5 Tips to Cooking Healthy Homemade Baby Food
Those first few months of parenthood are a whirlwind. You somehow survive the non-stop feedings, diaper changes, and cat naps. Finally, after that '4th trimester' is finally over, you start to develop some sort of a routine, get into a bit of a groove. You're feeling more confident in your skills as a parent. Baby starts sleeping a bit longer at night. You're still incredibly sleep deprived, but making it work.
And then, all the sudden, your baby is now, 4-, 5-, or 6- months old, and it hits you, "They're going to start eating REAL foods pretty soon?!?!?!" No longer are boobs and bottles going to cut it, your little one is joining you at the table.
As you're starting to think about baby's first precious bites of food, don't let that huge aisle of baby food at the market scare you. The companies that make those jars and pouches WANT you to think that their product is necessary. They want you to think that they will give your baby the most nutritious food, the biggest variety, and the most convenience. They want your money, plain and simple.
But it's all hype. Making your own baby food can be easy, healthy, and perfectly safe. With a little planning, some creativity, and confidence in the kitchen, you can make all your baby's meals quickly, easily, and affordably.
Read on for my top 5 tips to making homemade baby food easy and healthy:
1. Safe Size & Texture
Before anything, talk to your pediatrician to make sure your little one is ready for solid foods. You'll want to discuss any special concerns you have, like food allergies, swallowing difficulties, and maintaining a healthy rate of weight gain.
Once you have the go-ahead from your doc, baby's first foods should be an appropriate size and texture. Many parents are now considering a Baby Led Weaning approach, which bypasses the typical progression of pureed food to lumpy food to finger foods. You can read more about Baby Led Weaning here. Many other parents stick with what they know, starting with pureed food and slowly progressed to table foods. Talk to your pediatrician, and do what you are comfortable with. For me, it was a combination of the two approaches. Whatever approach you decide, you should always trust your instincts, consult your pediatrician, and listen to your baby.
Whether you start with Baby Led Weaning or on purees, there are some foods that are pretty much universally off-limits for a while because they are choking hazards. These foods include:
Whole nuts and seeds
Whole grapes or cherry tomatoes
Big globs of peanut butter or nut butter
Raisins and other dried fruit
Bug hunks of cheese
Hard candies, gum, and marshmallows
Most raw vegetables
For the most part, those first few months of eating are going to be filled with very soft and moist foods. If you're not sure if something is soft enough for baby, one way to estimate is to put a small piece in your mouth, and see if you can 'chew' it without using your teeth. Use your tongue only to mash the food around in your mouth. Can you do it? Then it may be soft enough for baby.
Some considerations when choosing foods for baby:
Dark meat chicken and turkey is typically more soft and moist than white meat. Plus, it has more iron.
Ground meats are usually much easier for babies to handle (think a hamburger vs a steak)
Some fruits and veggies are naturally perfectly soft: avocado, banana, cooked sweet potato
Many fruits are soft, but might need to be cooked so they are really soft enough for baby, like: peaches, plums, pears, apples
I love using frozen fruits and veggies, when you reheat them, they are usually already soft enough for baby. Some of my favorites are broccoli, cauliflower, peas & carrots, strawberries, peaches, and mango.
2. Think Seasonally
Foods that are in season are going to be super fresh, full of flavor, and packed with vitamins and minerals. Fruits eaten in season are sweeter and more colorful. Veggies in season are crisper, brighter, and less bitter. Yes, you will see tomatoes and strawberries at your supermarket year round. But out of season, these foods are shipped thousands of miles from other countries, and (in my opinion) taste like cardboard.
Visit your local farmer's market or look for foods in your supermarket that are 'local' to find the freshest seasonal foods for your baby. Check out my posts on seasonal foods for baby (fall, winter) for some ideas during those dark winter months. Don't stress, there are plenty of delicious seasonal eats for your little one, even in the winter.
3. Add Some Spice
A great way to help your little eater develop their tastes is to give them foods with lots of flavor! Don't be afraid to season their food with all sorts of spices. Even try a little heat. You'll be surprised what your baby can handle, and even what they prefer.
With my daughter, in those early months of eating her favorite meals were always the ones with the most seasoning and the most spice. The first time I let her try some salsa (a 'medium' heat one too), her eyes lit up as if to say "Whoa!! So that's what food tastes like!"
The only exception I would add is to go light on the salt. If you are using a spice blend that you bought from the store, try and choose ones without salt, or don't add any additional salt to the food. I've gotten in the habit of not adding salt to my food until I've parsed out a bit for my daughter, then my hubby and I get to add some to our meals, if it's even needed.
4. Offer Lots of Variety
Offering your little one a wide variety of foods helps them in so many ways. First, it helps make sure they are getting a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Each food has it's own blend of nutrients, and by eating a wide variety of foods you help your baby check all their vitamin and mineral boxes. It also helps to expand their palate, challenge them to new and unique flavors, and eventually may help them to be less picky as they get older.
Exploring different foods stimulates all of babies' senses: they can see the different colors, smell different scents, touch the different textures of fruits and veggies, hear the sounds the food makes when it is cut or cooked, and of course they TASTE the wonderful diversity that nature gives us.
But, I get it. I'm a mom. It's just not realistic to give my daughter different foods every single day. Babies eat such small amounts at each meal. It used take my daughter 3 days to eat a whole banana. And some foods are super healthy that we WANT to give them often. My family often makes fun of me for raising a 'hipster baby' because she eats avocado toast almost every day for breakfast. And that's ok. As long as there is variety of foods in the week, you're doing just fine.
I have a fun challenge for you. Each time you go grocery shopping, pick out one new fruit and one new veggie for your baby. You don't need to buy a lot, just one or two pieces so you, baby, and any older kids can have a taste. Here are some examples of fruits and veggies I tried:
Purple sweet potatoes
5. Don't Take It Personally
That veggie you spent time picking, washing carefully, and cooking up with care? That piece of meat or fish you cut into tiny pieces, and blew on it like the Big Bad Wolf so baby wouldn't get burned? That expensive organic grass fed yogurt?
It WILL get thrown on the floor. It WILL get smooshed in their hair. It will get smooshed in YOUR hair. It WILL get spit out, spit up, and refused all together. Maybe, just maybe, it will end up in baby's tummy.
As hard as it can be, try not to take it personally. Your baby is not a sophisticated food critic, throwing those peas on the floor because they were slightly too mushy. Your baby is just being... a baby. Throwing food on the floor is part of the game. Refusing food happens. Spit up happens.
And with any new food, it can, AND USUALLY DOES, take MANY MANY tries before they like something. It took my daughter nearly 5 months to like bananas..... yes..... BANANAS, the most loved and revered of all baby foods. Just keep offering. Encourage them to try it, but don't force it. Keep mealtime positive.
And remember, anything baby doesn't eat, hey, another snack for you!