Baby Food Bliss: Home Made Baby Food Made the Right Way

The popularity of preparing homemade baby food and foregoing store bought products has been an emerging American trend, underscoring our country’s fascination with organically prepared foods and the notion of “going green”. But what is truly best for your baby? There are shockingly few studies out there that examine the long term developmental outcomes of infants who are fed commercially prepared baby food versus those that are fed homemade foods.

As a resident pediatrician, I recommend starting off with commercially prepared rice cereal initially once a day, and advancing to three times a day. Rice cereal will allow you to gauge if your baby has developed proper oral motor coordination to be able to properly swallow. This will clue you into whether the baby is ready to have her diet advanced to puréed foods. Another perk of rice cereal is that most commercially prepared products are fortified in iron, an essential mineral your baby needs for brain development.

Once your baby has graduated to pureed foods, where to go next? There are a variety of reputable baby food products on shelves that are built and developed specifically for a baby’s developmental age, which have been FDA approved to limit certain quantities of preservatives and other dietary components, such as salt. Moreover they are screened for harmful nitrites that can be present in certain raw vegetables and which can cause anemia in infancy.

Benefits of Home Made

Many moms are adopting the school of thought that home prepared, organic meals are vastly better for their baby. In the cookbook, “Sage Spoonfuls” Liza Huber touts the benefits of homemade baby food and has even created an entire system for the pureeing and preparation of home made products. She argues that commercial baby food is sterilized in order for the food to have a shelf life between 18 months- 2 years and that in the sterilization process, essential vitamins as well as taste are compromised. Huber notes that the fillers in baby food have increased caloric intake and may contribute to food allergies.

I had the chance to speak with Liza about her take on the subject. “When you put homemade pea puree in a bowl and store bought baby food pea puree in a bowl it doesn’t even look like the
same food…the color, the flavor is bland, it doesn’t smell very good, and it doesn’t taste very good.” Huber also believes that the dynamic textures, aromas and tastes of homemade baby food more enticing to babies and will enable them to be more accepting to natural foods in
the future, rather than become habituated to processed foods.

Some may argue that making homemade baby food can also be a way of a mother to feel more connected to her baby, empowered and in control about what goes into her body. The physicality of the preparation and cooking can be therapeutic and a great way for parents to increase the instinctual bond they have with their infant. Huber agrees- at one point working 16 hour days, and spending time apart from her baby she states she “got such great satisfaction and it warmed my heart to know …that he was eating food that I made for him.”

According to Liza only 1 or 2 hours every month is required to prepare your food in bulk. She notes that parents who give their babies commercially prepared product “aren’t doing it to give their children bad tasting food.” She argues that in addition to being more palatable and nutritious “homemade baby food actually can be convenient, it actually can have the best of both worlds.”

Cooking fresh food for your baby can certainly be cost effective as well, sparing up to two-three times the expense of store bought products.  Plus, you are reducing waste by not having to toss all those glass jars.

Tips for Prep and Storage

Baby foods that are prepared at home should be pureed to a smooth texture for infants who are 6 months to approximately 10 months of age. Steaming vegetables and then using a food processer to grind to a puree will preserve more nutrients than boiling; however it is important to ensure that the food is properly warmed in order to kill bacteria that may be contained within them. The USDA recommends reheating all refrigerated and frozen home prepared baby foods to 165 degrees to kill all the bacteria before refeeding to your baby.

If you are planning to refrigerate your baby food, it is recommended that you should not spoon feed from the container into the baby’s mouth as there are a variety of oral bacteria that could then grow into the source once it is refrigerated. The best ways to thaw frozen foods are
to reheat the food immediately, place it in the refrigerator, or directly under cold (never warm) running water. You should never set food products out on a counter to defrost at room temperature as this enables the bacteria to grow voraciously throughout the food.

The shelf life of frozen homemade baby foods is approximately1 month. Once home prepared meats, poultry, and fish have been placed in the refrigerator to thaw it should be thrown out within 1 day. Veggies and fruits should be tossed after two days. If left out for 2 hours, baby food should be thrown out. Food that has thawed should not be placed back into the freezer for further use, but rather discarded.

There are certain foods to avoid preparing at home during early infancy: beets, squash, spinach, turnips, green beans, and carrots contain elevated nitrates which may lead to anemia in the newborn period. The USDA does not recommend adding salt, seasonings, cream, sugar, honey, and oil and butter to baby food products. Not to worry, as there is no need to add rosemary and thyme to your baby’s squash puree; her palate is not that discriminate. Once you have introduced each food product separately to determine whether your baby has any
allergies, you can combine different pureed fruits and vegetables to create a dynamic flavor
profile.

Now that you’ve got the prep down, here are some delicious ideas to enhance your baby’s nutrition.

Sweet and Satisfying

Apples are a great food to start out pureeing. They contain anti-oxidants, fiber and vitamin C. Pear puree is another sweet food option that is a great source of fiber and Vitamin C and can be served both cool and warmed . Prunes are also sweet and delicious and just one once can be very effective in ameliorating constipation. Oranges pair well with other fruits and vegetables as a sweet accent to blander purees. The freshly squeezed juice is much better for your baby’s health than consuming generated product as they contain excessive amounts of sugar and very little nutritional value.

Walk on the Wild Side

Dark, green leafy vegetables provide iron and folate. Lentils contain high amounts of protein and fiber and are low in saturated fat and sodium. Meat such as beef and chicken is an excellent source of protein. Red meats are replete in iron which is also very important for your baby’s brain development.

Smooth and Silky

Sweet potatoes, peas and corn are recommended as safe foods to start out with. Avocadoes are a great snack, and the vegetable’s soft texture makes it very easy to puree. Enriched with unsaturated fatty acids, avocadoes are a great tool to also help your baby gain weight. Usually around 10 months of age, he will be able to tolerate chunkier foods and heartier textures.

Portion Perfection

Now that we’ve got the foods down- portion control is very important. For infants 6-12 mo of age, consult with your pediatrician to determine the correct amount of dietary intake of solids, since this may vary depending on how your child plots on the growth chart. As a general rule of thumb toddlers should consume ¼ of the portion sizes that adults do. A lot of adult food, such as restaurant food and even foods prepared for adults at home contain excessive amounts of salt. So be mindful that what you are having for dinner is not necessarily the best for your little one. Healthychildren.org, a website powered by pediatricians belonging to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that the serving portion for a meal of vegetables for a
toddler be 1-2 tablespoons, and that the portion of meat that you give them should be approximately the size of your palm.

Regardless of whether you choose store bought or homemade food for your baby, having well balanced meals that include breast milk or formula and that are rich in protein, fruits, and green, leafy vegetables will enable your baby to reach their full developmental potential.