Making your own baby food isn’t as daunting as it seems. MH brings you advice from the experts on preparing solids that are both nutritious and appealing for your baby.
WORDS REBECCA WONG
Your little one is finally showing signs that she’s ready for her first taste of solids! After breastfeeding or feeding her milk formula for the past half a year, you may be at a loss on how to get started. As tempting as it is to rely on store bought baby food out of convenience, the benefits of homemade foods are undeniable. “Store bought foods have a shelf life of about two years, suggesting that preservatives are added, or the food is heated to maximum temperatures to increase shelf life, thus taking out nutrients and taste,” notes public health dietitian Li Xinyi. “With homemade baby food, you have full control over what goes into your baby's food, and she can get used to eating the same food as the rest of the family – just in puree form.” With that in mind, we take you on a crash course of baby food-making 101, starting with the basics.
When Can You Start?
Most experts agree that babies may begin consuming solids around six months of age. “However, it’s common for mums to feed their babies puree from four months as some babies can show signs of wanting food besides formula or breast milk,” says Adeline Chan, nutritionist and mother of one. “These signs include loss of tongue-thrust reflex (allowing the baby to swallow liquids with ease without pushing food back out), the ability to sit up and hold her head up unassisted, an interest in food, and the ability to let you know that she’s full from a “meal” with signs like turning away the bottle or breast.”
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Easing Your Baby into Solids
“Milk should still be their staple, but you can start introducing single spoonfuls of a single ingredient food for tasting,” advises Li. “Introduce one new food every three to four days with the aim of giving your baby food from all food groups.” As your baby grows, gradually increase the portion, building up to a small meal that will replace a feed.
Li also recommends avoiding sugar, salt, oil or spice to
encourage your baby to accept natural flavours. You may also monitor
your baby’s weight and length and compare it with infant
growth charts to know if she’s eating enough.
Selecting Ingredients and Foods
In addition to what to avoid, the question on most parents' minds would be which ingredients to choose for maximum nutrition. “I suggest rice cereal fortified with iron, given how babies have iron stores sufficient to last for six months,” says Chan. “As iron content in breast milk is not high, it is necessary for infants to consume iron fortified or iron rich foods during weaning.” It’s also advisable to introduce vegetables thereafter rather than fruits, as a means of starting babies with less sweet food and gradually building their taste buds. As for fruits, healthy options include pumpkin, sweet potatoes (a rich source of Vitamin A), bananas, plums and avocados. “Bananas and plums will help your baby’s bowel movement as they transit a semi liquid diet, and are good sources of potassium and vitamin C respectively. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, providing healthy fats for the baby’s growth,” elaborates Chan.
In the protein department, Chan advises introducing steamed pureed chicken first due to
its softness and easiness to swallow.
Other soft food choices to consider are mashed tofu, cooked and mashed lentils, and finely flaked fish, adds Li. These foods can be pureed or mashed to a smooth texture for babies.
Cooking Methods and Utensils
The most ideal methods for cooking are steaming or dry baking (baking without the use of oil). “Dry baking vegetables is a great way to intensify the flavours of vegetables without adding seasoning, and you can then puree the vegetables with a little water before feeding,” instructs Li. While boiling may seem equally healthy, most agree that the process actually causes foods to lose their nutrients. In contrast, steaming retains the most nutrients of all cooking methods and food can then be pureed with some of the cooking water, Li notes.
When it comes to utensils, there’s no need to go out and splurge on the fanciest or trendiest equipment. It can be as basic as a pot for steaming and a hand masher or blender for mashing the food, and there are also specialised baby food cookers that steam and mash all in one machine, says Serene Choo, mother of two. The baby food cookers steam and puree the food, and is easy to clean, compact and good for travelling.