Parents (and grandparents) are always eager to start babies on solid food. The most common question for pediatricians: when can we start? And one that always follows: what food should we use? Many moms and dads also want to skip the baby food aisle and prepare meals at home. And why not? Weren’t humans feeding babies long before the invention of glass jars and supermarkets? Of course, they were! And you can too…
Best Time to Start
The best time to start solid foods is when your baby is ready to eat them. Important skills include sitting up with little support, maintaining good head control for the duration of a meal, interest in eating solid foods (evidenced by reaching for food on YOUR plate and opening wide for a taste from YOUR spoon), and the ability to clamp his mouth closed and turn his head when he’s full… or not hungry. Most babies consistently demonstrate these skills around 6 months of age.
What Food Should We Use?
It’s best to start with simple, bland foods with a pureed consistency—things like cereals, vegetables and fruit. The exact order you introduce items isn’t important, although many babies are more willing to accept vegetables if you introduce them before fruits and when he or she is really hungry. Add meats and combination meals when your child has demonstrated expert skills at the table.
Advantages of Homemade Baby Food
Let’s face it… commercial baby food is expensive, and many parents question the quality of ingredients in the jar. Growing or buying your own food saves money and introduces a new quality-control manager: you! In addition, homemade baby food provides convenience, flexibility and more choices. Your baby can participate in the family meal with pureed unseasoned versions of the same food on your plate. Plus, have you ever seen pureed cantaloupe, avocado, asparagus, or cauliflower in the baby food aisle? While these (and others) are beginning to appear, they may be difficult to find.
Disadvantages of Homemade Baby Food
Preparing homemade baby food takes time, and buying organic produce may not save quite as much money as you’d like. Storing homemade baby food requires freezer or refrigerator space and it spoils faster than food you buy in a jar. There are also some rare safety concerns in the form of nitrates and botulism (which I covered in previous blog posts).
What About Food Allergies?
There was a time when pediatricians universally recommended waiting until one-year-of-age before introducing foods commonly associated with food allergies—things like strawberries, peanuts, eggs and fish. This recommendation changed in 2008 when the American Academy of Pediatrics cited a lack of scientific evidence that avoidance of certain foods until a specific age resulted in a change (for better or worse) in the incidence of food-related allergies. Of course, if your child demonstrates an allergy to a specific food… or if there is a strong family history of a particular food allergy… then your child’s doctor may recommend a restriction.
So How Do We Do It?
Making baby food at home isn’t rocket science. It involves two main goals: keep bad stuff out and make sure your child doesn’t choke. For parents who like a set of instructions, here’s one to get you started.
Wash and rinse your hands, equipment and produce.
Peel fruits and vegetables. Remove stems, pits and seeds.
For food that requires cooking… bake, steam, roast or microwave until tender.
When your child is ready for meat… remove skin, fat, bone and connective tissues. Cook fully (no pink).
In the beginning, add a little water, breast milk, or infant formula and puree with a food processor.
As your baby becomes comfortable with textures, introduce mashed items.
Next (usually around 9 months of age), introduce very small pieces of food (smaller than a dime).
Finally, introduce self-feeding with finger foods. These should be soft and easy to swallow.
Dr Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.
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