Homemade Baby Food: A How-to Guide

I am a mother, just like you. I have given birth to, diapered, and fed the most precious little person to ever grace the world with their presence. God has given me an awesome responsibility to take care of these little ones. I want to do the absolute best things for my children, and so I have researched the best methods of raising and caring for (including feeding) my babies. I am of the opinion that to know the best thing for your children, but not to do those things, or to only do them halfway, is to fail in our responsibilities as parents.

God has appointed us in the task of child rearing. That is why I have written this guide to homemade baby food: to provide moms just like myself with an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to make this transition to solid foods easier. It need not be a stressful time. It is important to remember that each child is different. Your neighbor’s kids will be different from yours, as will your nieces and nephews, the kids at church, and the ones you used to babysit, back in the day. Your own children will be different from one another.

I know this firsthand. It was frustrating to have to try different methods of mixing cereal and breast milk, then cereal and formula. My child was exclusively breastfed, and yet he absolutely would not eat cereal mixed with breast milk, so I had to mix it with formula. He would not eat solids at four months, so he was a little over six months old when he began accepting solids, and even then, it had to be just the right consistency and temperature. So take heart!

Just keep at it and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t go like you think it should. And remember that if you feel there is a problem, do not hesitate to phone your pediatrician.

Beginnings

Breast milk is best for baby’s first year. However, if you decide to supplement baby’s diet, I would recommend Nestle Good StartГ¤ (formerly Carnation Good StartГ¤). By comparison, it has the same amount and in some cases, a larger percentage of select nutrients than other formulas for much less, price-wise. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce solid foods until somewhere between four and six months of age.

At this time, if your child is developing normally (has at least doubled birth weight, can hold head up, can maintain a sitting position in a high chair rather than slumping over) and seems ready for solid foods (i.e. can open mouth for the spoon, is losing the thrust reflex when there is anything in the mouth, and turns head away when full or not hungry), you can introduce solid food.

If you are exclusively formula feeding, you can switch to a second-stage formula when you introduce solid foods (for babies over four months of age that are eating solids), like Nestle Good Start 2Г¤.

Getting Started

There is no rush here! You don’t want to introduce solids too early. It can lead to the development of fat cells that are hard to get rid of and also increases the risk of obesity later in life. Starting solids before baby is ready can lead to frustration on both sides: Baby gets frustrated because she isn’t ready and doesn’t know what to do with this stuff Mom keeps putting in her mouth and Mom gets frustrated because Baby won’t eat the food. If your baby keeps spitting the food out (thrust reflex), then give it a week or so before you try again.

You want to allow enough time between attempts for Baby to “forget” that he/she didn’t like it the first time. Don’t feel like you’re off schedule or something is wrong with the baby if you haven’t started feeding solids regularly by the time baby is four months old. It’s better to start later than too soon.

Also, let me stress here: DO NOT, under any circumstances, put cereal in baby’s bottle. For starters, it can clog up the nipple and baby might not even get anything! If the cereal does get through, it can be thick enough that it could choke the baby. This also goes back to introducing solids too early (see above).

Introducting Cereal

Begin by feeding about two tablespoons of rice cereal thinned with breast milk or formula. Offer this to baby twice a day (breakfast and dinner) for about three days to a week before you introduce any new foods. This is to make sure your baby does not have any allergies. Always remember, when you introduce a new food, to keep feeding the previous foods. I’ve included a sample menu/schedule at the end, so you can see what I mean. This is ONLY a sample and not necessarily set in stone.

Veggies and Fruits

My pediatrician recommended beginning with yellow and orange vegetables, then green vegetables, followed by fruits and then meats. Allow three days to a week between new foods, and don’t forget to continue to breastfeed or give formula as normal. The important thing to remember is that the bulk of your baby’s nutrition is going to come from your breast milk or from the formula. You should not cut back on breast milk/formula when you introduce solid foods, and you shouldn’t have to supplement with fluoride water or vitamin drops.

There should be enough of those in either your breast milk or the tap water that you have mixed with formula. NEVER use bottled water to make a formula bottle for baby. Those “nursery waters” are just a marketing ploy to make parents think they need a special kind of water for their baby. Tap water has all the nutrients of bottled water (and more), even the fluoride-enhanced kind. If you are worried about germs in your tap water, boil it first and keep a pitcher of boiled, cooled tap water in the fridge. You can also use undersink RO + UV water purifiers for saving time.

Why Veggies First?

Let’s think about this for a minute. What would you rather have, a vegetable or a fruit? Most people would pick the sweet fruit, right? There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, as long as you get a balanced diet. However, for little growing babies used to only the bland liquids or rice cereal (which is pretty bland), that first taste of food can set a pattern. Tests have shown that babies and children prefer sweet flavors to other flavors. When we introduce fruits first, babies develop that preference and it can be a headache to get them to eat things that are not sweet.

