When her first baby was ready to eat solids, Briana Cushman turned to the same food many other parents have — rice cereal.
Early on, though, the rural Dubuque mom began second-guessing her approach. Especially when her son’s iron count came back low.
“I was already cooking from scratch for my husband and me, and I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I do that for the baby?’” she said.
Cushman began making large batches of fancy baby purees, freezing them in individual servings for later use. Admittedly, she went overboard, and soon baby food was taking over the family’s freezer.
There had to be a simpler way. And there was.
By the time her second baby arrived, Cushman decided to get back to basics, feeding her baby like her grandma might have done. Whatever Cushman’s family ate, her baby girl ate, too — thanks to the help of a baby food grinder she used at the table. Her daughter’s first foods: nutrient-dense liver and egg yolk.
“Her iron was off the charts, and she’s so healthy,” Cushman said. “She has the weirdest palate, and she’ll eat anything.”
Cushman has continued that approach with her third baby, who’s now 1 year old.
“If we just trust our own wisdom about what’s healthy for our babies, we can reclaim a lot of what we’ve lost,” Cushman said. “Really, you can make the most nutrient-dense foods in your kitchen.”
Interested in making your baby’s food? Here are 10 tips to get you started.
Start when your baby is ready.
Whether you’re making baby food or buying it from a store, wait until your baby is ready for solids, said Miriam Troutner, registered dietitian at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solids when your baby is about six months old. If your baby is doing these things, she might be ready:
· Can sit up.
· Has good head control.
· Looks at, grasps and seems interested in food.
“A lot of parents are eager to start food earlier and have the idea that starting sooner will help the baby sleep,” Troutner said. “It’s a nice thought, but it has generally been demonstrated not to work.”
Practice food safety.
The same food safety rules apply—especially when making food for babies.
Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, and remove any seeds and pits before you puree any food, said Amy Cordingley, registered dietitian at the Locust Street Hy-Vee in Dubuque.
Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate knife and cutting board for meat. And when cooking meat or eggs, cook them to their proper temperatures to prevent food-borne illnesses.
“If you make things with meat, make sure you cook it until it’s really tender for the baby, and pick out anything that will be hard to chew,” Cordingley said.
Include the right nutrients.
It’s beneficial to expose your baby to a variety of flavors. Experts generally recommend holding off on fruits, though, so your little one’s palate doesn’t become used to sweets first.
When in doubt, lean toward greens and foods that are high in iron, Cordingley suggested.
And remember that throughout the first year, breast milk or formula will continue to be a primary source of nutrition, Troutner said.
Introduce one food at a time.
In the beginning, stick to one new food at a time, offering it in small amounts over about three days, Troutner said. This will help you know whether your baby has an allergic reaction.
Mixing the food with a little breast milk or formula can enhance the flavor for your baby and make the food a thinner consistency.
Once you’re confident your baby doesn’t have a reaction, you can get more creative by combining foods and adding spices.
Consider serving what your family eats.
Like Cushman discovered with her children, you don’t have to create an entirely separate meal for your baby.
Her advice? Plan your family meal, and offer your baby the healthier parts of it. Simply use a baby food grinder or something similar to prepare a small amount for your littlest eater to try.
If your baby is with a child-care provider during the day, you can even grind a little extra at dinnertime so there are leftovers for your baby the following day, Cushman suggested.
“I think people think the baby has to have their own special food. But you can give them really simple foods,” she said.
If you want to make baby food, but the prospect feels a bit daunting, start small.
“Don’t feel like you have to spend your entire weekend making baby food,” Cordingley said. “Mashing up a banana or an avocado really well is technically homemade baby food.”
Another reason to start small? Your baby might not like what you’ve prepared. Research suggests it takes 10 to 15 exposures for a child to accept a new food.
“Kids have preferences, and not everything is going to work for every kid,” Troutner said. “My daughter wouldn’t eat any of the fancy purees I made for her, but you could shovel anything into my son’s mouth.”
Keep finger foods on hand.
For those times you haven’t made a batch of baby food — or are eating a less healthy meal — it’s nice to keep baby-friendly finger foods on hand, Cushman said.
· Avocado, which also can be a great first food.
· Broccoli can be steamed until soft.
· Bananas can be easily mashed.
Store the food properly.
If you decide to make batches, ice cube trays are an effective way to freeze the food in baby-friendly servings. Another option: “Plop” the food in small servings onto a baking sheet and freeze it.
Once the food has frozen, transfer it into a freezer-safe bag or container, and label and date the contents, Cordingley said. The food can be stored in the freezer for up to about two months and in a refrigerator for one to two days.
Thaw it safely.
To thaw the food, move it to the refrigerator and use it within 24 hours. Any baby food that you heat cannot be saved or refrozen, so it’s best to take out only what your baby will eat, Cordingley said.
To warm the food, you can use a saucepan or the microwave. Remember that microwaves create heat pockets, though, so always stir the food to distribute the heat, and test it before offering it to your baby.
Do what works for you.
In the end, do what works best for you and your family — whether that’s making your baby’s food, buying it from a store or a combination of the two.
If it’s not something you feel passionate about, Troutner said, don’t add that pressure to your plate.
“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good,” Cushman said. “There’s enough stress in motherhood. Everybody has to do whatever works with their lifestyle. You do the best you can.”
Emily Kittle is a former TH reporter and is a freelance writer from Madison, Wis.