Home-made food is best for baby

baby eating
baby eating 

It seems home-made baby food is the best health option and the cheapest in today's economic climate. Fiona Purdon reports

"It's a good feeling to see a pot full of veggies bubbling away at the stove".

Brisbane mother-of-three Louise Eivers says eight-month-old Hunter is her only child to be given sole home-made food and he has been her calmest baby.

Kerry Atkinson balances part-time work and mixes home-cooking with organic commercial food on work nights for daughter Zoe, 15 months.

Evie Elkin bakes breads and muffins using chickpea flour while she purees her own baby food because of her three children's food allergies.

With the growing problems of child obesity and allergies it is not surprising these Brisbane mums are part of a trend to return to home-cooked baby food.

Alison Mildwaters also believes in home-made food after being affected by food intolerances.

With the growing problems of child obesity and allergies it is not surprising these Brisbane mums are part of a trend to return to home-cooked baby food.

Dietician Alessandra Winfield, who specialises in post-natal and children's nutrition, says that many mums are turning to home-made food while the standard of commercial products has also improved. "Before baby food was readily available in supermarkets, babies simply ate what the rest of the family was having, in a mashed or finely cut form," Winfield says. "As convenience food was demanded, pre-prepared baby food became available. "Over the years companies producing baby food have improved their recipes, being careful not to add too much sugar, salt and additives like colours and preservatives. There is a wide range of baby food available including organic varieties."

Winfield, co-founder of Ripe Nutrition, says there is debate on when babies should be given solid foods with the National Health and Medical Research Council recommending babies be exclusively breastfed until about six months. She says it is best to seek professional advice if parents wish to introduce solids before six months, particularly if there are feeding concerns relating to growth, allergies, reflux or sleeping problems.

Advertisement

"There is still research required to make a definitive statement but currently there are questions arising as to whether introducing solids before six months increases the risk of allergies and intolerances," she says. "Some research is showing that there is no risk in early introduction of solids and may in fact reduce risk of allergies because the immune system may be strengthened."

Eivers says she gave her two oldest children, daughters Yasmine and Iesha, solids from about five months and Yasmine has some allergies. She worked full-time as a hairdresser when her daughters were babies and relied on commercial food but with Hunter she is in the position to stay at home and has fed him fresh food without any additives such as salt, pepper or sugar. She says Iesha is a high energy child and has wondered if there is a link with food.

"There can be so much crap in food, I didn't want him to be hyper," Eivers says. "You know home-cooked food has no preservatives, you know what's in it. Hunter is a calmer baby, whether he is calmer naturally, is an interesting question. I've been so careful with Hunter because a lot of boys are being diagnosed with problems such as autism and I've heard food can make a difference."

Elkin does a lot of home-cooking because of her children's gluten and lactose intolerances but she does occasionally buy organic baby food especially the brand Rafferty's Garden.

Mildwaters' oldest son Aidan, 3, has intolerances to onion and some green vegetables which is why she made food for him and younger son Rowan, 13 months. "Food intolerance is a big issue, the intolerance caused me such stress when breastfeeding, I didn't want to go through that stress when trying different types of baby food," she says. "I know if you cook with a lot of vegetables and meat you can't go too far wrong."

Winfield says that commercial baby food often contains additives such as thickeners and fillers, many of which are derived from maize or rice. She says these particular carbohydrates are high in the Glycaemic Index which means the baby is more likely to be hungry earlier requiring more food.

"Generally most baby food products are satisfactory in terms of nutrition but homemade versions would be far superior in terms of taste, nutrition and value for money," she says. "There are many thickeners and fillers added to processed food these days that increase our carbohydrate intake. "This may be linked to our increasing obesity rates. Using a carbohydrate such as pasta, split peas or other lentils helps to lower the GI and helps satisfy hunger for longer."

Winfield recommends the brand Motherly Cubes because they use split peas as the main thickening agent which has a low GI. She says Motherly Cubes' meat cubes contain about 30 per cent meat while many commercial baby foods do not provide enough iron especially when by the age of six months baby's iron stores are low. "Commercial baby food based on meat contains only around 10 per cent meat, and would not provide sufficient levels of iron," she says. "The ideal meal proportion would be 25 per cent meat/chicken/fish; 25 per cent cereal (pasta or rice) and 50 per cent vegetables."All the Brisbane mothers interviewed freeze batches of pureed vegetables, mainly using a blender.

Eivers says: "It's so much cheaper to make your own food. It costs $2.50 for a soup pack of fresh vegetables while it costs me $2.95 for a jar of Heinz organic."

There is also a new product Bebedelice which is the only appliance in Australia that cooks and steams, blends, warms and sterilises baby bottles and defrosts frozen food. It costs $158 from Target.

Mildwaters says it takes only a couple of minutes to defrost her cubes and dinner is ready.

"The hardest part is making the food, it is getting enough energy to make big batches and the rest is easy-peasy. I found that kids don't need a big variety," she says. "Rowan is happy with rotating the food as long as you have a good couple of recipes."

Atkinson is determined not to feel guilty about giving her daughter Zoe Heinz Organic jars for the three working nights because she makes sure she gives home-made food for the rest of the week. "I make Zoe a big batch of meat and vegies once a week and freeze it," she says. "We can't feel guilty, she really likes it (commercial food) and she is still getting good food. "It's that old mother's guilt. You can't be supermum all the time, you try to be everything to everyone as it is. How can you put a price on time?"

Winfield says the easiest way to prepare baby food is to remove a portion of the family's usual evening meal to blend and place into ice-cube trays to freeze. One to two ice-cube portions would be a serving size. She says that from six to nine months a baby has finely pureed food but from eight months they can be given lumpy food.

"There is a place for convenience and the baby food on offer at the moment can be useful for the busy family but it would be sensible (and cheaper) to include homemade meals as well to avoid overfeeding and the risk of obesity," Winfield says.

Simplesavings.com.au founder, Fiona Lippey, says you can make baby food for about 30c a serve compared with bought baby food at $1.20-$1.50 per serve.

Mildwaters says it's satisfying and rewarding to cook for her sons. "It's a good feeling to see a pot full of vegies bubbling away at the stove," she says.

Alison Villanova probably best sums up the situation. "If you have time to make your own vegie purees why not? You know what's going in it and you can make small batches and vegie combinations to suit you -- otherwise if you have time restrictions use the jar vegie purees so you still know your baby is getting a healthy product," Villanova says. "It's weighing up your time against the slightly higher cost for jars and having to buy the vegie combinations that the shops sell."

Discuss this topic in the Babies Forums.