THE BEST FIRST FOODS FOR YOUR BABY
Many mothers feel that, once their baby is three months old, they should be starting to feed him solids. In fact there is no 'right' age as every baby is different.
Physiologically, there is no rush to get your baby started on solids. A baby's digestive system is not fully matured for the first few months and foreign proteins very early on may increase the likelihood of allergic food problems later. However, be warned, socially there is a kind of competitive spirit amongst mothers to get their child on to puréed steak and fries as soon as possible! I would advise that, provided your child is satisfied and growing properly, you should wait until he is between four and six months old before starting to give him simple solid foods.
Milk is Still the Major Food
It is very important to remember when starting your baby on solids that milk is still the most natural and the best food for growing babies. I would encourage mothers to try breast-feeding. Apart from the emotional benefits, breast milk contains antibodies that help protect infants from infection. In the first few months, they are particularly vulnerable and the colostrum a mother produces in the first few days of breast-feeding is a very important source of antibodies which help to build up a baby's immune system. (There are enormous benefits in breast-feeding your child even for as little as one week.) It is also medically proven that breast-fed babies are less likely to develop certain diseases in later life.
Milk should contain all the nutrients that your baby needs to grow. There are 65 calories in 4 fl oz (1/2 cup) of milk and formula milk is fortified with vitamins and, for babies over 4 months, also with iron. Cow's milk is not such a 'complete' food for human babies so is best not started until your baby is one year old. Solids are introduced to add bulk to a baby's diet, and to introduce new tastes, textures and aromas; they also help the baby to practise using the muscles in his mouth. But giving a baby too much solid food too early may lead to constipation, and fewer nutrients than he needs. It would be very difficult for a baby to get the equivalent amount of nutrients from the small amount of solids as he gets from his milk.
Do not use softened water when making up your baby's bottle or repeatedly boiled water because of the danger of concentrating mineral salts. Babies' bottles should not be warmed in a microwave, as the milk may be too hot even though the bottle feels cool to the touch. Warm bottles standing in hot water.
There is no fixed rule as to how much milk a baby should consume during the day. However, it is important to make sure (especially as it is highly likely that a bottle may not be finished at each feed) that up to the age of five months, your baby drinks milk at least four times a day. If the number of feeds is reduced too quickly, your baby will not be able to drink as much as is needed. Some mothers make the mistake of giving their baby solid food when he or she is hungry, when what he really needs is an additional milk feed.
Although most babies of six months are perfectly able to drink pasteurised cow s milk and many mothers, especially in other countries, start their babies on cow's milk this early, it is best to continue with breast or formula milk for one year.
Dairy products like yogurt and cheese can be introduced after six months and are usually very popular with babies. Choose whole milk products rather than low-fat.
Fresh is Best
Fresh foods just do taste, smell and look better than jars of pre-prepared baby foods. Neither is there any doubt that, prepared correctly, they are better for your baby (and you), for it is inevitable nutrients, especially vitamins, are lost in the processing of pre-prepared baby foods. Home-made food tastes quite different from the jars you can buy. (If you were ever to try a blind tasting of popular brands of baby foods, you would know that it is very difficult to recognise what particular food each jar contains!)
There is also a very limited variety of single fruit and vegetables. Most of the jars available contain bland combinations of foods puréed to the same consistency so that it is difficult for your child to differentiate one food from another. It can be quite a problem getting your baby to accept the coarser texture of home-made purees once he is used to the very smooth texture of commercially prepared baby foods. It s best therefore to start cooking for your baby yourself right from the beginning. I believe your child is less likely to become a fussy eater if he is used to a wide selection of tastes and textures from a very early age. You can 'train' your child to enjoy the flavors of fresh spinach or apple and pea purée rather than crave candy and doughnuts. Why give them sugary and fatty foods when healthy food can be just as enjoyable?
Your Baby's Nutritional Requirements
The following six are essential nutrients that a child needs for a healthy diet and to promote growth.
