Preparing food for your baby can be fun, exciting

Q. I have a four-month-old – my first – and I am starting to think about introducing solids. I really feel that I want to and should make the food myself for superior quality. How do I go about this?

A. I often hear this question from first-time moms. Good for you for wanting to do it yourself. First, your baby should typically start solids around six months of age. The recommendations used to be four months, but the World Health Organization changed it a few years ago, and now it is recommended that babies generally be exclusively breast or bottle fed for six months.

At around six months, you can start introducing solids, and you would usually start with baby cereal, first rice, then barley, then oats, then mixed grains. You should give each cereal a few times a day for four or five days to ensure that the baby is tolerating it and is not showing any allergic signs. Then you can progress to the next cereal. The cereal should be offered warm, not hot, and should be about the consistency of a pureed soup – fairly loose. For best results, give it when your baby is hungry but not starving.

Start by making about one tablespoon total, and you can increase up to one-quarter to one-half a cup at each meal, depending on your baby’s appetite. Cereal should be viewed as the carb of the meal and can be offered at all three meals. Don’t be surprised if your baby spits out and refuses cereal at first. It is a very foreign texture and taste, and the infant will likely be reluctant to accept it.

Once you have introduced cereal, you can start fruit and vegetables. There is a debate about whether to do fruit first or vegetables. The debate generally centres on the sweetness of fruit, and therefore leans toward veggies first; however, the first veggies recommended are carrots, squash and sweet potato, which are all quite sweet. The first fruits are usually apples, bananas and pears.

When first introducing these, offer only one new food every 24 to 48 hours, again to ensure tolerance and possible allergies, and then move to the next. Once you have introduced all of these fruits and vegetables, you can feed your baby a nicely balanced meal three times a day, i.e., cereal plus fruit or cereal plus veggies or cereal plus fruit and vegetables.

Now the make it at home or buy it debate: although I do make a lot from scratch and do not love packaged, processed foods, I believe that store-bought baby food is very clean, healthy and safe. In the interest of saving time and quality control, I think this is a great choice. If you do make food at home, remember that it is essential to carefully clean or sterilize tools, surfaces, hands and ingredients.

There are some good books on making baby food, and the public health department puts out a great kit on this, which you can order from your local department. One important note about baby food: make sure you do not keep opened jars longer than the recommended shelf life, usually one or two days. I used to write the date on the lid with a permanent marker so that I could remember, because I often opened several new jars at a time.

If you choose to buy baby food, you will find a vast array of jarred, frozen, conventional and organic varieties to choose from. Always select ones that contain only one new ingredient at a time and are age and texture appropriate.

When your baby is ready for baby meats – around eight or nine months – this is a good time to make your own if you want. I used to boil a piece of chicken along with a peeled apple and a peeled sweet potato or carrots. When everything is soft, puree it with chicken stock and freeze it in ice cube trays. Meat alone is not very palatable, so mixing it with fruit and vegetables makes it smooth and flavourful. If you are using a chicken stock, make sure that it is natural, without a lot of added salt and has no MSG or colouring (a small amount of salt is okay).

This is a fun and exciting time, enjoy the process.

Lisa Weinberg is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in Toronto, in private practice and at the Genesis Professional Group. If you have any nutrition questions, please send them to The CJN.