As a mom to a 23-month-old and an eight-month-old who made all my own food for both babies, I was interested to read what Tamika Gardner had to say in her Crib Sheet on introducing solid foods. I agreed with so much she said, and I can honestly say I incorporated all of these into my feeding both children.@x13">
Getting a Solid Start
Knowing when to start baby food was a question I asked often with our firstborn, so I was glad to see that Tamika addressed that. I thought there would be a specific answer, but what I’ve found is that there really is no set timeline or guide that works for every kid. My first was ready at five months, and my second ready at about four and a half. Neither of my children were preemies, so there was no concern that they needed to wait past that six-month mark. The thing that stood out for both was that they suddenly became interested at the table. They would grab for my spoon or plate, and often I felt like I was fighting them away from my dinner. With both of my kids, when I noticed that they no longer had the tongue reflex to push foreign objects out of their mouths, I knew they were ready.
Foods for Starters
There are so many books out there about very best food to give your baby first. I did and still do see these as mere recommendations. Giving a fruit or a vegetable in any order isn’t going to encourage or dissuade a sweet tooth. We naturally started with rice cereal, but then moved on to bananas, sweet potatoes, green beans, etc. When my firstborn went on a food strike at nine months and the only thing I could get her to eat for two months was bananas, I just mixed in avocado so I knew she was getting plenty of good fats. It all worked out in the end, and she started eating again without any problem. We also started safe finger foods early to improve that pincer grasp! My eight-month-old is now pro at picking up little bits of soft bread, steamed carrots, and chopped-up noodles.
Iron and Fat Are Necessary
As Tamika said, babies need iron, especially after that six-month mark when their iron stores from birth are depleted. We tried fortified rice cereal, but even more iron-laden and easily absorbable is beef stock. We make beef stock by throwing oxtail and a little water in a slow cooker for up to eight hours, and then freezing the stock. It’s easy to pop out a cube of stock from an ice cube tray and mix it in with veggie purees. I do use rice cereal often as a base for fruit purees.
One Food and Tablespoon at a Time
Try each new food for several days without anything else to look for any signs of an allergic reaction, which could be as simple as a little diaper rash. This is very important in the beginning, since you don’t want to have a reaction and not be able to distinguish what caused it.
Make Your Own Baby Food
The question I get most often about making my own baby food is, "Do you really make everything?" The answer is, YES! I often ask, "Why not?" Because I can usually debunk whatever notion the person has of it being difficult. I simply spend an afternoon baking potatoes, cooking apples on the stove, steaming carrots, and puree it all. I toss it in the freezer. In one afternoon of making six to eight varieties of purees, I can feed my baby for four to eight weeks, depending on the amount I make.
As Tamika points out, so many foods don't even need to be steamed or roasted beforehand. You can give a ton of purees on the spot without any prep involved: Mash a banana, avocado, or kiwi, and you have lunch! Of course, everyone needs backup sometimes. I buy organic peach applesauce and mix it with rice cereal or whole milk plain yogurt
At the same time, remember that babies don't eat baby food for years -- they eat it for months. My firstborn started at five months, and was on to finger foods and eating slightly altered versions of our dinners by 11 months. My second started at four months. She is now eight months, and already moving away from purees and on to many of the things we eat, including rice and steamed carrots.
The only place that can be a challenge is restaurants if you don't want to carry your own purees. You can order from the salad bar and let kids suck on apple slices, carrots, or cucumbers, or order a toddler applesauce and feed them more when you get home. My husband and I always make sure we order a healthy side dish of fruit or veggies the little ones can eat.
How to Create a Balanced Meal
It’s always been important to us to create a balanced diet for our kids. The pediatrician told us that a balanced diet was better than any daily vitamin tablet, and I took that to heart. If I found that a baby didn’t want a particular food after several attempts at a vegetable that I felt was important, such as green peas, then I would simply mix it with something -- such as carrots or sweet potatoes -- in an effort to get it in the diet. That has always worked for us. With each baby, I kept a list of what foods they had tried and what I wanted to cook for them next and that really helped keep us to stay on track and keep the diet varied. One trick I learned was to simply let them hold the spoon! Both of my babies boycotted foods when they decided they wanted to be in control, so I did a little trickery and gave them a spoon to hold and suck on and intermittently spoon food in while they were playing with it.
Skip the Honey and Buy Organic
As Tamika says, there is never a reason to add honey to a baby's diet in the first year since it poses such a health risk. I also agreed with her when it came to choosing organic options. One of the most important reasons for us to make our own baby food was so that we knew what was in it! You can buy everything organic or just the "dirty dozen," you can cook it how you wish, and you can choose how long it sits in your freezer. Am I a stickler for everything organic? No. Absolutely not. I let them eat fruits and veggies at restaurants. But I limit exposure to pesticides as much as possible, and that starts at home with making my own baby food.
Encourage a Love for Healthy Food
Another big question we get is, "Don't you allow anything fun?" Of course! They get to taste things just like any other kid. The only thing we restrict is sugar. We give candy and treats just like everyone else, but everything in moderation. The biggest treat in our house is that I keep a bar of dark chocolate above our spice cabinet, and we all get a little square (or two) after dinner. Of course, I do plenty of baking, but my toddler knows that the chocolate bar is a treat. She loves dark chocolate. And to my credit, she will usually try new foods due to the way we’ve taught her to eat. She even likes my juices of kale and carrot, as long as they have apple in them (dilute juices with water for babies!). Do I get picky eating days? Absolutely. I know that's normal with kids, but I also try and try and try again. I never give up on offering a food over and over until they really get the chance to tell if they like it or not.
So what do you think about making your own baby food? What is the biggest challenge for you?
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