Proteins are needed for the growth and repair of our bodies, any extra can be used to provide energy (or is deposited as fat).
Proteins are made up of different amino acids. Some foods; meat, fish, dairy produce including cheeses, and soybeans, contain all the amino acids that are essential to our bodies. Other foods; grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, are still valuable sources of protein but do not contain all the essential amino acids.
Carbohydrates and fat provide our bodies with their main source of energy. The former also provide fiber which adds bulk to our diet and acts as a natural laxative.
There are two types of carbohydrate: sugar is one and starch (which in complex form provides fiber) is the other. In both types there are two forms - the natural and the refined. In both cases, it is the natural form which provides a more healthy alternative.
Fruit and Fruit juices
Sugars and honey
Sweetened cordials and sodas
Jellies and other preserves
Cakes and cookies
Whole-grain breakfast cereals, flour, bread and pasta
Potatoes Legumes, peas and lentils
Bananas and many other fruits and vegetables
Processed breakfast cereals (i.e. sugarcoated flakes)
White flour, breads and pasta
Fats provide a concentrated source of energy. The body also needs to store some fat to prevent excessive loss of body heat. Thus a certain amount of fat is essential in everyone's diet. Foods that contain fats also contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The problem is that many people eat too much fat and the wrong type of fat.
There are two types of fat - saturated, which mainly comes from animal sources, and unsaturated which comes from vegetable sources. It is the saturated fats which are the most harmful and which may lead to high cholesterol levels and coronary disease later in life.
It is important to give your baby whole milk for at least the first two years but try to reduce fats in cooking and use butter and margarine in moderation. Try to reduce saturated fats in your child's diet by cutting down on red meat, especially fatty meats like lamb; replace with more chicken and fish. This may in fact be a good time to review the whole family's eating habits, and to cut out all that butter on Daddy's toast in the morning!
Lard, suet and drippings
Cheese and full-fat yogurt
Cakes and cookies
Sunflower, grapeseed, safflower, sesame, soy, canola and olive oils Soft polyunsaturated margarine Oily fish (e.g. mackerel)
The possibility of vitamin deficiencies in the developed world should not be ignored. The children most at risk are those who follow a Vegan diet (i.e. no animal products at all) and those drinking cow's milk from the age of six months. Pediatricians recommend that these children should take a daily vitamin supplement until they are at least two.
For most children eating fresh food in sufficient quantity and drinking breast or formula milk until one year of age, vitamin supplements are unnecessary.
There are two types of vitamins - water-soluble (C and B complex) and fat-soluble (A, D, E and K). Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored by the body so foods containing these should be eaten daily. They can also easily be destroyed by overcooking, especially when fruit and vegetables are boiled in water. You should try to preserve these vitamins by eating the foods raw or just lightly cooked (in a steamer, for instance).
There is some controversy over whether vitamin supplements can improve your child's IQ. As vitamins are necessary for the correct development of the brain and nervous system, it is important that a good supply of all vitamins is taken. However, a good balanced diet should supply all that is required and an excess of vitamins is potentially harmful. Good sources of all the major vitamins and minerals are given in the tables to the left.
Essential for growth, healthy skin, tooth enamel and good vision.
Dark green vegetables (e.g. broccoli) Sweet potatoes
Apricots and peaches
Whole milk and eggs
Butter and margarine
VITAMIN B COMPLEX
Essential for growth, changing food into energy, for a healthy nervous system and as an aid to digestion. There are a large number of vitamins in the B group. Some are found in many foods, but no foods except for liver and yeast extract contain them all.
Meat, especially meat juices (so use in gravy) and liver
Dairy produce and eggs
Dark green vegetables
Yeast extract (e.g. Vegemite)
Is needed for growth, healthy tissue and healing of wounds. It helps in the absorption of iron.
Vegetables such as: broccoli; Brussels sprouts; greens; bell peppers; potatoes; spinach; cauliflower.
