Homemade baby food is an appealing option for parents who want to know exactly what they are feeding their baby. Preparing baby food at home is often less challenging than one might think. Baby food made from scratch doesn’t have to be more complicated than cooking simple and nutritious foods, and then blending those foods so they are easy for your child to eat. At its easiest, homemade baby food can be as simple as peeling a banana or slicing a ripe avocado.
When should I introduce solid food into my child’s diet?
You can meet your infant’s nutrient needs exclusively via breast milk and/or iron-fortified infant formula up until about six months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until babies reach six months before introducing solid foods. However, many pediatricians advise starting solid foods earlier, between four and six months old. You should never offer solid food to infants younger than four months of age. Signs that a baby is ready to begin solid foods include:
- od head control
- Loses reflex to push food out of the mouth
- Sits upright
- Makes chewing motions
- Has doubled birth weight and is at least 4 months old
- Seems hungry, even with eight to 10 feedings of breast milk or formula per day
- Is curious about what others are eating
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What solid foods should I try first?
To meet the nutrient demands for infant growth, the first solid food offered should be an iron-fortified infant cereal (oat-based), mixed with breast milk or infant formula, and fed with a spoon.
Parents are then advised to introduce solid foods one at a time (rather than in the form of food mixtures or infant dinners). Ideally, new foods should be spaced out by about three to five days, in order to watch for any food intolerances or allergic reactions.
Smooth purees are initially recommended to help ease a baby into eating solid foods. Once a baby has mastered purees, food textures can be increased slowly and steadily by blending food into coarser purees, then moving on to chunkier and lumpier textures, and finally progressing to fork-mashed and soft finger foods.
Cooked foods, such as French fry-sized pieces of manes, melons, and cucumbers, may also be offered for a baby to gnaw on as soon as he or she is able to sit without assistance and pick up food independently.
Is it cheaper to make my own baby food?
Many parents elect to make their own baby food for economic reasons. Homemade baby food is much cheaper than store-bought, particularly when it is cooked and stored in large batches. For example, a large sweet potato costs about $1 and can yield three to four servings for a baby. Four jars of commercial baby food cost approximately double that price. This cost difference adds up considerably when you calculate how much baby food will be eaten during an infant’s first year.
The choice to make homemade baby food is also likely to expose a baby to a greater variety of foods, helps the child become accustomed to eating the same foods as the rest of the family. It can also save space in the refrigerator and freezer. Many parents like to create their own food combinations, rather than rely solely on the flavors sold by manufacturers.
Tips to Make Your Own Baby Food
If you make some or all of your baby’s food, it is essential to start with basic food safety measures. Clean all food preparation surfaces, utensils, equipment, and linens thoroughly, and wash your hands very well. If you purchase fresh produce, try to use what you buy within a few days. Scrub all fresh fruits and vegetables, and then peel off any skin, seeds, or membranes. You may also opt for frozen produce. Many frozen fruits and vegetables are flash-frozen immediately after being picked, so few nutrients are lost in the freezing process. However, frozen produce does not usually produce vibrant colors and flavors like fresh produce.
Bake, steam, roast, boil, or microwave the selected food until tender. Brown ground meats and poultry with a small amount of canola or extra-virgin olive oil until no pink areas are visible. After browning, drain the excess fat and remove any skin or connective tissue. Boneless, skinless fish (either fresh or defrosted frozen) can be cooked in a steamer basket for five to 10 minutes, or until it flakes easily. Double-check for bones after cooking. Eggs must be cooked until the yolks are firm. Legumes and tofu (preferably silken) generally do not need to be cooked prior to serving. Look for low-sodium canned beans, and then drain and rinse well in a colander.
Combine the cooked food(s) with a little liquid, such as water, breastmilk, infant formula, or low-sodium broth. When preparing meat, poultry, or fish, a good rule of thumb is to add one cup of steaming water or low-sodium broth for every eight ounces of raw animal protein. Various types of kitchen equipment can then be used to puree, grind, process, or mash the food into the desired texture. Examples of possible tools for this step include:
- Baby Food Maker – An all-in-one tool that first steams food (fruits, vegetables, meats/poultry) and then purees the cooked food. Some models also defrost and/or reheat previously prepared food.
- Blender or Food Processor – Often already available in a home kitchen, most blenders/food processors have a few different settings (to create different textures) and can frequently be disassembled and washed in the dishwasher. Some parents find these to be cumbersome and don’t like the amount of cleanup required for small jobs.
- Hand Blender or Immersion Blender – A handheld electric gadget that is placed submerged into food takes up less space and requires less clean-up than a conventional blender.
- Hand-Turned Food Mill – Portable and non-electric, a food mill typically includes multiple blades to create different food textures.
- Baby-Food Grinder – Non-electric, portable, and very inexpensive will break down food, but does not usually offer a choice of food textures.
- Fork or Potato Masher – Can easily mash foods such as bananas, avocados, and papayas for a baby.
