Auburn, Alabama — The foods that we see in stores are designed to have a shelf life of about two years according to fsis.usda.gov. To keep them fresh that long or longer, they have added preservatives and other chemicals.
Increased preparation or cooking time is needed to eliminate certain toxins. During that cooking time all valuable vitamins and nutrients may be lost.
So, what does all this mean when purchasing baby food for your little one? Jovita Lewis, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) coordinator, helps explore why homemade baby food could be a better option because of its nutritional, economical and safety benefits.
Lewis says the best time to introduce solid foods to your baby is around the age of six months. During this time, make sure you introduce one new food item a week (i.e., one new veggie and one new fruit a week). This makes it easier to monitor the baby’s reactions to each new food and determine if they have a food allergy. It also eliminates confusion for the baby and makes the introduction process easier.
Lewis offers the following foods to slowly introduce to your baby:
- Banana (very ripe, with no broken skin)
- Apple Sauce
- Green beans
- Mashed Potatoes
- Sweet Potato
With these and any others food suggestions you introduce, Lewis suggests that you remove all peels, cores and seeds. To ensure it’s the right texture for your baby, it helps to boil and/or mash all food items. “You want the food to be smooth for the baby. You don’t want it to have any lumps that could cause choking,” Lewis added.
Along with the foods listed above, she also said there are some foods to avoid making at home such as beets, broccoli and cabbage. Essentially, avoid almost all greens until your baby is a year old. These foods are high in nitrates, which make it hard for the baby’s blood to produce oxygen. Lewis also suggests you choose fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid any unpasteurized milks and juices.
Tools and Appliances
The texture of the food is key to easy consumption and digestion for the baby. Remember, the way you prepare your food is not the same way you should prepare a baby’s food. For safety reasons, it’s important that you don’t mix the two. Some simple tools or appliances to help with this are a puree or blender, potato masher, some type of strainer and a fork. Before using any of the items, clean them thoroughly. If circumstances permit, consider having separate tools and appliances specifically for the baby.
Consider how you cook the food. You only need to boil certain food items such as potatoes, apples and rice until they have softened. No need to season the food. Babies palettes are not as developed as adults are, so they don’t need much seasoning for food to be satisfying. This preparation method ensures the nutritional value and flavoring of the food item is pure and the baby can give you sincere clues as to whether they like it.
Lewis suggests that parents stay away from using microwaves to prepare food if possible because they don’t always heat the food evenly and may produce hot spots in the food. “If you have to use a microwave, make sure you let the food sit and cool for as long as you cooked it, before serving it to the baby,” she said.
After cooking the food, find a way to store it so that it doesn’t spoil. Lewis offers some helpful tips. All you need is an ice tray or a cookie sheet and small freezer bags.
- Place a tablespoon of each pureed or mashed food item into each section of the ice tray and place it in the freezer. This helps save time because as you won’t have to heat a large bowl just to get a small amount, and then put it back into the fridge or freezer.
- Pop out different frozen cubes of food and place them in freezer bags. Keep them frozen for up to a month.
- The same idea works for the cookie sheet method. Place dollops onto a cookie sheet, freeze them and then pop them off the sheet when you’re ready.
- If you know your baby will eat a certain amount in a day or two, store those portions for up to two days.
If you set aside time on a weekend to prepare the food, it makes life during the week easier. You will have saved time and money, and your baby’s health will reap the benefits as well. “It’s really an exciting time for the baby as they explore different food items with varying tastes and textures,” Lewis said.
The EFNEP program works with new moms and limited resource families, providing them with resources dedicated to helping them become successful parents. For more information and tips on family health- related topics, visit the EFNEP website at http://www.aces.edu/family-health/health-nutrition/efnep/