Commercial baby food has stepped up a notch. We've got pouches of pureed vegetables with no added anything, and baby versions of chicken paella and lamb pot roast all made with wholesome ingredients. But how good are they at teaching tiny palates to eat a broad range of healthy foods?
"Quality manufactured foods have a place, but I wouldn't want to use them all the time - they don't have the same breadth of flavours that you can introduce with homemade foods," says Nicole Senior, an accredited practising dietitian and mother of a 10 month old baby.
"Training babies to appreciate a wide variety of foods helps them learn to enjoy vegetables and helps prevent fussy eating – but commercial foods tend to have a limited number of 'safe' flavours because manufacturers are trying to please everyone."
If there's a baby in the family, it's become easier to feed them a broader range of foods at a younger age, thanks to changes to some of the infant feeding advice in the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia.
"There's a new freedom around feeding babies because there are fewer limits on what they can eat," Senior says, explaining that the advice to delay feeding potentially allergenic foods like egg and peanut butter has changed. Unless there's a family history of allergy, you can begin feeding these foods along with other solids at around six months – generally the best time to introduce solids, according to the Dietary Guidelines.
However, in their infant feeding guidelines, the Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy says that some experts suggest four to six months is the optimal time. Either way, whole nuts aren't suitable for babies and small children because of the risk of choking, and honey is off the menu until 12 months because of a risk of botulism.
Another change is an emphasis on introducing iron-rich foods like meat, poultry and fish or lentils and beans as early as six months, along with the usual iron-enriched cereals. The reason, says Senior, is to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia that can compromise a child's intellectual development and immune system.
"Although some parents think that babies can't digest foods like meat and chicken, they're fine if they're pureed," she says.
With salt and sugar, the smart thing is to delay exposure to them for as long as possible so children learn to appreciate natural flavours – that's why it's good to see more commercial baby foods avoiding these flavourings. Still, you can't quarantine kids' taste buds indefinitely – especially with salt in bread – but you can buy lower salt foods (including bread with less than 400mg sodium per 100g) and foods with little or no added sugar.
And use common sense, too, adds Senior: "You want to avoid nutritionally poor sugary foods, but a tiny home baked muffin made with less sugar is fine."
While feeding babies a variety of foods is getting easier in some ways, it can be a source of stress too – some parents have admitted they've given babies their first taste of peanut butter in the local hospital car park rather than at home, just in case there's an allergic reaction.
And if you already have children or are returning to work, preparing special baby meals can become another challenge.
"Using commercial baby food is fine for convenience sometimes, so don't feel guilty about it. But the effort you go to in making fresh wholesome food for your baby will pay off – you can make it easier by cooking baby meals in batches to freeze," Senior says.
"And if you're making family meals like a stir fry, for instance, just remove some of the cooked meat and vegetables for the baby before you add other ingredients.
"It's also great if you can sit down and eat something with your baby so that feeding time is also a social time with a sense of enjoyment around eating."
To find out more about the new Dietary Guidelines go to eatforhealth.gov.au.