Monday, March 24, 2014

First Foods: The Basics

Babies grow more rapidly in their first year of life than they will any other stage of development.  How and what you feed your little(s) is among the most important decisions you'll make as a new parent.  Technically there is no "right" age to introduce solids to your babies- truth be told, every baby and that baby's needs are completely different.
At Parker and Jolie's four month check up, our pediatrician suggested that we start the girls on rice cereal.  Not, by any means, to replace a "milk meal," but in addition to, simply supplementing at one of their feeding times with just about a tablespoon of rice cereal mixed with about two ounces of breastmilk. At that point the girls were still not on the growth charts.  Although the lines were trending up, we really wanted to see if we could boost their weight gain.  I was very apprehensive, but our pediatrician reassured me that it is perfectly acceptable to introduce basic solids at that early of an age.  Plus, it is great for the motor development that they would need when it is time to transition into other foods.  With two babies to make that transition at the same time, I was all about making it easier.  Every parent is different--Meredith waited until six months before introducing rice cereal to her twins.

When I went to the store to see about getting some rice cereal, I thought this will be an easy quick grab at the end of my trip.  I was incredibly mistaken.  There are a million options to choose from.  I mean, how many ways can you make rice cereal, for Pete's sake?

Finally, after skimming through all the options I chose one that advertised "whole grain" on the front of the box.  As a dietitian, I'm all about the whole food options vesus the white so this stuck my nutrition cord just right.  There are all kinds of whole grains, like oatmeal and barley, but for a very first food, it is safe to start with the most basic. 
After introducing rice cereal at 4.5 months and then transitioning to oatmeal, I decided to wait until 6 months to start Parker and Jolie on any kind of vegetable or fruit purees.  As the girls neared their 6 month birthday,  I started researching recipes, scouring blogs, and questioning fellow mommy friends about their baby food making/introducing experience, and I realized it was going to be easier than I thought.  Just as before with the single grains, start simple and focus on fruits and vegetables that are easily digested and are less likely to provoke an allergic reaction.

Recommended baby's first foods (fruits/vegetables- ages 6-8 months):  Sweet potatoes, Squash, Green beans, Carrots, Peas, Zucchini, Apples, Pears, Banana.  

Tips for Preparation:
  • Get a good processor or blender.  Pureeing is so much easier (and quicker!) when you have a good machine. 
  • Prep all your fruits and vegetables in one step.  Get the "worst" part (in my opinion) over with right at the start.  After that its all about steaming or baking, and pureeing!
  • Always be sure to thoroughly wash and cleanse the fruits and vegetables that you will be using to make your baby food.   Even if you are not using the peels or skins, and even if you buy organic, you should always cleanse the produce. I had a tip passed to me from another momma-friend in my life about how she 'washes' her produce: Combine a 10:1 water/vinegar solution and scrub the skins of all produce prior to prep. 
  • Batch cooking is the way to go!  Make enough food to last a couple weeks (in the freezer) unless you can plan and make time to prep every day.  Plastic ice trays make easy one ounce portions.  

Basic Puree Recipes

Sweet Potatoes- Basic Puree 
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
Makes about 4 /12 cups

Peel potatoes and cut into small chunks.  Place chunks into a steamer pan with just enough water visible through the steamer basket. Steam until tender; about 25 minutes.

Place into a blender or food processor and puree. Add water or breast milk as necessary to achieve a smooth, thin consistency.

Carrots - Basic Purée
4 medium carrots
Makes about 1 cup

Peel carrots and cut into small chunks.  Place chunks into a steamer pan with just enough water visible through the steamer basket. Steam until tender; about 15-20 minutes.

Place into a blender or food processor and puree. Add water or breast milk as necessary to achieve a smooth, thin consistency.

Puréed Apples/Applesauce

2 apples (Macintosh, Gala or Braeburn)

Makes about 1 cup

Peel, core and cut apple into slices/chunks.  Place slices or chunks into a steamer basket or a pan with just enough water to slightly cover apples. Boil/steam until tender; about 15 minutes.   