Baby food does not need to be bland. Babies can tolerate and enjoy different flavors. Mild seasonings can be added to homemade food to enhance the taste. Do not add sugar or salt to foods prepared for babies and toddlers. Infants and young children do not need any extra sugar and their kidneys cannot handle the extra sodium. Honey should never be added to a child’s food before 12 months of age, as honey can contain botulism spores and cause a potentially fatal form of food poisoning. If you are preparing an especially spicy dish, it is likely best to reserve a portion for your baby before the spices are added.
Ensure that any food offered to young children is always moist, soft, and juicy. This is necessary to minimize the risk of choking. Infants and toddlers also tend to reject anything stringy, dry, or tough.
Serve baby food no warmer than body temperature. Use caution if heating meals in the microwave, as microwaves can heat food unevenly and create “hot spots.” Stir microwaved food well and allow it to sit for a few minutes prior to serving.
Only dish out the amount of food that you anticipate your baby will eat in a single feeding. Once a utensil has gone into the baby’s mouth and back into the remaining food, bacteria can grow. Any leftover food that has had contact with your baby’s saliva needs to be thrown out.
Homemade baby food should not be left at room temperature for extended periods of time. Any food that has been kept at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and use within about three days.
Do not hesitate to make large batches of baby food at once. You can easily make one month’s worth of food by preparing three to four fruits or veggies at one time. There are numerous types of storage containers sold specifically for refrigerating and freezing small servings of homemade baby food.
You can also divide the prepared food into ice cube trays and place these in the freezer. Once the cubes are frozen solid, transfer them from the ice cube tray into plastic freezer bags. This method makes quickly defrosting small amounts of food much easier. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be stored for about six to eight months, and frozen meat and fish will last for about one to two months.
Things to Remember When Making Baby Food
- Root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips) and soft fruits (pears, peaches, plums) are mild in flavor and tend to make smoother purees, which babies just starting solids tend to find more palatable.
- Parents often worry that if babies taste sweeter foods first (such as fruit), they will develop a preference for a sweet taste and reject vegetables. However, research hasn’t proven this to be true.
- Some parents express concern about offering vegetables that tend to be high in nitrates. Nitrates are chemicals found in water and soil that can be toxic for very young babies. Examples of high-nitrate foods include beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, and squash. These foods pose no risk to infants as long as solid food is not introduced before 4 months of age. After a baby reaches 4 months, the digestive system is mature enough to handle foods high in nitrates.
- Store raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other foods in the refrigerator to prevent contamination of other foods. Clean your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, and any kitchen equipment that has come in contact with the raw juices very well.
- Blender Baby Food: 2nd Edition – Nicole Young & Nadine Day
- Top 100 Baby Purees – Annabel Karmel
- The Petit Appetit Cookbook – Lisa Barnes
- The Baby & Toddler Cookbook: Fresh, Homemade Foods for a Healthy Start – Karen Ansel, MS, RD & Charity Ferreira
- Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste – Michele Olivier & Sara Peternell
- The Wholesome Baby Food Guide: Over 150 Easy, Delicious, and Healthy Recipes from Purees to Solids – Maggie Meade
- Cooking for Baby: Wholesome, Homemade, Delicious Foods for 6 to 18 Months – Lisa Barnes
- Start Fresh: Your Child’s Jump Start to Lifelong Healthy Eating – Tyler Florence & John Lee
- Whole Food Baby: 200 Nutritionally Balanced Recipes for a Healthy Start – Michele Olivier
- Baby and Toddler On the Cookbook: Fresh, Homemade Foods to Take Out and About – Kim Laidlaw
- The Super Easy Baby Food Cookbook: Healthy Homemade Recipes for Every Age and Stage – Anjali Shah
- First Bites: Homemade, Nourishing Recipes from Baby Spoonfuls to Toddler Treats – Leigh Ann Chatagnier
- Real Baby Food: Easy, All-Natural Recipes for Your Baby & Toddler – Jenna Helwig
- Fast & Fresh Baby Food Cookbook: 120 Ridiculously Simple and Naturally Wholesome Baby Food Recipes – Jacqueline Burt Cote
- The Big Book of Organic Baby Food: Baby Purees, Finger Foods, and Toddler Meals for Every Stage – Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN
- Born to Eat: Whole, Healthy Foods from Baby’s First Bite – Leslie Schilling, MA, RDN & The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook – Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
- Super Baby Food – Ruth Yaron
- Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes – Catherine McCord
- The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet: Know What es into Every Bite with More Than 200 of the Most Deliciously Nutritious Homemade Baby Food Recipes – Karin Knight, RN & Tina Ruggiero, MS, RD, LD
- The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book: Make 3 Months of Homemade Purees in 3 Hours – Lisa Barranu
- Natural Baby Food: Over 150 Wholesome, Nutritious Recipes For Your Baby and Toddler – Sonali Ruder
- 201 Organic Baby Purees: The Freshest, Most Wholesome Food Your Baby Can Eat! – Tamika L. Gardner
For more information about introducing solid foods or making your own baby food, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
About UPMC Harrisburg
UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.