There’s absolutely no need to fork out for expensive puréed baby foods. Here’s how to make your own
Making your own baby food is easy and economical and best of all, you know exactly what goes into it. You can use fresh fruit and vegetables, grains and meat to make sure your baby gets the best foundation for a lifetime of good health and healthy food choices.
There are other benefits to making your own baby food. One is that you can get your baby eating milder versions of the same food that the rest of the family is eating. This means you don’t have to cook separate meals for the different age groups in your family.
Another benefit is that your baby gets used to a variety of flavours when he’s eating what the rest of the family is eating. This may pay off during the picky toddler years.
What you need
Many new mothers think they need complicated equipment to make baby food. The truth is that most of the time, all you need is a pot, bowl and fork.
For the very first bites your baby will take, you might also need a sieve and tablespoon to purée his food finely, as you “stir” it through the sieve. If you want to get fancy you can use a blender, handheld blender or food processor.
First of all, wash your hands, the food and all the bowls and equipment that you’ll be using. Wash the fresh fruit and/or vegetables too.
To maintain as many of the nutrients as possible, it is best to steam or bake fruit and veggies that need to be softened in order for your baby to eat them. If you have to boil them, use as little water as possible, and add some of the cooking liquid back into the food when you purée it.
The great news is that there are many foods you can give your baby that you don’t even have to cook. These include bananas, avocados, paw paws and even soft pears.
Start by giving your baby just one food, such as carrot purée, for three days in a row before introducing the next taste. This is a safe method if there’s any history of allergies in your family, but nutritionists now agree that it’s not necessary to be so fastidious if there’s no danger of allergies.
However, if your baby develops a rash, or projectile vomits after eating, stop all solid meals for a day or two and then slowly reintroduce each food separately in order to find the culprit.
New moms have been told for years that the best first food for their babies is rice cereal mixed with breastmilk or a little formula. This is because rice is gluten-free and unlikely to cause any allergies.
Research now shows, however, that white rice digests too quickly, raising your baby’s blood glucose levels. Instead, find a brown rice cereal, or make your own brown rice purée by boiling well-rinsed brown rice and filtered water together for about 40 minutes. Then purée using some of the cooking liquid to thin the purée. Or start weaning with simple fruit or vegetable purées at lunch time, rather than porridge.
Buy either the freshest fruit and vegetables, or use frozen. Use fresh produce as soon as you can, because it starts losing some of its nutritional value as soon as it’s harvested, and the sooner you use it, the more you get out of it.
What to avoid
Never add salt or sugar to your baby’s food, as his kidneys can’t yet handle these. Also, don’t give babies younger than one year any honey, as there is a rare chance of botulism infection.
Honey is a known source of bacterial spores that produce Clostridium Botulinum bacteria. When ingested by infants, these bacteria make a toxin that can cause infant botulism, a rare and serious form of food poisoning.
Nitrates can pose a concern. Fruit and vegetables that are not organically grown may contain nitrates because of the chemical fertilisers used on these crops. Babies who ingest an unsafe level of nitrates can develop a type of anaemia called methemoglobinemia. Washing the fruit and vegetables well will help avoid this altogether.
Some babies battle to digest corn and a few are even allergic to it. Others have trouble with wind after eating broccoli or cauliflower, so you may want to delay introducing these vegetables.
Getting the balance right
Remember learning about the food pyramid at school? Well, this is still the best way to judge a balanced meal.
Health and nutrition expert Prof Nola Dippenaar says, “Whole grains and plant oils, especially extra virgin olive oil, should be the main ingredients of every meal. Then we need fruit and vegetables in abundance, at least five servings a day, but some of the latest research suggests we need as many as nine portions.
“We also need one to three servings of nuts and legumes, one to two servings of dairy and up to two servings of fish, poultry and eggs.
“Right at the top of the pyramid is red meat and butter, as well as refined carbohydrates such as white bread, biscuits, white rice and potatoes. These foods should form the smallest percentage of your and your baby’s diet.”
Freezing baby foods
The best way to freeze the foods you’ve made – especially in the beginning when your baby eats very little – is to freeze them in ice trays. The best kind to use are the ones that you can twist once frozen.
Cook and purée your baby’s food, then spoon into the ice cube trays. Cover and allow to cool completely, then freeze until set hard. Once frozen, you can decant the cubes into sealed plastic bags.
Make sure to write the date on the bag so you don’t feed your baby expired purée. Fruit purées can be frozen for up to six months, vegetable purées and purées containing meat for three months, while fish, grains and pulses should only be kept in your freezer for up to two months.
When you want to use some of your frozen purées, take a cube or two out of the freezer bag and let it defrost at room temperature for one to two hours. This, of course, is the ideal, but as we all know the life of any mother does not operate ideally!
So here’s what you do in a pinch: place a small ceramic bowl inside a bigger bowl half filled with boiling water. Place the frozen purée in the smaller inner bowl. The heat from the boiling water in the other bowl will help defrost the purée faster.
Avoid defrosting or heating purée in a microwave, because it causes hot spots that will burn your baby’s mouth.
Never refreeze defrosted food, and don’t reheat food more than once. Also make sure that the food is no warmer than body temperature (test it on your skin the same way you would test if formula is the right temperature).
Prof Nola Dippenaar, www.healthinsight.co.za, 082 9000 970
Optimum Nutrition for your Child's Mind, Patrick Holford and Deborah Colson
All recipes from Optimum Nutrition for Babies and Young Children, Lucy Burney and Organic Baby and Toddler Foods, Amanda Grant