Breastfeeding is recommended exclusively until six months of age and along with solid foods until at least one year of age. Talk with your pediatrician about the best time for your baby to start solids and how to introduce them. Monitoring for possible food reactions is especially important, as is providing foods that contribute key nutrients like protein, iron and zinc.
If your little one is ready for solid foods, you have numerous nutritious options at the supermarket, such as iron-fortified cereal, to feed your baby. And, if you prepare homemade baby food, you have even more variety: Not only can you pick from an assortment of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, but you can also use frozen veggies and fruits canned in their own juices.
Making your own food can help expose babies to more flavors, which may help them become more adventurous eaters. Furthermore, by managing added sugars and salt, you're in greater control of your baby's nutrition.
Follow these guidelines if you choose to prepare homemade baby food:
If you are interested in preparing your own baby food but find the idea daunting, start with just a few homemade items. Mashing a very ripe avocado or banana is a good place to begin. After your baby responds well, you can try preparing nutrient-rich foods that might not be as common in the baby food aisle, such as beets, broccoli, turnips, asparagus, spinach, blueberries, kale, mango and papaya. Just be sure to mash or puree the foods for your baby and serve only one new single ingredient food at a time.
Use items that are in season or foods that you’re preparing for the rest of the family, but without the added sugars, salt and seasonings. Everyone in the family will get to enjoy the same nutritious foods, which will save you time and effort.
Be vigilant about sanitation. Use only well-scrubbed and washed produce, clean hands, utensils, cutting boards and countertops.
- Wash and peel produce and remove any seeds or pits. Take special care with fruits and vegetables that are grown close to the ground as they may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum or contain other harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
- Cook food until it's very tender. Steaming and microwaving in just a little water are good methods to retain vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables. When cooking meats and fish, remove all gristle, skin and bones before cooking.
- Puree or mash fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juice. Never add honey to foods or drinks for children under 12 months, as it may contain Clostridium botulinum spores. Also avoid adding corn syrup or other sweeteners as they only provide extra calories but not nutrients.
- Make sure the texture and temperature are appropriate. Some foods pose a choking risk and are not recommended for infants, such as whole grapes, raisins, and pieces of hot dog. Pureed foods can be thinned, if needed, by adding breastmilk, formula, or water. Cow’s milk and milk alternatives should not be used during the first year. After warming solid foods, be sure to mix thoroughly and recheck the temperature so as not to burn the infant’s mouth.
- Cook eggs, meats and poultry until well done. Babies are especially susceptible to food poisoning caused by eating undercooked meats, poultry and eggs. Be certain that all meats and fish are cooked to proper temperatures; 145°F for fish and whole cuts of beef and pork, 160°F for ground beef and egg dishes and 165°F for all types of chicken and poultry or leftovers.
- For convenience, freeze prepared baby food for later use. Freeze it in small portions in a clean ice cube tray. Once frozen, put the cubes into clean, airtight, freezer-safe food containers for single-serving portions. As another method, use the "plop and freeze" technique: plop meal-size spoonfuls of pureed food onto a cookie sheet, freeze, then transfer the frozen baby food to clean freezer-safe containers for storage in the freezer.
- If you're cooking the same food for the rest of the family, remove the baby's portion before adding salt and seasonings. A baby's taste buds can be very sensitive. As the baby grows and becomes more used to table food, feel free to add seasonings other than salt.
Keeping Baby Safe
Preparing homemade baby food requires extra care to keep baby's food safe and to retain the nutrients from fresh foods. After you've prepared the food, either serve it or refrigerate it right away. Keep homemade baby food in a covered container for one or two days in the refrigerator or one to two months in the freezer with a label and date. Small portions served in separate dishes are ideal because any food that was served, but not eaten, must be thrown out. Bacteria thrive in the mouth, so if a spoon goes into the baby's mouth and then touches the food, that food should not be saved for later.