Homemade Carrot for Baby

What ends up happening is that we add things to the veggies to get baby to eat them (applesauce in the green beans, pears in the carrots, fruit juice in the cereal… yes, I have done that, too), and when that child grows up to be your typical toddler, their eating habits become so finicky that every meal is a battle. Sure, they will have their favorites (my oldest loved sweet potatoes, while my youngest preferred pears, for example) and some foods will make them turn up their noses. That is to be expected.

But the child who develops a sweet tooth right off the bat becomes a force to be reckoned with when he or she reaches preschool age and learns to make his or her wishes known. Expect a fight in the checkout line over candy! Yes, I’ve had those, too, and I can tell you that they are not fun. We ought to set the right example from the very beginning, making sure that even with our babies, we stress the importance of eating our vegetables. I know that many parents will say, “Well, I don’t like some vegetables, so I’m not going to feed my child anything I wouldn’t eat.”

To those parents, I say “Get over yourself and do what is best for your child.” I am not a fan of sweet potatoes, but my children loved them and I knew they were good for them.

Preparing Foods for Baby

You don’t need lots of fancy or expensive gadgets for making baby food. Use what you have at home! You can boil foods or steam them. If you boil, just add water and boil until very tender and falls apart when picked up with a fork, then go to Step IV below. Steaming foods retains more of the vitamins and nutrients, particularly with those foods that need not be peeled first. Always buy fresh fruits and vegetables and do not use canned. They do not work as well and the canning process causes them to lose a portion of their nutrients.

  1.  Wash all foods with soap first and rinse very well! (Hint: Pampered Chef makes a Suds Pump that is fabulous for washing foods.) You’ll also want to scrub everything with a veggie scrubber set aside for just this purpose. See special instructions below for peeling each type of food.
  2. Dice food and put into microwave safe bowl (I used glass bowls and Tupperware). Add water to cover about 1/3 of the food in the bowl.
  3. Put bowl in microwave and cover with microwave-safe plate (I used Corel or Corning Ware plates). Cook on high until very tender and falls apart when picked up with a fork.
  4. With a slotted spoon, drain food and place in blender. Process on “Puree” setting, adding the cooking water as necessary to thin. Puree until the food is about the consistency of jarred baby foods. It should be pourable, but not too runny.
  5. Spoon or pour carefully into ice cube trays, cover with Saran Wrap and freeze. When frozen, you can pop the cubes out and store in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Tip: one whole ice cube tray of food will fit in a sandwich-size Ziploc, but you’ll probably want to use quart-size freezer bags if making more than a week’s worth of food. You will also want to label and date the food. My carrots/sweet potatoes and apples/pears looked a lot alike! (Hint: Tupperware freezer labels work great!)

The following foods can be boiled or steamed according to the directions above. I have added special instructions for each type of food. (This is the general order in which we introduced foods.)

Veggies

  • Carrots: scrub and peel
  • Sweet potatoes: scrub and peel
  • Yellow (summer, crook-neck) squash: DON’T peel, cut bad spots off skin, add less water
  • Butternut squash: peel, scoop out and discard seeds, add less water
  • Acorn squash: peel tough skin, add less water
  • Whit potatoes: peel (Note: good for mixing with other foods, to tone down flavors or as a thickener for other runnier vegetables, like squash, zucchini and spinach)
  • Green beans: remove ends/bad spots and strings, add more water
  • Zucchini: DON’T peel, cut bad spots off skin, add less water
  • Spinach: cut off stems, add more water
  • Asparagus: add more water (Note: very strong flavor; may want to mix with milder vegetables)
  • Broccoli and Cauliflower: (Note: broccoli and cauliflower contain nitrates, which are not good for very young babies. I’d recommend waiting until after you’ve tried all other foods to introduce broccoli and cauliflower, and you may want to wait until after baby has teeth. Cooked broccoli and cauliflower are great finger foods; just cut the stems off and serve baby the florets, or the “tree-part,” as my toddlers called them)

Fruits

  • Apples: peel, discard seeds and stems, add a lot less water (Gala apples are great and have a wonderfully sweet flavor)
  • Bananas: peel, slice, add very little water (Note: bananas generally turn brown when cooking, so if you feel the need to preserve color, try adding a little lemon juice)
  • Pears: peel, discard seeds and stems, add a lot less water
  • Plums: peel, discard seeds and stems, add a lot less water
  • Peaches: peel, discard seeds and stems, add a lot less water
  • Nectarines: peel, discard seeds and stems, add a lot less water

Cooking Meats

Chicken, Beef, Turkey, and Pork (Please no hot dogs or processed meats, like deli meats or lunchmeats. They are loaded with preservatives. Buy only boneless, skinless chicken or turkey breasts and lean cuts of pork and beef, not ground meats.)

Meats are cooked differently, depending how old baby is when you get around to meats and whether or not your baby has teeth. We finally made it to meats about nine months of age with my first child (yes, we took it slow and steady), and my son had several teeth, too. I’ll give the first set of cooking instructions for babies with no teeth and the second set for those who have little chompers already.

  • For toothless wonders: Clean meats well. Remove any bones, skin, fats, tendons, and everything else that isn’t edible or that you would ONLY use for making broth. Dice meats into small pieces and put in a pot of water. Boil until meat is falling apart. Cool and puree in blender, just like fruits and veggies, until the same consistency as other baby foods. You will probably have to add water to thin. Pureed meats can also be frozen in ice cube trays.
  • For toothy babies accustomed to finger foods (see below): Clean meats well. Remove any bones, skin, fats, tendons, and everything else that isn’t edible or that you would ONLY use for making broth. Dice meats into small pieces and put in a pot of water. Boil until meat is falling apart. Cool and shred with a fork, or dice into fingertip-sized (baby’s fingertip size!) pieces. This, too, can be frozen in ice cube trays.

Finger Foods

When your baby is ready for finger foods, start by cutting the fruits and veggies into very small bite-sized pieces. Then cook according to the directions above, but do not puree. Spoon the pieces into ice cube trays and freeze. Pieces need to be easy to pick up and easy for baby to eat. A good test is to eat some yourself and see if the food “melts,” so to speak, in your mouth. Is it easy to swallow using only your tongue? Or does it get stuck in the back of your throat or on the roof of your mouth? If you cannot swallow it easily, you may need to take a fork and smoosh the food a little before serving to your baby.

I would also recommend some of the Gerber Graduates finger foods when baby gets used to picking up foods and putting them in the mouth. The labels give general guidelines for how to tell when your baby is ready, but please use common sense when it comes to prepackaged finger foods, even those made for babies. Check ingredient lists for common allergenic ingredients and for sugar content. One note of caution: the fruit snacks (the dried fruit and the chewy fruit snacks) did not do well with my children.

Every one of them choked if given the fruit snacks or dried fruit before they were ready. Your children may do fine, but just be aware and don’t leave baby unattended.

Organic Snacks

For those mothers who have little ones with allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients, good wholesome snacks for your baby may be hard to find. I have found two companies that make organic snacks for babies. Healthy Times and Earth’s Best both have wonderful products. Our favorites were the Healthy Times Vanilla and Maple Teething Biscuits. The Vanilla flavored ones do have wheat flour in them, so if wheat allergies are a concern, try the Maple flavor.

A Word About Common Allergenic Foods to Avoid

You should never give common allergenic foods to your infant (less than 1 year of age).

Such foods include:

  1. eggs,
  2. strawberries,
  3. citrus fruits,
  4. dairy products,
  5. seafoods,
  6. nuts,
  7. peanut butter.

Also avoid small hard foods that baby could choke on, including whole beans or peas, popcorn, hard candy (including suckers!!), and foods with an outer skin, such as hot dogs, link sausages, grapes, and others. Check with your pediatrician for more information and a more complete list of things to avoid.

Remember, when introducing any new food, watch your child carefully for signs of an allergic reaction, including difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, tongue, throats, and/or hands, rashes, itching, or hives. Take your child to the emergency room immediately if any of these signs occur.

Variations and Tips

Try cooking diced apples and pears in half water/half purple grape juice. Fruit comes out purple, which fascinated my kids, and has a slightly different flavor, too. You can try many different flavors, once baby has become accustomed to all the foods. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors and food combinations. One of my children really preferred their spinach mixed with applesauce, while the others like spinach mixed with yellow squash. Also, just because baby doesn’t seem to like a certain food when it is pureed, don’t be afraid to try it in diced form later on. Chances are, baby might like it.

Final Points

Always remember to use only the cleanest of utensils (spoons, blender parts, cutting boards, ice cube trays, etc.). I’d recommend sterilizing all the pieces and parts of what you use. Just place into a large pot of boiling water for a minute or less. To avoid melting the plastic pieces, you may want to take a large slotted spoon and dip them for a few seconds. Also, I always wiped down the counter with a bleach/water solution and RINSED WELL. Sterility is the key. There’s no need to introduce unwanted germs to your baby along with his new food experience!

The important thing to remember when making your own baby food is to enjoy yourself and enjoy this time with your sweet baby. You can feel good knowing that you are saving money and feeding your baby foods that are nutritionally sound.

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