First Foods, Best Foods
April 9th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
Many parents are choosing to make their own baby food. The experts and a local mother weigh in on how to do it.
It's an exciting time. Your baby hits six months and suddenly she's smiling, trying to turn babbling into a word. And you, you're ready to augment milk feedings with food. These early mealtimes begin to develop your child's habits for good nutrition for life. Janine Whiteson is an Editor of Cooking Light's cookbook First Foods and a mother of two. When she started to feed her own children, she came to this realization, "maybe 30, 40 years ago the big food industries out there decided to fill up American children on package food filled with salt, and sugars, and lots of things that these babies don't need. When it is just as simple to make everything at home."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that three companies control most of this $1.25 billion dollar a year industry. And, reading the labels can be confusing. That's perhaps one of the many reasons parents, like Whiteson, are choosing to make their own baby food. Tara Hoey just started feeding her six-month-old son and is going the homemade baby food route. "I just enjoy it, and this time of year it's fun because there are so many fruits and vegetables in season. I roasted some butternut squash the other day, he got some, and we made soup out of the rest of it."
Hoey says she doesn’t need special equipment. She makes quick work out purées with a simple immersion blender. You've seen it, it looks like a stick with small blade at the end and can go right into whatever you are cooking. Hoey says,"it's easy to clean, very, very easy to clean. And you can just steam, or bake, or roast, or microwave, or however you want to cook the food. Just stick it in a container with some water and you use it. I think it's great. I think it's so much easier than using a food processor, which has all the parts to clean."
And as for cost? Hoey notes that even buying organic is cheaper than purchasing jars of food that are only a few ounces per serving. She says, "you know a pound or two of apples in-season that are organic, you can get several meals out of that. Where if you are buying the individual jars of baby food, you know you are paying…" about $1.50 for a five ounce jar. And if you've ever fed a baby you know how much of that expense goes on the floor, in the ears, and sometimes on you!
As most parents discover, though, there are days when feeding goes really awry. Even at six months Hoey has had what nutritionalists call food refusals, "he did not like the zucchini so I am paranoid that he's not going to like green vegetables." How to avoid the dreaded picky eater? Nancy Tringali Piho is the author of My Two Year Old Eats Octopus well, maybe even YOU don't want to eat octopus but she's got good advice for introducing commonplace new foods to babies. "The best thing to do is say 'ok, maybe today is not the day to try those beets or that sweet potato.' And try it again in a few days or so. Research has shown that it sometimes takes 15 to even 20 tries for a child to accept a certain food."
The biggest consideration for most parents is time and the convenience of commercial baby food is a draw. Making your own doesn't have to be a big project, though, you can cook over the weekends and freeze small portions for the rest of the week. Most of the food you are already making for your family is fine. Just leave the salt and spices out and add them later. And when in doubt, ask your pediatrician.
Hear more from WHYY's Maiken Scott and Nancy Tringali Piho about My Two Year Old Eats Octopus.
Also, be sure to check out the book Cooking Light First Foods: Baby Steps to a Lifetime of Healthy Eating.