When it comes to weaning their baby many people take the seemingly easy way of buying jars of puree if they don't go for the baby-led approach. While buying puree in jars is certainly easier, making your own baby food is not as much work as it may sound. It is really easy to do, saves a lot of money1 and it is also more healthy. You have complete control about what you put into your baby's food, which is especially important if allergies might be an issue. You can easily choose organic ingredients, or even grow some of them yourself in your garden. Puree in jars may also contain an excessive amount of sugar, often craftily concealed in the form of 'concentrated fruit puree'. In addition, the amount of waste you produce is reduced to a minimum.
Why feed puree and not go for the baby-led approach? This is absolutely your own and your baby's decision. It also does not have to be either the one or the other, you can do both. Once your child has the motoric abilities to pick up pieces of food and put them in their mouth you can easily offer pieces of food for your baby to feed itself in addition to feeding puree. It is possible to combine both in one meal.
When to Start? And how?
You should not start weaning your baby before it is about four months old. Generally it is advised to wait until an age of about six months, but it really depends on your child. The baby has to be able to sit supported by a chair and properly hold the weight of its own head. At some point you will notice that your baby is interested in the food you eat; this is a good time to start.
At first your baby will only eat very small amounts of puree and it can take quite some time until solid food will replace a portion of breast milk or formula. Do not try to force your baby to eat more than they want to eat. Start with offering puree once per day and slowly increase the amount. If your baby refuses a certain kind of vegetable or fruit, leave it and offer the same again a few days later. Some day your child may eat that food.
Always introduce only one kind of puree at a time and then wait a few days until you introduce something new. This way you can easily see if your baby shows allergic reactions to any of the new foods.
What to Feed
When buying ingredients for baby food you should take care to use seasonal fruit and vegetables or take the frozen variant. If possible always buy organic ingredients. For a long time it was believed that it is best to avoid feeding anything that can cause allergies; this has been proven to be untrue. While you should always watch out for negative food reactions, nothing should be avoided upfront for this reason. You should, on the other hand, avoid foods which cause wind.
You should start with feeding easily digestible vegetables like carrots, courgettes2 or pumpkin. After a while these can be mixed with potato – but be careful, some potatoes taste a bit bitter and your baby may not like this and refuse to eat the puree. Be sure to also add a little bit of vegetable oil to the puree, as some vitamins need fat to be absorbed.
Of course you can also feed fruit purees. It is best to start with apples, pears or peaches. Once your baby is used to them you can also mix different fruits in one puree. Your baby may also like a puree made of carrots and a few apples, as the apples add a sweeter taste. A fruit most babies love are bananas.
As your baby starts to eat more and more puree, you have to ensure that they also get enough iron, so adding a small amount of meat to the diet is a good idea. This can be chicken or veal. If you want to go the vegetarian way you have to feed enough other iron-rich food like peas, broccoli, oats or millet seeds.
Once your baby's stomach is used to eating 'real' food, you can expand on the variety of ingredients. Peas, green beans, spinach3, corn, tomatoes and cauliflower can be combined with meat and potatoes to create interesting new dishes. New fruits which can be added to the menu are, for instance, berries, grapes, melon, cherries, apricots and other stone fruit. You can also feed lots of different grains like rice, millet and cornmeal. Slowly, grains which contain gluten can be added. These are oats, spelt, barley and wheat. You can either make grain pulps or add some to vegetable purees.
If you want to give your baby fish, avoid long-lived fish like tuna or swordfish. These species tend to accumulate toxic compounds of mercury and should be avoided by infants and pregnant women. Salmon or trout for instance are much better options, but always ensure that there are no fishbones left in the meat. Fish provides your baby with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are also contained in canola oil and walnut oil.
Eggs, especially yolks, contain many vitamins, fats and minerals. Eggs should always be properly cooked through. You can give them to your baby hard-boiled or also as scrambled eggs. If you like, add some herbs or vegetables.
While cow's milk is not a suitable beverage because of too high amounts of proteins and calcium, small amounts of milk as an ingredient of different dishes can be a good supply of calcium. You can, for instance, add a glug of milk to scrambled eggs or cereals.
Do not use any salt, which is unhealthy for the kidneys, sugar or honey. Also, babies generally do not need any spices. That's why you should not feed sausages and other cured meats. If you like you can use herbs once your baby is a little older. Stay away from sugar because once your baby is used to sweet things it will demand more of it, and sugar is also bad for the growing teeth.
Never use stock cubes, instant soup or any food containing monosodium glutamate or yeast extract (which is basically the same type of flavour enhancer but not labelled as such) because they may be harmful to your baby. In the EU monosodium glutamate is even not an allowed additive in commercial baby food.
Remember that once your baby starts to eat solids they will need additional fluids; you should frequently offer them something to drink, not only during meals. This can be boiled water, natural fruit juice to which you add 50% water or herbal and fruit infusions. Fennel infusion for instance is very popular because it tastes slightly sweet. Fennel seeds are sold as spices in supermarkets - you just have to put a few into a tea strainer and add boiling water. Many of the baby drinks you can buy have added sugar to make your baby demand more of them so be careful about what you buy.