Fruits such as: oranges and other citrus fruits; blueberries; melon; papaya; strawberries and tomatoes
Essential for proper bone formation, it works in conjunction with calcium. It is found in few foods, but is made by the skin in the presence of sunlight.
Important for the composition of the cell structure, and helps the body to create and maintain red blood cells.
Aids in blood clotting, maintains bones, and is present in the intestine.
It is found in most vegetables and whole-grain cereals.
Calcium is needed for strong bones good teeth and growth.
Dairy produce, especially milk Canned fish with bones (e.g. sardines, but only for older children)
Bread and flour
Iron is needed for healthy blood and muscles. A deficiency in iron is probably the most common and will leave your child feeling tired and run down.
Liver and red meat
Dried fruits (especially apricots)
Lentils and legumes
Green leafy vegetables
Humans can survive for quite a time without food, but only a few days without water. Babies lose more water through their kidneys and skin than adults and also through vomiting and diarrhea.
Thus it is very important that your baby should not be allowed to dehydrate. Make sure he drinks plenty of fluids. Cool, boiled water is the best drink to give your baby on hot days particularly, as it will cool the body down quicker than any sugary drink.
It is really not necessary to give a very young baby anything to drink other than milk or plain water if he is just thirsty. Fruit sirups, cordials and other sweetened drinks should be discouraged to prevent dental decay. Don't be fooled if the packet says 'dextrose' - this is just a type of sugar.
If your baby refuses to drink water then give him unsweetened baby juice or fresh 100 percent fruit juices. Dilute according to instructions or for fresh juice use one part juice to three parts water, gradually increasing to half and half.
The Question of Allergies
It is fairly common for babies to inherit food allergies from their parents, and where there is a history of a particular food allergy, that food should only be introduced singly and with great care.
The commonest foods which carry a risk of allergic reaction in babies are cow's milk and dairy products, eggs, fish (especially shellfish), some fruits, nuts and foods containing gluten. Some babies (and older children) can also react to artificial food colorings and additives. The commonest allergic problems which may be triggered by adverse reactions to food are: nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; asthma; eczema; hayfever; rashes and swelling of the eyes, lips and face. This is one reason it is unwise to rush starting your baby on solid foods.
There is no need to be unduly worried about food allergy, unless there is a family history. The incidence of food allergy in normal babies is extremely small and, with the tendency to a later introduction of solid food between four and six months, they have become even less common. However, it is still children under the age of eighteen months who are most likely to develop an allergy to a particular food. Although a lot of children 'grow out of it' by the age of two, some food allergies - particularly a sensitivity to eggs, milk, shellfish or nuts - can last for life. If your child has an allergy, do tell friend's mums and the school when he is old enough.
Never be afraid to take your baby to the doctor if you are worried that there is something wrong. Young babies' immune systems are not fully matured and babies can become ill very quickly if they are not treated properly and can develop serious complications.
Lactose intolerance is not actually an allergy. Children who suffer lactose intolerance lack the substance lactase, an enzyme present in the superficial layers of the small bowel, which breaks lactose down to simpler sugars. Lactose is present in all milks and these babies will not be able to drink breast or cow's milk. A soy formula is given.
Some children who are lactose intolerant are able to eat dairy products like cheese and yogurt with no ill effects.
COW'S MILK PROTEIN ALLERGY
If your baby is sensitive to cow's milk, consult your doctor who will probably recommend a soy-based milk formula. Unmodified soy milk is not suitable as it is nutritionally inadequate. However, some babies who are allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to soy-based milks and for those babies there are a number of hypo-allergic milk formulas available on prescription. Breast milk is the best milk for babies who are allergic to cow's milk but mothers may need to limit dairy foods themselves as these can be transferred to their baby through breast milk.
No dairy products are tolerated in this condition and in the weaning diet milk-free vegetable or soy margarine may be substituted for butter and carob for milk chocolate. Very often babies outgrow this allergy by the age of two.
Avoid giving egg whites before one year. Cooked egg yolks may be given once the baby is well established in mixed feeding, between eight and nine months.
