Make Their First Bites Matter
A primer in DIY baby food
The best way to control what goes into your baby's body is to make her food from scratch. The process can be pretty gratifying—when you know what you're doing. We turned to pediatric nutritionist Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC to get the 411 on everything from ingredients to storage.
How do we know it’s time to start on solids? The window to start solids is between 4-6 months. But, more important than the age are your baby’s signs of readiness to start (sitting up with support, good head and neck control, tracking parents' food when you eat). And what should we start with? The first few bites are for your baby’s sensory and oral motor development, so make the blends exciting from a visual, smell, and taste perspective. It is best to start with single ingredient blends, this way, if there is any sort of intolerance or reaction, it's easy to trace back to the specific food source. Herbs and spices (like cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, or garlic powder) are all perfectly safe to add into a single blend to add more flavor. What foods do you suggest introducing first? Some of my favorites are avocados and sweet potatoes. I usually recommend introducing savory blends before sweeter, fruity blends to get the little palettes adjusted to veggies. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, they will need some iron from either iron-fortified baby cereals, lentils or beef. Speaking of introducing meat . . . any buying guidelines to follow? I suggest going organic and grass-fed when you are able to. And it’s better to start off with cuts of both beef and chicken that are higher in fat (think dark meat). These tend to be a little more moist and easier to cook with. Good to know. How important is it to buy organic produce? My favorite resource for this is Environmental Working Group (EWG). Their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists highlight the produce that’s worth a splurge on organic. What should be the texture of first purees? It’s best to start off with a very smooth, creamy and thin consistency—like a thinned pudding. Chunkier textures can be too difficult for a little mouth to handle. As the baby practices eating, you can begin adding texture slowly. When should we blend with breast milk or formula vs. water? Blending foods with breast milk or formula will always yield a more nutritious puree than using water. However, if there are any concerns with low milk supply, or expressing or adding formula are not an easily available option, using some water is completely fine. I recommend using the cooking water because it provides more flavor. And once she’s moved past first foods, how should a baby’s diet evolve? Keep building on variety. You don’t want baby’s tongue adjusted to monotonous flavors, so keep introducing new foods, like whole grains and proteins, every few days. Once babies are managing with chunkier textures, you can introduce disolvable foods, like puffs and Cheerios. And, as the final step to get baby ready for table foods, you’ll want to start very soft, moist and small pieces of table foods like a piece of steamed carrots or a meatball. How important is a well-balanced diet when it comes to solids — or is most of that obtained through formula or breastmilk? Formula and breast milk provide babies with all of their nutritional requirements (with the exception of iron and vitamin D in breast milk). So, when it comes to introducing solids, focus on the sensory and developmental experiences of your baby to make meal times enjoyable, rather than worrying about whether or not they ate enough, which can lead to some force feeding. Usually, at around 9 months (though every child is different), baby’s eating skills are advancing enough that they can get a lot of their nutrition from foods and are no longer as dependent on the formula or breast milk. Many moms opt to make food in bulk and freeze it. What are the safety guidelines for storage? In the beginning, the baby will only need a few spoonfuls of each blend, so I like to store food in the smallest possible containers to minimize waste. Some storage guidelines: Keep baby food in the refrigerator for 2 days; keep it in the freezer for 90 days, and it can be thawed for 1-2 hours at room temperature. I always recommend labeling the baby foods with dates, because it can get easy to lose track. Thanks so much, Nicole!
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC is a New York City-based registered dietitian, board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition and a certified lactation counselor. She is the Director of Pediatrics at Middleberg Nutrition and Pediatric Nutrition Expert for Beech-Nut baby foods. Prior to her current roles, she was a clinical nutritionist at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia and NYU Fink Children's Ambulatory Care Center.