When your little one is approaching that age where he or she will start eating food, most likely you’re either feeling nervous or excited. You might have forgotten that babies start eating real food at some point, especially if you were like me and had a hard time remembering your name those first few months postpartum. I was so thankful we registered for a high chair and received it before Laurel was even born. That was one less thing I had to think about when food came into the picture. Although I was excited for Laurel to start eating, it definitely took some critical thinking as to how I would go about starting this process. I know the pediatrician mentioned something about it, but those appointments always seemed like a blur. I’d leave with a handout of milestones and a list of unanswered questions that I’d kick myself for forgetting to ask in the moment.
As a dietitian, I felt that it was my duty to expose my baby to all the healthiest food this planet has to offer. I devised a plan to start with all the vegetables I could think of, then add yogurt (for probiotics and fat), then seafood, legumes, poultry, fruit, and whole grains. I always knew I wanted to make her baby food and you’ll read why below.
Are you intimidated at the thought of making your baby’s food? If you feel like the process is too difficult, expensive, or time-consuming, continue reading to see how I was able to make Laurel’s baby food with minimal effort. It can actually be fun, I promise!
When should I start feeding my infant food?
Unless otherwise instructed by your baby’s pediatrician, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months old, it is recommended to begin introducing food into your baby’s diet, while still continuing to provide breastmilk (or formula) as their main source of nutrition. To make sure that food remains a compliment to your baby’s diet, try to always breastfeed or formula feed your child before offering food. That way, the food is seen as extra and they are able to have fun with it without the pressure to eat. Remember that food at this age is also about developing fine motor skills, exposing them to different flavors and textures, as well as eventually teaching manners while fostering family traditions, such as sitting at the table for dinner.
How much should my baby eat?
In the beginning, as in the first couple weeks or so, your baby might only take 2-3 spoonfuls of food. I remember Laurel’s first feeding being somewhat anti-climactic, as she only took one or two bites and seemed to lose interest. It’s normal if your baby refuses food altogether. Never force your child to eat, just try again the next day.
As a rule of thumb, 6-7 months is when food is introduced and your baby is becoming accustomed to new flavors and textures. At 7-8 months you might try to consistently feed your child one “meal” per day. It’s normal for a child between 6-8 months to eat anywhere from 2-6 tablespoons of food. At 8-9 months you can increase to two “meals” per day then at 9-10 months your child is eating three “meals” daily. Remember that they are still drinking breastmilk or formula for the entire first year of life. At 9 months old, as her food intake increased, I was able to drop one of Laurel’s breastfeeding sessions. From 9-12 months, I breastfed her four times daily.
What foods should I offer first?
Ideally, one of the first foods offered to your child would be an iron-fortified option, such as baby cereal or baby oatmeal. Many vegetables provide iron as well, including broccoli and spinach. Start with simple purees of a single food, such as pureed spinach. I mixed my purees with filtered water to thin them out. I had actually used pumped breastmilk to make some of Laurel’s first foods but since most of the food ended up on her bib and face anyways, I quickly learned that it wasn’t really worth it for me to use my saved milk.
Every a few days, I would offer Laurel a different vegetable. I actually kept a log of her very first foods and they include: broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, and spinach. I continued with the routine of offering a new food every couple of days to include legumes (such as peas), avocado, corn, seafood (Laurel’s firsts included lobster, scallops, salmon, and light tuna), plain full-fat Greek yogurt, beans, a variety of fruits, ground turkey, chicken, and ground beef, eggs, beets, sauerkraut, and cauliflower.
I fed Laurel pureed foods until about 8-9 months, at which time she became interested in eating small pieces of soft foods. Laurel is now 1-year-old and I have yet to find a food that she does not like!
What about the common food allergens?
The current recommendations are to introduce the common allergen foods to your child between 6-9 months.* This includes eggs, peanuts (not whole nuts due to choking hazard), wheat, shellfish, tree nuts, and dairy (such as yogurt or cheese). Cow’s milk is not recommended until after 12 months of age.
*If food allergies run heavily in your family, consult your child’s pediatrician or a registered dietitian for specific advice and supervision before introducing these foods. Wait at least three days between all new foods to watch for signs of intolerance, including diarrhea, rash, or fussiness.
Ways to incorporate these foods include adding them to a puree with a food your child is familiar with. For example, I made a puree of cauliflower and added a few small dollops of peanut butter. Peanut butter and almond butter also pair well with several fruits, especially banana or apple. You can add wheat germ to a puree for wheat exposure, as well as added fiber. Scrambled eggs are easily incorporated into purees and are also a good finger food, as small pieces tend to be soft and easy for small fingers to handle. Add scrambled eggs to a puree of strawberries and the Vitamin C in the berries will aid in the iron absorption from the eggs, high five!
Does my child need water?
Your baby gets the water he or she needs from your breastmilk or formula. Since constipation is common when food is incorporated into the diet, feel free to offer your child 1-2 ounces of water from a cup daily. Offer the water after they have finished eating.
What about juice?
I recommend avoiding juice for at least the first 12 months of age. Children should be encouraged to consume whole fruits and vegetables. After 12 months, if you decide to offer your child juice, limit intake to less than six ounces daily and always encourage water intake.
