I love making homemade baby food, and I've never understood why more families don't. Saves you money. In many ways, it is much easier than any other type of cooking, and you maintain control over the ingredients.
That control is most important when you listen to what's in the baby food you find on store shelves. Tests of 168 baby foods commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) found toxic heavy metals - arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury - in 95 percent of the containers tested. While these toxins are in many of our foods, due to contamination, they are especially harmful to the developing brain of babies.
If you decide that you want to make your own baby food, here are some concepts to keep in mind:
Start slowly: From allergy concerns to making sure they're still getting enough breast milk (which should be the main source of nutrition for at least 6 months), it makes sense to introduce solid foods gradually. Wait until your child seems interested and then let him explore the foods one at a time, waiting a few days between each new food to see if there are any adverse reactions. Contrary to previous advice, it is no longer recommended to withhold common allergens unless there is reason to suspect that your child may actually be allergic. You still need to be very careful about possible choking hazards.
Have a system: When you start preparing baby food, be sure to plan ahead. Make a shopping list to have ingredients on hand, and batch cook and freeze in bulk so you can stock up for the future. While I wouldn't go overboard with gadgets, it's worth investing in gear that makes things easier - for example, soft silicone ice cube trays and squeeze travel spoons were big hits in our home.
Focus on quality ingredients: From environmental to ethical, there are many reasons to choose local and organic products, but for my part, I think that local, seasonal ingredients just taste better too. So, I recommend that you visit your local farmers market or keep an eye out for organic and local produce at the grocery store while planning baby food. Even if you don't care about organic and local produce, it's important to make sure your child eats mostly fresh, whole foods; it is one of the most important ways to give them a healthy start in life.
Understand nutrition - The process of preparing baby food can be relatively easy, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to be casual about it. As your baby grows, he will need the right combination of foods to ensure healthy development of both body and mind. As a general rule of thumb, you should try to make sure your child gets a protein, a whole grain, and some fruits and vegetables with every meal.
Here are some easy recipes to help you
Stir fry, chickpea and pea puree
Saute a clove of garlic, a pinch of cumin, add a cup or two of chickpeas, and frozen peas. Drizzle in a little broth and then puree the result. You can leave it a little thick or puree smooth, depending on the tastes and ages of those who eat. The adults in our household will even love this dish.
Egg, avocado and breast milk salad
Yes, the "breast milk" part might put off adult diners, but the basic recipe is delicious for anyone. Just boil an egg and then mash it with half an avocado. Add a little breast milk or formula if you are pureeing it for younger babies. And if you have a family history of egg allergies, remove the egg white for children under 1 year old. This puree can be used on its own, or it can be spread on toasts or tortillas for a delicious appetizer.
Contrary to popular belief, baby food does not have to be pureed. With my second daughter, Adeline, I had limited time creating purees and baby food, so the idea of giving her what the rest of the family ate was extremely appealing. That's where I discovered Baby Led Weaning, a concept that recommends giving whole, solid foods to babies as young as 6 months. It is important that the food is at least 5 cm. long to avoid the danger of suffocation and allow the youngster to eat something to hold on to. In our home, whole wheat or spelled quesadillas became a popular hit, with various combinations of sweet potatoes, spinach, beans, avocado, and cheese. We should avoid salt for fillings, it would be best for adults to adjust the amount of seasoning at the table.
Macaroni and anything
If my kids had to choose one food for the rest of their lives, it would be macaroni. And while my inner dietitian craves more diversity, I recognize that pasta dishes are a fairly versatile base for culinary exploration. For our youngest babies, we often make a soup with sauteed onion, pumpkin puree, low-sodium broth, and pastini. (Add the pastini after pureeing the other ingredients.) As they got older, macaroni and cheese, or macaroni and peas, or macaroni and spinach, or macaroni and just about anything became quite a popular staple.
To make sure they get protein, we will sometimes whisk some eggs and butter into the hot macaroni, or add some mushrooms. And it's never a bad idea to try whole wheat pasta, or mix whole wheat pasta and white pasta in equal proportions. Quinoa, millet, brown rice, or whole grain couscous are also great bases for creating different baby and child-friendly combinations.
Jenni Grover, MS RD LDN, is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners in Durham, North Carolina. She specializes in infant, maternal, and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.