Recently, there’s been discussion about opting for commercial baby food vs. making your own at home. So you might be wondering: What’s the best choice?
A dietitian, like myself, will likely tell you that the healthiest baby is a fed baby. At 6 months of age, it’s important to begin offering complementary foods into your infant’s diet. This is important for exploration and development. It’s also the beginning of adding in foods that are high in iron, as your breast milk or formula can no longer provide 100% of needs. Variety is key at this age, and trying to expose kids to all kinds of foods, flavors and textures is encouraged.
There is no truth to the myth that you have to offer vegetables first. Nor do you have to start with infant cereal. In fact, meats are some of the highest iron foods and good first foods to start with. The importance is variety and not only sticking to one food group. So have fun with it, and offer your infant foods of all colors and nutrients.
It’s best to start slowly at first with single-ingredient foods. This way you can watch for any allergic reactions. But don’t feel the need to hold back on high allergen foods; as the American Academy of Pediatrics says, early introduction of peanut-containing foods, fish and eggs may be beneficial.
The decision to use store-bought food or make your own is a personal one. There are pros and cons to both options. Do you have the time and resources to make your own food at home? Fantastic, let’s do it! Are you already overwhelmed (what new parent isn’t?) or dealing with postpartum depression, and you can’t fathom adding one more thing? No problem, store-bought is just as nutritious. Or how about a blend of both? Make the food when you have time, and have store-bought options in your pantry for when you don’t. From a nutrition standpoint, I only care that your baby is fed.
How to Make Your Own Food
In the event that you choose to make your own baby food, there are many ways to do it. You can buy a fancy mixer or just do it in your own blender or food processor. To start, I recommend choosing a single-ingredient food, cooking it and pureeing it with either breast milk or formula. This not only adds additional nutrients, but it gives your child a familiar taste.
Note: You may have read that to use the liquid, you cook it in to retain the nutrients. However, I say don’t worry about that. The amount you lose in boiling or cooking is marginal compared to the nutrients added from breast milk or formula.
Follow these basic steps for making your own baby food. Always keep food safety in mind, just as you would with any other dish you were making. Clean all appliances, utensils and counter tops. And be mindful of safe cooling; don’t allow your baby food to sit out for more than 2 hours between cooking and storage.
Prepare your food. Wash, peel and chop all produce, and remove any seeds. Remove any gristle or bones from meat before cooking.
Cook your food. Cook food until tender by either baking, steaming, boiling or microwaving in a little water. Cook meat and eggs until well done and be certain that everything is cooked to proper safety temperature.
Puree your food. Transfer food to your appliance and pulse/puree food adding liquid as needed. The final product should be thin in consistency to start, advancing textures as your baby ages. Tip: I often tell parents to use a store-bought baby food as an example if they’re having trouble figuring out the correct texture. But there is no right or wrong texture, as long as the baby can safely eat it.
Store your food. Store your food in the refrigerator for one to two days, or batch cook ahead of time and freeze it for one to two months. Make sure to label the date that you store it. You can purchase special containers or freeze it in ice-cube trays with a lid. Each ice cube equals about 1 ounce, which makes for quick and easy access later. Once frozen, put the food in a freezer-safe storage bag or container.
Serve your food. Always check the temperature of food before you serve it. Heating in the microwave can lead to uneven distribution of temperature, so double check yourself before giving it to your infant. Start with a small portion and add to it as needed, but once the baby puts the spoon in their mouth, any unused food should be discarded for safety purposes. Same goes for store-bought baby foods.
Can I Season My Baby Food?
Initially, there’s no need to add any salt, pepper or seasoning to food. However, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t introduce your kids to familiar foods that you as a family eat. As they get older, season food as you would your own, but don’t add extra salt or sugar to any infant foods. And remember: No honey before age 1, due to the risk of food-borne illness.
More from U.S. News