Ever since Gerber put strained peas in a jar in 1928, baby food has been big business. There are lots of reasons to buy it: It’s quick; you don’t have to worry about adequate nutrition; it’s easy. Except it’s not so quick if it means an extra supermarket trip. And it’s not necessarily ounce-for-ounce nutritionally optimal—it’s got fillers and starches. It is, however, easy.
Making your own is pretty easy, too—and cheap. With a food processor or a fork, you can mash up your own cooked peas or carrots. It’s part of the joy, too: Revealing solid food to your kid, one green bean at a time, is one of the great experiences of the first year. (You won’t, however, be able to make a baby food flower garden or envelope licker).
There are a lot of rules about what a baby can eat when, so we’ve summed it up (very broadly) for you. Always turn to your doctor first. But remember, you’re raising a Chowhound: Eating is a pleasure.
THOUGHTS FROM A NEW MOM
By Kate Ramos
As a working mother, I understand the convenience of premade baby food, but for me it’s worth the small amount of time and the huge amount of savings to make my own.
I try to work my daughter’s food preparation into my normal cooking as much as possible. Say I’m roasting beets for dinner; I’ll roast a couple without salt or oil alongside the others so I can blend them up for Louisa later on. And on the weekends or whenever I have extra time, I steam a head of cauliflower or a few bunches of spinach, blend the veggie, portion it out into small containers, and toss it in the freezer so I know I have a couple of weeks’ worth of food that simply needs defrosting. I defrost the baby food in the refrigerator and then reheat it in a small saucepan until it’s lukewarm, adding a little water, formula, or apple juice as necessary to thin it out. I always keep avocados and bananas on hand, too, for when I have nothing defrosted.
Teaching my daughter the pleasures of fresh, seasonal, flavorful food is one of the first, and most important, lessons that I will have for her.
BABY FEEDING GUIDELINES
Baby’s first bites of food should be a fun exploration, but what to begin feeding your child can be confusing. There are many sources out there, and it is difficult to find two that agree exactly on what to feed your baby when. Here are some guidelines:
• The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that a baby be fed breast milk (or formula) for the first 6 to 12 months. Solid food can be introduced at around 6 months as a supplement to, not replacement of, breast milk or formula.
• Possible allergic foods should be avoided in the first year, especially when there is a family history of allergies. There is much dissent on which foods to avoid, so it’s best to consult with your doctor about what you should introduce when.
• Introduce new foods one at a time, waiting at least four days before introducing another so that allergies can be detected. If allergies are detected, avoid foods from the same family. Keeping a daily food diary is helpful in pinpointing any problem foods.
For a quick reference, use the following age guides:
First foods should be single-ingredient, very smooth purées (the consistency of runny yogurt). Experiment with squash, sweet potato, avocado, banana, apple, pear, papaya, and millet, barley, or kamut cereals. Some sources recommend starting with vegetables rather than fruits so your baby doesn’t develop a sweet tooth.
Now you can begin food combinations (once any possible allergies are ruled out) with a little more texture for teething babies. Try broccoli, spinach, or green beans. Although the foods should still be smoothly puréed, their consistency can be a little thicker.
Now a wider variety of foods can be introduced, like okra, plums, and cantaloupe; however everything should still be smoothly puréed. Finger foods can also be offered as long as they are soft, cooked, and cut into small pieces to avoid choking.
A baby’s digestive system is almost up to adult speed and can accept just about any food you can (but stay away from processed, fried, artificially sweetened, or salty foods—if it’s bad for you, it’s bad for your baby). It is still important to purée foods, but the consistency can gradually become thicker.
Food can be fork-mashed or coarsely puréed now that your baby has a handle on “gumming” food and swallowing.
11 MONTHS AND BEYOND
Your baby is on his way to becoming a toddler, and more finger foods can be offered. Always be aware of size and texture, because choking is still a concern; stay away from foods like blueberries, popcorn, olives, or raisins.
Keep in mind that your baby may not be too excited about a food the first time she tries it, but that doesn’t mean to cross it off the list forever. Offer it again in a week or so and you may get a different reaction. Also remember that just because you hate green veggies doesn’t mean your little one does, too. This is a time of learning for both you and your baby, so give peas a chance.
BABY FOOD RECIPES
6 MONTHS PLUS
7 MONTHS PLUS
10 MONTHS PLUS
For more ideas, here are some books that we’ve found useful:
- “Naturally Healthy First Foods for Baby: The Best Nutrition for the First Year and Beyond”
- “Super Baby Food”
- “First Meals (New Expanded Edition)”
- “Cooking for Baby: Wholesome, Homemade, Delicious Foods for 6 to 18 Months”
- “The Big Book of Organic Baby Food: Baby Purées, Finger Foods, and Toddler Meals For Every Stage“
This post was updated on May 9, 2018 to fix formatting and remove broken links.