January 2011 Issue
Make Yourself at Home — With a Little Guidance, Parents Can Prepare Their Own Foods for Baby
By Lindsey Getz
Vol. 13 No. 1 P. 50
Reaching the big milestone of a baby’s first foods can be both exciting and intimidating for parents. After all, up until this point, all a mom had to worry about (nutritionally speaking) was whether her baby was getting enough breast milk or formula. Adding solids to the mix can generate many new questions: Is the baby getting enough to eat? Is he or she getting the right nutrients? Should I buy baby food or make my own?
In recent years, the latter question has received increasing attention as moms have become interested in preparing their own foods. It’s an area in which dietitians can truly help.
Commercial Food Remains a Good Option
Over the years, commercial baby foods have come a long way. Today parents have many varieties from which to choose, and they can expose their babies to a variety of fruits and vegetables. It’s important for parents who go the store-bought route to realize that they’re still able to offer their babies good nutrition, even if they’re not making the food themselves.
“My main goal is to make sure the baby gets adequate nutrition, no matter which route parents take,” says Tara Harwood, MS, RD, LD, a pediatric dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “If they choose to do store-bought food, that’s certainly OK. Those foods can still give the baby what he or she needs.”
Harwood says dietitians should recommend that their clients take some time to read store-bought food labels. “Generic brands can be just as healthy as some of the brand-name foods. You just need to take that minute or two to look at the ingredients,” she advises. “The fewer ingredients, the better.”
Molly Morgan, RD, CDN, owner of Creative Nutrition Solutions, agrees that store-bought baby foods can be a good option. “In fact, a bonus is that they are made in a factory setting that uses stringent sanitation practices,” she says.
Harwood adds that commercial foods can sometimes be the better option for picky eaters. “The consistency is the same each time, and foods are well puréed,” she says. “Some kids can be sensitive when first figuring out new tastes and textures and can have a strong gag reflex. But as parents who make [baby food] themselves get the hang of doing it, they’ll start to develop better consistency as well.”
The Do-It-Yourself Trend
While commercial foods have made many advances, there has been a growing trend toward preparing foods at home—for a variety of reasons. Parents who make their own food have complete control over the ingredients, making homemade food a good option for infants with allergies or intolerances. Some parents also worry about preservatives that may be added to some commercial foods. Others complain that commercial varieties are too bland. In addition, home-making food can save money. “For example, one banana costs only about 22 cents,” says Morgan, who made her own baby food for her two young children. “That can make about two to three jars’ worth of baby food.”
One of the biggest reasons parents shy away from making their own food is because they believe it’s difficult and time consuming, but both Morgan and Harwood stress that this isn’t the case. Morgan offers the steps involved:
• First, the parent should wash his or her hands thoroughly and then wash the fruit or vegetable thoroughly.
• Steam or microwave the fruit or vegetable until tender, then let it cool slightly and transfer to a blender or food processor.
• Add 1 T of water and then purée until smooth. Depending on the amount of food, it may be necessary to add more water, but just 1 T at a time until reaching the desired consistency.
As for storing, Morgan recommends keeping some in labeled containers in the refrigerator and placing the remainder in ice cube trays for freezing. “Once they are frozen, you can transfer the cubes to labeled freezer bags or storage containers with the type of food and date,” she recommends. Typically one or two cubes will make a meal, depending on baby’s age and appetite.
Harwood says in terms of guidelines, the same rules apply whether parents are feeding their child commercial or homemade food. “For instance, make sure you’re introducing one single-ingredient food at a time,” she advises. “Don’t do combinations until the child has already had both foods and you’re sure there is no allergic reaction. Parents should introduce one new food about every four days.”
Parents also shouldn’t push solids too early. Babies should be fed breast milk or formula exclusively for the first four to six months. Most pediatricians recommend starting with a single-ingredient, iron-fortified rice cereal as the first step toward solid eating. Morgan recommends that parents opt for the store-bought baby cereals. “Even if you’re going to make your own baby food, I still suggest buying the rice or oatmeal cereals because they are properly fortified for your little one,” she says.
As for tips, Harwood suggests that RDs encourage their clients to visit local farmers’ markets. “You can find some really nice organic produce that’s grown locally and is wonderful for homemade baby food,” she says. “You may even find your local farmers’ market is making their own baby food purées.”
Morgan says RDs can direct their clients to a USDA resource that outlines the specifics on food safety and properly handling homemade baby food at www.fns.usda.gov/TN/Resources/feedinginfants-ch12.pdf. In addition, Harwood suggests that parents follow the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics if they have any questions about introducing solids (www.aap.org).
Satisfying Dietary Needs Is Most Important
Whether parents opt for store bought or homemade, the bottom line is that they must fulfill their child’s dietary requirements. Harwood advises not getting caught up in the commercial vs. homemade debate: “Parents should make the decision that best suits their needs and their lifestyle, but the most important thing is that your baby is getting the energy to grow and develop.”
— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.
Homemade, With Love
Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler, a new book from Chef Geoff Tracy and his wife, chief Washington correspondent and MSNBC anchor Norah O’Donnell, has been generating a lot of buzz. In the recent release, the duo tackles homemade, healthful baby foods.
“Right from the very beginning, there was no question I was going to make our kids’ own food,” says Tracy, a father of three. “When my wife saw how quick and easy it was, she said we had to do a book on it to encourage others to do the same.”
Tracy says he knew he was headed in the right direction when talking to another dad on the playground. “He told me that when he fed his child a jar of baby food, he had to hold his nose,” says Tracy. “Vegetable purées should not smell bad. The jarred food just isn’t as fresh and delicious as food should be. Mothers breast-feed their children and go through all the effort that requires, like pumping, making sure they’re giving their child the very best. But at six months, they just jump to doing jarred food? There’s a better way!”
That “better way” is detailed in the book, which is packed with easy, healthful recipes for babies through toddlers, along with simple techniques and sanitation tips to keep it safe. We’ve included the recipe for Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Raisin, which is recommended for children aged 8 months and older. Consider sharing it with your clients, who just might find themselves sneaking a bite of their own for breakfast.
Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Raisin
Yields 36 oz, 8+ months
½ cup golden raisins
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
12 oz water or apple juice
½ cup baby oatmeal cereal
Wash and peel the apples (peeling is optional). Cut each apple in half. Remove the seeds and stem with a melon baller.
Cut each half into six pieces. Put the apple pieces, raisins, cinnamon, and water into a 4-qt pot. Turn the burner on high and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 7 minutes, stirring once. Add the oatmeal and cook for 1 minute more, stirring throughout the final minute. Pour everything into blender. Puree until smooth. Pour into two ice cube trays and allow to cool. Wrap and freeze.
— From Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler by Norah O’Donnell and Chef Geoff Tracy, copyright © 2010 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC