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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DIY Baby Food

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In the 18 years that certified childbirth educator and international board-certified lactation consultant Diane Oakland has been facilitating group meetings for new moms, she has noticed a recent resurgence in the number of parents committed to feeding their babies food made in their own kitchens rather than commercially made baby food.

Some parents do it for the simple joy and challenge of preparing wholesome foods for their children, others go the do-it-yourself route because it’s cheaper than commercially made products, but Oakland has found that the parents who attend her classes at Columbia Center (an independent childbirth hospital located on the campus of Columbia St. Mary's Hospital in Mequon) are more interested in monitoring what goes into their children’s bodies.

An improved awareness of the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers sprayed on our produce and the numerous food recalls due to widespread contamination have incited parents to arm themselves with food processors, blenders and mashing forks in order to prepare safe, nutritious and economical food for their babies at home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing solid food to a baby around 6 months of age. In order to be aware of the health and safety issues involved, parents should first consult with their baby’s pediatrician before preparing and introducing homemade foods. Then, when trying new foods, Oakland says to offer your baby the same food four days in a row and watch for any signs of an allergic reaction.

“It’s important to expose your baby to each new food independently to determine any reactions before you can begin combining different foods for tasty new creations,” Oakland says. “When you begin to introduce foods to babies, remember they are accustomed to breast milk or formula which has no texture. So when we begin introducing foods with texture, the pureed foods are more acceptable to babies at first.”

A few tools are needed to cook, grind, blend and puree your baby’s food, but they don’t have to be expensive. Indeed, there are some pricey all-in-one appliances that act as a steamer, blender, warmer and defroster, but at $150 you aren’t saving as much money in preparing your own baby food. Many home cooks already own a steamer, blender or food processor they can use, or choose to invest $30 on a baby-sized food processor. If you want to make it really simple, look in your kitchen drawers for a boiling pot, a potato masher and a sieve.

At 6 months old, babies can digest fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and grain, but, like most things baby-related, there is plenty of useful advice—backed by experience—when it comes to selecting your baby’s first solid food.

“The one item that is commonly discussed as the best first food is rice cereal,” Oakland says. “Rice is very bland, [it doesn’t have] much flavor and it’s easy to digest when mixed with breast milk, formula or water.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent starters for homemade baby food. Another first-food Oakland suggests: avocado.

“We don’t often think of it, but it’s very high in nutrition and very easy to prepare,” Oakland explains. “It doesn’t have to be cooked; it’s easy to mash; easy to make into a pureed food; and often, when it’s introduced early on, babies really enjoy avocado.”

Other ideal foods include apples, bananas, peas, peaches, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Peel each food, boil firm foods in water (or steam them) until soft, and puree food in a blender until the desired texture is reached. You can make more than one meal per cooking session by freezing the excess pureed food in ice cube trays, storing the frozen baby food cubes in plastic bags, and then thawing and heating the cubes as needed. Those frozen fruits and vegetables can be kept in the freezer for about six months, and meat can be kept for two.

Preparing homemade baby food isn’t as time-consuming as many parents may think. Parents don’t have to make a whole separate meal for baby, but instead can prepare it along with the rest of the family’s meal.

Say you make your family a dinner of baked rosemary chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. Simply skip added seasonings such as salt and sugar when portioning out food for baby, and puree each food separately. The food has plenty of natural flavors that your baby’s inexperienced palate will appreciate.

Do-it-yourself moms and dads have the distinct advantage of getting their babies acclimated to eating the same food as the rest of the family, a technique that may see its payout during the picky toddler years.

There are certain foods parents need to delay introducing to their little ones, or avoid all together. Obviously, skip foods that have been treated with harmful herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. Oakland suggests avoiding vegetables that contain nitrates (broccoli, beets, cabbage, radish, spinach, turnips and rhubarb), too much of which can make a baby very sick.

You should also wait until your baby is a year old before giving him or her honey, dairy, eggs, gluten, strawberries, tomatoes, citrus and nuts, all common allergens with effects that can be minimized when introduced at an older age.

There are a number of quality resources out there to support parents looking to make their own baby food, such as The Big Book of Recipes for Babies, Toddlers and Children by Bridget Wardley and Judy More and www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com. As the family education and support coordinator at Columbia Center, Oakland facilitates a number of groups and classes at Columbia Center for new parents, including next spring’s lesson on making homemade baby food.

For more information, visit www.columbiacenter.org.