Most pediatricians advise mothers not to give fish to their babies before eight months and to avoid all shellfish.
Some children can have an adverse reaction to citrus and berry fruits. Avoid these before 1 year but be sure to choose a Vitamin-C-rich drink.
Nuts, even ground, should be avoided for at least the first seven months. Children under three can choke on whole nuts.
If there is a family history of gluten intolerance babies under six months must follow a gluten-free diet but it is preferable for all young babies. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats and gluten sensitivity can cause celiac disease which, although rare can be serious.
When buying baby cereals and rusks, choose varieties that are gluten-free. Baby rice is the safest to try at first and thereafter there are plenty of alternate gluten-free products such as soy, cornstarch, rice, millet and potato flour for thickening and baking, brown rice, rice noodles, buckwheat spaghetti etc.
Preparing Baby Foods
Preparing and cooking baby foods is not difficult, but because you are dealing with a young baby, considerations like hygiene must be of the utmost importance.
Most of the equipment needed will already be in your kitchen -- mashers, graters, strainers etc -- but the following three pieces I consider are vital!
Food mill A hand-turned food mill or ricer with variable cutting discs pureés the food, separating it from the seeds and skin which can be difficult for the baby to digest. It is best used for fruit, vegetables, fish and the softer textured meats such as chicken and liver.
Blender or food processor This is useful for puréeing larger quantities. However, foods for young babies will often need to be pushed through a strainer afterwards to remove any seeds and skin.
Steamer The best way to preserve the fresh taste and vitamins in fruits and vegetables is to cook them in a steamer. It is worth buying a good multi-tiered steamer which will enable you to cook several different foods at the same time. (A colander over a saucepan along with a well-fitting lid, is a cheaper alternate.)
At first, it is very important to sterilize bottles, and particularly, the teats that your baby sucks, properly by whatever approved method you choose. Warm milk is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and if bottles are not properly washed and sterilized, your baby can become very ill. It is also best to sterilize the dishes and spoons you use for feeding your baby. It would be impossible, however, to sterilize all the equipment you use for cooking and puréeing baby food, but take extra care to keep everything very clean.
Use a dishwasher if you have one; the water is at a much higher temperature than it would be possible to use if washing the utensils by hand and helps to sterilize your equipment. However, once it is removed from the dishwasher, it does not remain sterile; bottles should be filled with milk immediately and stored in the fridge. Dry utensils with paper towels rather than a non-sterile dish towel.
Milk bottles should continue to be sterilized until your baby is one year old, but there is really not much point sterilizing spoons or food containers beyond the age when your baby crawls and puts everything in reach into his mouth.
COOKING BABY FOODS
Fruit and vegetables can lose nutrients when they are cooked so it makes sense to eat some both cooked and raw. However, raw ones would be difficult to digest for a young baby so, until the age of six months, most fruit and vegetables (apart from ripe bananas) should be cooked. As the baby gains teeth and learns to chew, the fruit or vegetables can be cooked more lightly in order to retain Vitamin C and crispness. After about six months, your baby can have purées of raw fruit and fresh grated fruit; raw or very al dente vegetables can be given as a finger food.
Cook in many ways -- boiling, steaming, stewing or baking. Try to avoid fat-based methods of cooking such as frying (or cut down on the amount of fat used). Steaming, as mentioned above, is by far the best and, to maximize on nutritional benefits, the water in which or over which vegetables have cooked (so long as it does not contain salt) could be used as a drink or as the cooking water for something else such as pasta. Try also to maximize on fuel economy; steam a number of different foods at one time before puréeing and storing separately.
Cook fruit and vegetable purées for your baby by whichever method you choose. In each case make sure the purée is completely smooth, with no lumps. Later on you can adjust the texture of the puree to suit your baby as he starts to chew. Freeze any purée you are not using straightaway.