If your child is underweight, I highly recommend avoiding juice. Children often fill up on this “empty calorie” beverage, then eat less food at meal times. On the flip side, if your child is considered overweight, I would encourage fruit and vegetable intake instead of juice, as juice provides the sugar without the fiber benefits of whole foods.
Are there any foods I should avoid giving my child?
Yes, you will want to avoid giving your infant (<12 months old) honey, under-cooked or raw meats, under-cooked eggs, and choking hazard foods, to include whole nuts, popcorn, raisins, large “chunks” of food, marshmallows, and whole grapes. I also recommend avoiding highly processed foods or any foods with added salt.
Can I season/flavor my baby’s food?
Although you might feel like plain carrots or plain broccoli is boring or bland, remember that your child has never tasted food. They do not have the mature and experienced palate that you have. This means that they might initially reject a food (ie. spit it out) just because it’s new and different. This doesn’t mean that you have to flavor it with salt, sugar, or butter to get them to eat it. Just put it aside and try again the next day. Refrain from habitually adding sugar, salt, or butter to their food just because that’s the way you like it. The best thing you can do for your child is help them avoid those habits from the start. If a baby starts eating plain, fresh foods, they will develop their palate to appreciate those pure flavors. After a couple months of trying a variety of foods and eating is established, feel free to add flavor to their food to include cinnamon, garlic, and mild herbs and spices. I recommend you always avoid salt, any seasoning with sodium, and anything too spicy.
Why make my own baby food?
The three main reasons I chose to make Laurel’s baby food were because homemade baby food is:
- Fresh, which means better quality and taste. We all obviously want to feed our babies the best food possible. I figured that if I would prefer fresh food versus food from a jar, then I assume my child would too. My hope is that her exposure to fresh food from the beginning will develop her palate and foster a love for the flavors of whole foods. I think this can be lacking in children, and adults for that matter, today. I consider frozen fruits and vegetables fresh options, as they are flash-frozen shortly after they’re picked, which is usually at their peak ripeness. This means that the nutrients are locked into the food, nutrients that might otherwise be lost in transit from the farm to your grocery store. I actually preferred using frozen fruits and vegetables since it allowed for variety with minimal waste. For these reasons, frozen foods are wonderful options when making your baby’s food.
- Cheap even when buying organic options. I bought a ton of frozen foods to puree for Laurel. Even organic options of frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than buying baby food jars. I also realize now that I would have wasted a lot of food (aka money) if I opened a new jar every time I fed Laurel, since she only took a few bites per feeding in the first few weeks.
- Easy as long as you have a steamer basket and a blender. I didn’t use any fancy baby food making equipment, although I’m sure those things can be helpful. You don’t even need a food processor! All I used was a pot with a steamer basket and a blender. Writing this post now as Laurel is 12 months and I am no longer making her baby food, I have since purchased this food processor (which I used for the pictures you see). However, when I was making her pureed food from about 6-9 months, I used a regular blender.
Following the more detailed directions below, add food to your steamer basket or pot.
Once food is fork tender, transfer to food processor or blender.
Blended until there are no chunks remaining and food is completely smooth, transfer to freezer-safe container.
How do I make baby food?
- Blender or food processor
- Rubber scraper
- Freezer-safe jars or ice cube trays (I prefer silicone trays like these)
- 1/4 c liquid (either water,* breastmilk or formula) *Water can be any type of clean water, tap or bottled
- 1 cup fruit or vegetable, fresh or frozen
- Thoroughly wash, peel, and de-seed fruit or vegetable as necessary. Chop into smaller pieces.
- Steam in steamer basket or boil in water until soft, about 5-7 minutes or until fork tender. You can also bake/roast vegetables in the oven.
- Allow fruit or vegetable to cool slightly then add to blender or food processor.
- Add the water, breastmilk, or formula into blender. For thicker puree, use less liquid. To thin the puree, add more liquid until desired consistency.
- Blend until completely smooth. Scrape sides of blender with rubber scraper and blend again.
- Carefully pour into ice cube trays or jars, cover, and freeze.
- If freezing food in an ice cube tray, feel free to transfer the cubes into a freezer-safe bag after they are completely frozen.
Place 1-2 cubes in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 10 seconds. Stir and repeat as necessary.
- You want to cook (steam, boil, or roast) most fruits and vegetables before pureeing, with the exception of banana and avocado, in order to make them easier to digest (break down the fibers), as well as kill any bacteria that may be present on the food.
- Vegetables like carrots and sweet potato take longer to become fork tender than broccoli, for example. Keep this in mind if combining and steaming foods.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if peeling, to include avocado (in case bacteria is present on the peel). I keep a spray bottle with vinegar next to my sink to spray fruit and veggie skin before peeling. Always use clean utensils and equipment, including knives and cutting board.
- I liked to make single-ingredient purees, even as Laurel got older, so I could combine them in different ways to prevent boredom. Example: spinach + pear for breakfast, spinach + cauliflower for lunch, cauliflower + sweet potato for dinner.
- I would sometimes add small amounts of baby oatmeal to reheated purees as a way of thickening them and adding iron.
- Label your baby food with the date it was prepared and the ingredient(s) used.
- Homemade baby food, if stored properly, should be safe in the fridge for 48 hours (fruits/vegetables) or 24 hours (meats/dairy/fish/eggs).
- Use frozen baby food within three months, ideally within one month for best flavor.
Did you make your baby’s food? What are your favorite baby food combinations?