After my son, Wesley, was born, the idea of making my own baby food seemed natural. After all, I am a dietitian who went to culinary school and cook most of the meals in our household. I want Wesley to develop the same passion for food and health, and by making his meals I feel as though I’m instilling these values. Although making homemade baby food likely is natural to us as RDs, it can be daunting and intimidating to many clients who are first-time parents.
Dietary patterns are established early in life. It’s critical to set good examples and lay the foundation of healthful eating habits right from the start. By educating your clients on how to make their own baby food at home, you’re helping them gain control over what their baby is eating and teach their baby to appreciate and love real, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. Plus, homemade baby food can be tastier, fresher, and cheaper than packaged. With some guidance and tips, you can help your clients gain the confidence and tools to prepare their own nutrient-rich baby food.
Readying the Kitchen
Having the right equipment and tools can ease and simplify the baby food-making process. A sharp knife, a good peeler, a steamer, a food processor or blender, ice cube trays, and storage containers are key tools to have on hand. A food grinder, colander, and masher or ricer also can be helpful gadgets.
Selecting fresh produce is important for nutrition, texture, and flavor. In-season fruits and vegetables tend to be more flavorful than those out of season. However, frozen fruits and vegetables also can be a good choice.
Prepping and Puréeing
Depending on the type of baby food being prepared, produce will need to be washed, peeled (if the skin is thick and could be a choking hazard), and chopped into small pieces. Let clients know that most foods should be cooked to reduce the risk of food poisoning and provide a smoother texture. Bananas, avocadoes, blueberries, pears, and peaches can be eaten raw if puréed to a thin consistency, while most other foods are best when cooked. Steaming, stewing, boiling, and oven baking all are cooking methods clients can use. Foods should be cooked until tender and then puréed into a soft, velvety mash.
When preparing meat, poultry, or fish for use in baby food, clients should remove all bones, skin, connective tissue, gristle, and fat before cooking. Baking, boiling, braising, broiling, roasting, stewing, poaching, and steaming all are good cooking methods, but advise clients not to fry meat. All meat, poultry, and fish should be cooked to a safe temperature and until soft and tender. Meats should be blended to a smooth consistency and can be combined with other foods that the child already has tolerated. Let clients know that warm meat is easier to blend than cold meat.
Thickening and Thinning
Clients can add cooking liquid, water, breast milk, or formula to reach desired texture. A thinner consistency is recommended when first introducing solids. Using some of the water from steaming or boiling the food can provide additional nutrients that have leached during cooking. As the child’s eating skills progress, clients can experiment with chunkier purées and different textures. Lumpier and chewier foods can help develop a baby’s mouth muscles and oral skills.
Avoiding Unhealthful Additives
Advise clients to avoid adding salt and sugar to baby food. Too much salt or sugar can promote a liking for salty and sweet foods, which can have negative effects later in life and promote unhealthful long-term eating habits. Inform clients that honey shouldn’t be introduced in the first year of life, as it may cause infant botulism.
Mixing and Matching
Once the baby has been introduced to a variety of foods individually, clients can have fun making unique combinations. Peas and sweet potatoes, bananas and blueberries, and spinach and avocado are just some examples of great combinations that will help introduce little ones to an array of flavors and textures.
It can be useful for clients to have a go-to supply of foods ready in the freezer for when there’s no time to cook. Making big patches of purées and freezing them in small muffin tins or ice cube trays is a great way to maximize kitchen efficiency. Clients can simply pop a muffin or cube out and defrost it in the fridge or microwave for a quick baby meal.
— Kaley Todd, MS, RDN, is the dietitian for Sun Basket, a healthy meal kit delivery service. In addition, she’s a freelance writer, clinician, culinary and communications specialist, and a new mom. She’s also the founder of Kaley Todd Nutrition at http://kaleytoddnutrition.com.