Boiling or steaming Wash fruit or vegetable carefully, peel, seed or pit as necessary and cut into small pieces. Add just enough water to cover and simmer until tender or steam (about 10 minutes, see individual recipes). Drain or remove from steamer, retaining the cooking water, then blend, mill or mash, adding some of the cooking water to bring it to the correct consistency for your baby.
Microwaving Peel, seed or pit the fruit or vegetable as necessary, and cut into slices. Put in a microwave dish with enough water just to cover and cover the dish with a lid. Microwave on High for about 3 minutes. Uncover, stir, re-cover and cook for another 2 minutes or until tender. Cooking times will vary according to how hard the fruit is to begin with. Blend, mash or mill to the right consistency, adding water as necessary.
FREEZING BABY FOODS
Whenever possible, prepare more food than is immediately needed and freeze the remainder in ice-cube trays for future meals. There are a limited number of foods that do not freeze well (like bananas and avocados) but most foods can be frozen with excellent results. Thus, in one or two hours a week, you can prepare enough to feed your baby for a month -- making for a happier mother and baby and more time to spend together.
You will need a freezer which can freeze food to 0°F or below in 24 hours and sterile packaging. At the earliest stages, when only teaspoons of food are being taken, this means plastic ice-cube trays (sterilize these as well) and plastic freezer bags.
Cook and purée the food as described in the recipes, cover, leave to cool, then freeze until hard in ice-cube trays. Knock out and store in clearly labeled freezer bags. Label the food with the expiry date so you never give your baby food that is past its best.
FREEZER STORAGE TIMES
Fruits 6 months
Vegetables 6 months
Purées with milk 4-6 weeks
Fish 10 weeks
Meat and chicken
Apple, pear, banana, papaya 4-5 months
Carrot, potato, zucchini, squash, green beans, rutabaga, sweet potato 4-5 months
Dried fruit, peach, kiwi, apricot, plum, melon, avocado 5-6 months
Peas, celeary, bell pepper 5-6 months
Chicken, dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, greens, leek 6 months
Split pea, lima beans, lentils 8-9 months
Egg yolks 8-9 months
Fish 8-9 months
Citrus fruit, berries, tomato, mushrooms, honey, whole egg 1 year
Shellfish over 2 year
To thaw one meal, remove the relevant number of cubes of food from the bag (only one at the very beginning) and leave at room temperature for an hour. Heat thoroughly, cool, then serve immediately. If using a microwave, stir well to make sure there is an even distribution of heat, allow to cool. Always test the temperature of food before giving it to your baby. Fruits to be served cold can thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Never re-freeze foods which have already been frozen, and never reheat them more than once.
When can they have...?
I have listed below when you should introduce particular foods to your baby. This is not an exhaustive list and you should refer to each chapter for more information.
In the next chapter I have devised some meal planners which will help you through the first weeks when you start to wean your baby. There are endless variations on the foods that can be given and the order in which they can be introduced.
If your baby's last meal is close to bed time, avoid giving him anything heavy or difficult to digest. This is certainly not the time to experiment with new foods if you both want a good night's sleep.
I have tried to give a wide choice of recipes, although I would expect that in practise meals that your baby enjoys would be repeated several times over the period of a week -- and this is where your freezer will come in handy.
In each subsequent chapter, there are meal planners for your baby which you may follow or simply use as a guide. Adapt the charts according to what is in season and what you are preparing for your family. From nine months onwards, you should be able to cook for your baby and family together, perhaps eating the recipes you give your baby for lunch and supper for your own supper.
In these later charts, I have set out four meals a day. However, many babies are quite satisfied with three meals and some healthy snacks.
Many of the vegetable purées in the early chapters can be transformed into a vegetable soup; and a number of the vegetable dishes can serve as good side dishes for the family. If you give the baby some of the vegetables you are preparing for the family, make sure they have not been salted. In the later chapters many recipes are suitable for the whole family.
After each recipe you will find a symbol of two faces, one smiling, the other gloomy, each with a check box. You will find these useful in recording the success (or otherwise) of your baby meal recipes!
Copyright © Annabel Karmel 1992