Why it's better to make your own baby food
Why make your own baby food?
Making your own baby food is a great thing to do. The trouble with shop-bought baby food is that it is a rather one-size-fits-all affair. It has very uniform texture that tends to be on the mushy side, especially throughout each weaning stage, which means the baby doesn’t get a chance to chew. Chewing is essential because it helps develop those muscles around the mouth that are so important for speaking. Every baby matures and learns to manage new textures at different rates. By making your own foods, you can tailor the textures to your own baby’s stage of development.
Additionally, one of the main goals of weaning is that your baby ends up eating the same food as the rest of the family, so making your own baby food gives you the opportunity to introduce them to your way of eating and gives you the chance to experiment with different textures sooner rather than later.
There are also nutritional benefits to making your own baby food. Many of the baby foods you buy have been heat-treated in order to minimise the risk of bacterial growth while they are sitting on a supermarket shelf. Some vitamins are damaged at high temperatures. By cooking your own food at normal household temperatures you are preserving these heat-labile vitamins. For example, you can poach vegetables in hot water to soften them, rather than boiling them which may destroy some vitamins.
Keeping your homemade food safe
There are a few practical issues to think about though, particularly with regards to food hygiene. Once a baby reaches 6 months, you no longer need to boil their water to sterilise it, or their utensils (if formula feeding you should continue to sterilise bottles as directed), but you do need to follow basic food hygiene practices to limit the possibility of food poisoning. It is particularly important with babies as their stomachs aren’t fully able to battle all bacteria and some infections can be serious at that age.
Always wash your hands before cooking or feeding your baby; avoid contamination from raw meat and fish by using separate utensils and chopping boards for them; make sure food has been cooked so it is piping hot all the way through before serving it. Storage of food is just as important: keep raw meat at the bottom of the fridge so blood can’t drip down on to other food; and make sure you throw food out if it is past it’s use-by date.
Getting the most out of purees and mash
To give your baby the most from pureed or mashed foods there’s a few golden rules to follow. To avoid the issue with homogenised textures and flavours that you get with commercial baby food, it is important to blend food in its separate constituents. For example, a cottage pie and peas should have blended mince, mashed potato and peas separately rather than a beige uniform mass of mush! Remember though, if you are waiting until 6 months to introduce solids, most babies will be past the puree stage and can manage fork-mashed consistencies easily as well. To start with you may want to thin purees with a bit of breast or formula milk, or some of the cooking water.
Healthy eating guidelines
Babies and toddlers have different healthy eating recommendations to adults. Under the age of two years you should avoid giving low fat versions of food as they don’t have enough energy and do not contain all the necessary fat-soluble vitamins that a baby needs. It’s also important to remember that a baby’s organs are not fully matured so can’t cope with much salt. Salt is in everything: bread, cheese, milk, tinned food, ready-prepared sauces and meals, stock cubes and gravy so check the labels and limit your baby's intake to less than 1g per day. Don’t add salt in cooking or at the table.
Sugar is also in a lot of things and while a little is tasty, it is important that your baby learns to enjoy savoury flavours too so try to add as little as possible and when you are making sweet dishes, use grated apple or some other fruit to sweeten it. Honey must be avoided until 12 months as it can sometimes harbour bacteria that can be fatal to babies. Whole nuts are a choking hazard.
What different textures are there to try?
As mentioned above, all babies develop at different rates so it’s difficult to state what age your baby should be given what. It is far better to eat with your baby and experiment with different textures as your baby develops. Signs your baby might not be ready for a texture are the food coming straight back out repeatedly, and coughing and spluttering. Don’t worry about them gagging, this is all part of the learning to eat process and is a natural reflex and not the same as choking. If your baby is choking, their whole windpipe will be blocked and they won’t be able to cough or make any sound, if they are coughing it means a little bit has gone down the wrong way and is not life threatening!
A general texture-progression would be:
Puree, mashed, tacky/sticky (like cream cheese, peanut butter, houmous, cream icing) to...
Mixed textures (like yogurt with bits of fruit, soup with vegetable lumps, pasta in thin sauce) to...
Bite-and-dissolve (like rusks, wafers, quavers/skips/wotsits crisps), bite & crumble (like biscuits) to...
Bite & chew easily (like bread or cake) to...
Bite & lump (like raw apple, raw carrots, whole grapes) to...
Bite & splinter (like bread-sticks, crackers, popadoms).
Remember many babies power through this list so don’t feel you have to stick at puree. If you find they aren’t able to cope with a particular texture, leave it a week and try again.
Always sit with your baby and monitor them when introducing new textures.