As a parent of three kids ages preschool to teen, I look back and realise just how important - and, frankly, how simple - feeding my kids was when they were babies and toddlers. I had so much more control back then. I was in charge of all of their meals, of every fragment of food that entered their world. They were too small to sidle up to a school snack bar, be influenced by their best friends; indeed, they hardly ever ate a meal that I didn't prepare.
It has been shown that children tend to form long-term likings for certain foods and flavours based on their earliest years of eating, and infants tend to be more amenable to trying new foods than their scarcely senior toddler and preschool siblings. These are all good reasons we should feed our babies fresh, delicious, real food from the moment they first seize a spoon.
Homemade baby food is generally more nutritious and tastier than commercially processed food if it is fresh and made from whole foods and nothing else. When cooked in bulk, it is cheaper than commercial options. And you can control the quality of ingredients when you make your own. Seems like homemade baby food is a no-brainer.
Oh wait, it takes time! This is true, but just like any meal, some homemade baby food is better than none. So try making a little bit and see how it goes. In fact, mashed fresh avocado or banana would make a perfect first food, with no cooking required.
How will you know whether your baby is ready for solid foods? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, she may be ready if she shows interest in the solid food around her, can sit up with support, is able to turn her head to refuse food and has doubled her birth weight (usually at about 4 to 6 months). Always consult your pediatrician, as babies grow at different rates.
How to make your own
Vegetables and fruits
- Steam vegetables or fruits (chop larger foods into one-inch pieces.)
- Puree in a food processor or blender. A fancy baby food maker is not necessary; any variety of food processor or blender will do the job.
- Add water to achieve desired consistency for baby's age and stage.
- If making in bulk, freeze individual servings in ice cube trays, covered with wax paper and then aluminum foil, or freezer wrap (up to three months).
- Grind ¼ cup brown rice, millet or oatmeal in a blender for 1 minute.
- Boil 1 cup of water.
- Reduce heat to low and add grain.
- Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Serve, refrigerate (two to three days) or freeze (up to one month) in ice cube trays.
- Grind cooked chicken, fish or meat in a food processor or blender and refrigerate (one to two days). Babies should be 7-8 months before eating most poultry, meat and fish.
- Serve alone or mix with pureed vegetables or cooked grains.
- Homemade stock is full of vitamins and minerals. It aids digestion and builds bones.
- Mix homemade chicken or vegetable stock into baby's cereal or vegetables to liquefy and add nutrition.
- Babies can drink homemade vegetable stock from a bottle after the age of 9 months.
Worried about allergies? Introduce one food at a time, and wait at least four days before introducing another. Common problem foods: cow's milk, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts, shellfish and artificial additives. Shellfish and honey should be avoided until at least a year.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, and co-author of The Super Food Cards, a collection of healthful recipes and advice.