Every parent wants to do what’s best for their baby, and making your own baby food is just one of the many considerations toward that goal. If you’ve decided to learn how to make baby food at home, you may feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, with some information and helpful hints, you can begin creating homemade, healthy meals for your little tike.
Pros and cons of DIY baby food
An important note: commercial baby food must meet high safety and nutritional standards. So, if you choose to go with store-bought baby food, it’s okay! However, the DIY approach offers many advantages. One pro of homemade baby food is that you know exactly what’s in it. This allows you to skip seasonings, sweeteners or other ingredients that may concern you. If your child has food allergies, homemade baby food also allows you to target potential problem foods. Making your own food also limits waste from pre-packaged foods. Additionally, some parents find the DIY technique less expensive.
Perhaps one of DIY baby food’s biggest advantages is the variety of options compared to the store’s standardized selections. Plus, serving baby what the rest of the family eats may help decrease the food battles later on. “The stages of going from exclusive breast milk or formula to eating family foods at about one year of age is very important for setting the stage for a positive feeding environment. It isn’t just for fun,” Eve Reed, Family Food Works pediatric dietitian, said.
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On the cons list, making baby food from scratch takes time, often a significant amount of time. Store-bought foods often prove more convenient for transport and storage, too. In contrast, making and storing homemade food comes with increased safety concerns.
Supplies and techniques
Hit up your search engine for baby food making supplies, and you’ll find an endless list of commercial options to make the job easier. For a more minimalistic route, you can use a basic food processor or even a potato masher. Regardless of the tool you use, make sure baby’s food is soft with no chunks. When starting out, the baby’s food will need to stay very thin, but over time it can get thicker.
A few basic techniques apply to all baby food. Use steaming, microwaving or baking as your cooking method. Avoid frying. Cook all foods until they are very soft for ease of pureeing or mashing.
When preparing to make baby food, start by washing your hands. Wash and peel produce before cooking and remove all bones and skin from meat and fish if your baby is old enough for those foods. Avoid honey in any foods meant for a child younger than 12 months. Although you can use herbs for flavor, go light on seasonings such as salt and spices that may offend a sensitive palate.
One of the best ways to store small amounts of baby food is to press it into ice trays. Once frozen, transfer the food into a freezer-safe container. You can also spoon piles of food onto a tray and freeze for the same effect. As far as serving size, use ¼ cup as a guide, but note that although parents often worry about the amount of food a child eats, it’s rarely a medical concern. According to pediatric dietitian and registered nutritionist Judy More, “the problem of most mothers is that they get hung up on the quantity of food that their babies eat. What’s more important is that a baby experiences a wide range of tastes and textures.”
What to make
Dietitians recommend incorporating the rainbow when planning meals for baby. Make sure to include green foods such as peas and beans along with yellow pears, red apples and orange carrots. You can cook these items in batches over the weekend and make extra to build up supplies. Even better, serve your baby food directly from the daily menu while you’re preparing food for the rest of the family. Jennifer Shu, MD, a pediatrician in Atlanta and co-author of “Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality and Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup” says, “For example, when you make mashed potatoes for the family, set aside some that don’t have whole milk added. You can add a little butter or mild spices. As long as you’re eating healthy, you can give your baby a modified version of what you’re eating.”
Similarly, when making sweet potatoes or squash, skip the additions and cook it a few minutes longer until very soft. After pureeing, you can add the food to water, breast milk or formula to thin it as needed. This technique applies to other foods as well.
For a simple food, smash a very ripe banana, kiwi or avocado and serve directly. You can easily make applesauce for baby too. Peel and core your apples, cut into small cubes and simmer on the stove with a small amount of water for around 20 minutes. When very soft, puree the apples, put them through a food mill or use a masher until you reach the desired consistency. You can add a dash of cinnamon for flavor. This recipe works well alongside some boxed baby oatmeal, too.
As baby ages
Once your child gets a bit older, masters chewing and can handle more variety, you may seek specific toddler and baby food recipes. For that, we turn to Whitney and Alex, two moms who are dietitians and founders of the Plant-Based Juniors community. Affectionately known as PBJ for short, the duo provides a wealth of information on their blog, plus an assortment of ready-to-follow recipes for plant-based prenatal and pediatric nutrition.
For example, this fiber-rich walnut blueberry muffin top recipe might have you happily showing your tot how yummy it is. You can also check out the Vegan Smash Cake for a healthier version of a sugary birthday cake, or a vegan take on the ever-popular mac and cheese. PBJ even shows you ways to sneak budget-friendly, protein-packed tofu into your kiddo’s meal plan. These include sliders, sandwiches, nuggets and a scramble.
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