Benefits of making baby food from scratch

Benefits of making baby food from scratch

Even without a baby in the house I sometimes walk through the baby food aisle as some of those foods and flavours look delicious (they typically don’t taste that great, I know!). Some sound more like a dessert (peaches and custard), while others contain all types of healthy ingredients like coconut, Rooibos, vanilla and chia seeds. They come in fancy pouches with professionally designed packaging. Makes my home-made baby food sound just bleh.

But despite what it may sound and look like, bottled baby food still does not offer the same quality nutrients that fresh foods provide. Prepared foods have higher sugar content and often contain other additives. Mostly it does not even taste like the real thing.

So while you can certainly keep some bottled foods for emergencies or when you are going out, you should try to make the majority of what your baby eats at home.

And I can almost hear all the readers sigh! Because you do know this, but life is just so busy and making baby food is time-consuming, and what if you do it wrong and your baby doesn’t get all he needs? The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few tips and the right tools, you will not only rock in the baby-kitchen but will save lots of money as well.

Below are some tips for preparing food at home.

Baby food hygiene

  • Wash fruits and veggies well before cooking.
  • Meat, fish and chicken should be cooked well-done before serving.
  • Wash your hands before handling baby’s food, and wash baby’s hands before eating.
  • Choose food from credible suppliers.

Which foods to give?

This will depend on your baby’s age.

  • For the first two months of feeding, stick to vegetables and fruits. Start with some veggie flavours first, and then introduce the sweeter fruit options.
  • You can introduce your baby to all the fruits and veggies from the very start, even non-traditional baby food like spinach and beans. Try to add a new taste every 2-3 days, as variety early on may help them to eat better when they grow older.
  • After about two months of feeding, once baby’s gut has adapted a bit, and once baby is having a good variety of fruits and veggies, you can add starches like oats, maize and maltabella porridge.
  • You should also now start adding protein to baby’s diet, as they need this to grow. They also need to get iron from their diets after 6 months of age, and the main source of iron is animal protein like meat, chicken and liver. Start adding in small amounts with baby’s vegetables.
  • When your baby reaches 9 months of age you should really be at a point where they are eating from all the food categories.
  • Where possible, pick organic and free range produce to limit baby’s exposure to pesticides, chemicals, and growth hormones.

How to prepare your own baby food

  • You will initially start with smooth purees, progressing to soft mashes, then chunky textures and eventually, by the age of one year, finger foods. Some babies prefer more textured food from the onset.
  • Soft fruits can be pureed, mashed or cut into pieces just before serving, while harder fruits like apples and pears can be steamed first to soften.
  • Vegetables can be steamed or cooked first, and then pureed.
  • When cooking food, use very little water and blend that water into the food as many of the nutrients will dissolve in the water during the cooking process.
  • Save time by preparing extra and freeze in air-tight, BPA-free containers for future use.
  • Vegetables can be frozen for three months and meat/fish/chicken for two months before use.
  • Food should initially be served at more or less body temperature (37°C). This temperature can increase a bit as baby grows older.

What about flavouring food?

When you start to feed your baby, a whole new world of flavour and texture opens up. Sugar, salt and artificial flavourings are unhealthy and can lead to poor eating habits and long-term health problems such as obesity and diabetes.  These additives also mask the tastes of food completely, and spoils the palate so that you eventually prefer their rather overwhelming flavours.

You should not add any salt or sugar to a baby’s food below one year. After a year they can eat with the family, but even then it should be used with some caution (and not only for babies).

But this does not mean that your baby’s diet should be bland. Once baby has settled on a variety of foods and is eating well, you can start experimenting. Adding some herbs and spices for culinary excitement will expand baby’s palate and make feeding time more enjoyable. So sprinkle some cinnamon over steamed apple, roast baby marrow with smoked Spanish paprika, add a dash of lemon juice to fish, and experiment with some herbs together with their proteins (which otherwise does not taste too great). Some little ones may even like mild spicy foods.

Some cautions

  • Do not give honey to babies under a year, as it may contain the bacteria causing botulism, a rare but very serious disease.
  • Never give babies cow’s or soy milk before one year of age, as their bodies cannot yet handle the protein and mineral content.
  • No low-fat foods should be served to children under two years of age.
  • Speak to a dietician if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet as you will need to plan baby’s feeds very carefully to prevent shortages. Baby may also need supplements like Vit B12 which is not found in plant sources.
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Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.