In order to make baby food yourself you don't have to be a master chef. Anyone who can handle a pot of boiling water has enough skill to prepare a meal for their baby. Seasoning is not an issue, unless you like to add herbs once the baby is a little older.
To save work and energy it is best to prepare larger amounts of food and then freeze them. If you keep different kinds of puree in the freezer you can have more variety in your baby's food every day. Boiling 1kg of apples or carrots will give you a good amount of puree to freeze. When you keep puree in the fridge or freezer, always be sure to warm it up properly before feeding it to your baby.
What you need
- A large pot or pressure cooker for boiling the food. In case you have the latter you should find the correct boiling times for everything in the manual.
- Ice cube trays for freezing puree - this way you can always defrost the exact right amount and don't end up throwing away large amounts of defrosted food which your baby didn't eat. You will also need some space in the freezer for this, of course. Once the cubes are properly frozen take them out of the trays and put them into containers or freezer bags.
- Glass or plastic containers with air tight lid for keeping puree in the fridge for a few days.
- A blender or a food mill for making puree.
- Lots of seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Vegetable or Fruit Puree
Take a large amount of fruit or vegetables of your choice. Once your baby is used to the basic ingredients you can mix and match as you like. Just think of combinations you like yourself or get inspiration from commercial baby food. Prepare everything for boiling, which means remove the peel, cores, stones, stems and whatever else is not needed. Cut the flesh into chunks; this shortens the boiling time and makes everything fit into the blender. If you use vegetables you can also add a piece of meat.
Put everything into a pot or pressure cooker, then add water. Vegetables will usually need more water than fruit will, especially if the selected fruits consist of a lot of water themselves. Boil with the lid on until everything is soft, then scoop out the vegetables or fruit and put them into the blender. Be sure to add enough water from the pot, too. The water should stand as high in the blender as the ingredients of your puree. If you make vegetable puree, add a small glug of vegetable oil. Now let the blender do its work.
If you have leftover water from boiling fruit ,don't pour it down the sink - you can use it for making porridge.
Take a handful of oat flakes and generously cover them with water or use the water left from boiling fruit. You can also add a glug of milk if you like. Let it simmer until the oats are soft - add some more water if necessary. Stir frequently. Once the oats are done, add a small knob of unsalted butter. For a better taste put a few spoons or frozen cubes of fruit puree into the porridge. The same dish can also be made with other grains. Semolina, for instance, works very well.
Meals for Older Babies
Once your baby is about eight months old you may want to bring more variety to its menu. By this time your baby should eat 3-5 meals per day (depending on when you started weaning your baby and how much milk the baby still gets). You can also start with letting the baby try some of the food the rest of the family eats, and slowly let it get used to adult food. Still avoid the ingredients mentioned above. When your baby gets closer to one year old, small amounts of salt are allowed.
Pieces of bread, with or without a small amount of butter, and pieces of fruit are good snacks which your baby can eat with their fingers.
You can cook various vegetable and meat stock soups. Soup is easy to eat but difficult to feed because you may easily spill lots of it from the spoon. Take care to add enough solid ingredients to make things easier for feeding. If you add salt and pepper after removing some soup for the baby, you have a meal for the whole family.
- A handful of rice
- Chopped or grated vegetables
- A glug of meat or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or butter
- Optional: some meat cut into small pieces
Put the rice into a pot with twice the amount of water. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then add vegetables and meat. Let it simmer until all ingredients are well done. Then add oil and some stock if the rice is too dry.
Good combinations are, for instance, peas and carrots with chicken, courgettes and peppers, fish and tomatoes. You can also add a tablespoon of tomato puree to the water and a pinch of oregano instead of meat stock.
- Boiled pasta of a size that your baby can easily eat
- Chopped vegetables, for instance courgettes, carrots and/or bell pepper
- Canned tomatoes or 2 tablespoons of tomato puree mixed with some water
- Some vegetable oil
- Oregano and basil
Fry the vegetables in a pan with some oil until they are soft. Add the tomatoes and bring to boil, then add a pinch of herbs. Mix with the pasta. If all the ingredients are large enough, your baby can eat this meal with their fingers once it has cooled sufficiently.
Baby Chicken Noodle Soup
- 1 chicken wing or same amount of chicken meat (unseasoned)
- 1-2 chopped carrots
- 1-2 tablespoons of chopped onions
- Other vegetables your baby likes
- Small-size pasta
Put the meat, carrots and other vegetables into about 500ml of water and boil with closed lid until the meat is well done. Remove the meat from the bone, cut the meat into pieces then place back in the pan. Add pasta and herbs then boil until the pasta is done.
If you make a larger amount of soup and add salt and pepper after removing some of it for the baby, you have a tasty chicken noodle soup for the whole family.