milk or formula, or eczema in the baby, I wait until 6 months. Some very precocious 4 month old literally want to grab a spoon, and show interest by smacking their gums and getting very aroused when witnessing others feed. If there are no issues, such as allergies, I will let parents start these kids sooner than 6 months.
“I NEVER recommend giving solids earlier than 4 months. The only exception would be the use of cereal to thicken milk for a child with severe symptomatic reflux, but that’s pretty rare.”
Dr. Levenstein also recommends that babies start first with cereals enriched with iron, followed by veggies and fruits. “I tell parents to introduce one new food every three to four days to start,” she says. “You can test the water and see how reactive a baby is. If after five to six new foods are introduced and there are no issues, I will advise every three days.”
If you have any specific questions or concerns, talk to your pediatrician.
What about Cost?
Buying organic fruits and vegetables can be a bit costly, but if you decide to cook items for your baby that the whole family can enjoy (for example, pureed squash, peas, steamed carrots
—don’t fight it
—you need your veggies, too), the financial cost will be pretty minimal and everyone’s health will benefit. Also, serving a variety of foods at a young age can increase your baby’s desire to eat a greater variety of foods when she is older.
What about Jarred Baby Food?
Traditional processed foods often add water, sugars, and starchy fillers that dilute the nutritional value of the food. Companies cook foods at high temperatures to kill bacteria to store in jars at room temperature, but this process can also eliminate important vitamins and nutrients, which are then added back artificially. These additives are neither necessary nor good for your baby’s health. Healthcare professionals actually recommend that you avoid these additives in order to reduce the chance of obesity in later years.
Regarding organic jarred baby food, Consumer Reports reported that baby food labeled “USDA organic” must be “at least 95 percent organic, meaning that all but 5 percent of the content was produced without conventional pesticides and fertilizers.” So if you do decide to use jarred baby food, this is often the healthiest option.
In some cases, serving your baby certain varieties of jarred food may be the safest choice since baby food companies screen for nitrates commonly found in carrots, beets, turnips, and spinach. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nitrates (chemical compounds found in soil) can cause an unusual type of anemia in infants up to 6 months of age.
- Keep it pure and simple and you’re on the right track
- When using fruits and vegetables, always wash and remove the skin, and try to go organic
- Steam or boil food until it is soft and mushy
- Refrain from spices, salt, or sugar
—at least when first introducing food. After a while, adding some spices might be quite enjoyable and will open up your baby’s palate to new tastes.
Older babies can begin eating meats that have been cooked thoroughly and pureed. Suggested meats are chicken and turkey.
At first, you may need to make baby’s food in a blender, food processor, or baby food mill (which is great for making single servings) in order to get the texture just right. Start off with pureed food when you introduce your baby to solid foods, and slowly move towards mashed or small pieces of food when baby learns to chew. To give a flavor boost, mix in some breast milk or formula (babies like this with their sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes).
Ideal foods to start with include:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Butternut Squash
Freeze for Later
You can make foods ahead of time and freeze them for convenience. Make as directed then pour food into sanitized ice-cube trays to freeze. Once the food is completely frozen, you can simply pop the cubes from the tray into a freezer bag, allowing you to store or make more food in the trays as needed.
Select the cubes that you want and defrost at room temperature or in the microwave (give a good stir before serving). It is safer to thaw meat in the refrigerator (to prevent E-coli bacteria from forming) and then heat.
Frozen food will stay fresh up to three months.
Now it’s time to get cooking! Hit the grocery store (or better yet a local farmers’ market), break out the pots and pans, and make delicious, healthy food that will help your baby grow and thrive.