Place into blender or food processor and puree. Add water or breast milk as necessary to achieve a smooth, thin puree.

**As an alternative, you may also buy a regular jar of Natural applesauce from your local grocery store.  The only ingredients should be apples and water or just apples.  A few companies may add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acid to their Natural Applesauce; this is fine.


  • Do not leave uncooked or even cooked foods out on the counter at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • Frozen foods should not be allowed to thaw and then be re-frozen without first being cooked. 
  • Cooked and prepared foods for baby should be kept in the refrigerator for no longer than 48-72 hours before they are used or frozen.
  • Freeze food purees in ice trays for 24 hours and then pop the frozen cubes out and toss them into a freezer bag labeled with the puree name and date it was prepared. 
  • Foods in the freezer have varying storage times; it is prudent to use frozen baby food cubes within four to six weeks.
  • When defrosting, pop the cubes it in the microwave on defrost for about a minute and a half (four cubes) and then finish warming the vegetables through with warmed breast milk

A couple things I learned when introducing baby's first foods:

Clothes are not necessary.  I made the mistake of not undressing them prior to their eating... Big mistake.  HUGE.  Cereal. Everywhere.  They've been naked ever since.

Leave it a little thick.  Making the cereal too liquid-y seemed to be less appealing--they got frustrated and fussy to the point they couldn't suck the spoon like a nipple.  Leaving the cereal with a little thickness to it was better for our girls, but you know your baby and can make that judgment call better than I can.

Offer the breast or {formula} bottle before offering the rice cereal. At 4.5 months, these cereal feedings are not to replace breast milk or formula.  Feeding them first before offering the cereal ensures that they are getting a full feeding from you, and not filling up on cereal.  Usually we gave them a bath, read a book, or played after this cereal "snack," and then I offered them the breast just before bed to "top them off." 

Do it just before bed. Full bellies can mean a full night's rest for baby and momma.

Cheap, Cheap, Cheap.  Just three medium sweet potatoes made 4.5 cups of sweet potato puree.  I froze all of it and pulled out what I needed just for that next day's feeding.  Buying and preparing my own baby food seemed to be the cheaper route.  On average a jar of baby food is about 60 to 80 cents each and my sweet potatoes cost me just about $3.00 or less.  

Exclusive? Probably not.  Making my own baby food was definitely cost effective, BUT there would be times when we were out and about or traveling that I bought baby food or pouches for convenience.

Mix it up.  Mixing the veggies with prepared baby oatmeal or rice cereal helped the texture of the veggies become more familiar and allowed the babies to enjoy a couple bites before deciding they hated it (because they did.  Every single vegetable or fruit I offered them).  The purees were tolerated, but not for long.  The first night I offered vegetables I made the rookie mistake of mixing all the oatmeal I had made with the sweet potatoes, so Parker ended up refusing to eat all together that night.

Three Days.  New foods should be introduced slowly. Waiting at least two to three days before offering a new type of food is recommended. This way, if your baby develops an allergic reaction, it will be easier to identify the source.

Be on the look out for our Top 10 Favorite Feeding Must-Haves!     

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  1. Thanks for the tips! I do have a question that I was hoping you might be able to help with. In one of the books I read, it said not to prepare baby food that you are planning to freeze with breastmilk or formula. I used a mixture of my breastmilk, a friend's breastmilk and formula for the first 4 months to feed my babies and found there are so many rules about heating and thawing and re-heating both breastmilk and formula (maybe another topic for the blog???).

    Anyway, I didn't see it mentioned in any of the initial books/websites that I read and the first batch of food I made was with breastmilk. I then read about avoiding this when freezing food and used water with all my subsequent batches. Would you agree with this or do you think it doesn't matter?

  2. Beneficial Tips on Natural Fruit puree that you have mentioned and one more thing your baby is so cute.
    Bless him