Baby Food Done Right
Let’s get one thing clear: Mashing green beans is nothing like making Julia Child’s beef bourguignon. As in, it won’t take the better part of a day and won’t require 50 different ingredients.
So, whether you’re getting ready to introduce mushy cereal and purees into your child’s diet or you’re taking the baby-led weaning leap, cooking for tots can be a wonderful bonding experience that’s relatively easy and gives parents total control over what goes into those little tummies. It’s also cost-effective and easy to store.
If you’re wondering when to move from only breast milk or formula into solid-food territory, here’s a handy guide from The Bump for when to start and which foods are appropriate at various stages. Don’t forget to stock up on silicone trays or tiny containers to make storage a breeze, as Wholesome Baby Food points out how well these meals keep in the freezer.
And as with nearly everything baby-related, be sure to talk to your pediatrician about anything you want to feed your little one. One thing not to be afraid of is experimentation — and that goes for cuisines you might think are exotic, even for adults. As you’ll soon learn, Japanese, Indian and French parents all have their own unique approaches to baby food, and you can, too.
Let’s Start at the Beginning: Baby Cereal
The first thing baby should eat (at about 5 or 6 months) besides breast milk or formula is something called baby cereal, which is just ground up grains cooked in water. Some recipes call for cinnamon or fruit puree, but you might want to hold off on those at first and just get baby used to the idea of solid (or semi-solid) food. Thinning with breast milk or formula is, however, fine from the get-go.
Wholesome Baby Food reports that most pediatricians advise to wait until your child is 8 months old to spice things up with their food, but it’s also fine to do it earlier as long as baby doesn’t have a bad reaction. To avoid such scenarios, the website also suggests using the 4-Day Wait Rule to see how baby reacts to various new foods.
There are generally three grains to choose from for baby cereal: rice (brown, for nutrition), oats and barley. Kid Spot has a brown rice recipe here, and Wholesome Baby Food has you covered for oats and barley (with additional recipes in both links using those grains as you progress off baby cereal).
Sweet and Savory Purees for 6 Months and Up
After getting accustomed to solids with baby cereal for a few weeks, it’s time to branch out and try new foods. In this recipe for green bean puree, Anjali of The Picky Eater blog reveals that her daughter at first struggled with the taste of this fiber- and vitamin A–rich veggie until Anjali put some yogurt in the mix. It might sound strange, but apparently it works! And you might have heard that it’s good to get baby used to vegetable flavors before sweets so they don’t reject the super-healthy stuff at first, but according to Mama Natural and other sources, this isn’t a steadfast rule. So, if baby prefers banana and avocado together, give baby banana and avocado together.
Single-item purees are great at first, but you might want to combine a few of the recommended early produce items. Love One Today has a recipe for a sweet potato and avocado mash. Use Brooklyn Farm Girl’s recipe for a banana, apple and pear puree that is eminently freezable. And this recipe from Family Food on the Table combines a ton of the early foods into a bright-green superfood.
Peanuts: The Earlier, the Better
We have no doubt that you’ve been thinking as much about what to feed your baby as what not to feed him or her. Or maybe you have food allergies and are wondering if your little one does, too. One of the big ones is peanuts, as bad reactions can be severe and even life-threatening.
In 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) updated its guidelines on feeding peanuts to infants. In hopes of preventing peanut allergies from developing, NIH has three new approaches parents should take. If your child already has an egg allergy, severe eczema or both, you should introduce peanuts into their diets as early as 4 to 6 months old. Infants with moderate eczema should have peanuts around 6 months, and those without eczema can have this legume “freely introduced into their diets,” NIH says.
An easy way to start is by simply thinning some peanut butter with breast milk, formula or even hot water so it’s not too thick and, thus, not a choking hazard. Prevent Peanut Allergies is a terrific resource for where to start. You can also add peanut butter to baby cereal or other simple purees like banana, or check out Joy Food Sunshine’s thorough guide to peanuts and recipes for your baby.
When to Introduce Eggs
Eggs are also high on the list of possible allergens, so it’s a good idea to expose baby to them early on to see how he or she reacts. As with peanuts, it will also reduce the chance of baby developing an allergy to eggs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have specific guidelines on eggs, according to The Bump, but some pediatricians say they can be introduced at the beginning of solid foods around 6 months and after baby cereal and veggie and fruit purees.
Egg Farmers of Canada has you covered on four simple and nutritious egg recipes.
Meat, Fish and Meat Alternatives
Meat can be a real treat for baby because it’s high in protein, iron and zinc. But there are certainly meats to avoid, like most deli cuts, bacon and hot dogs, because they often contain nitrites, other preservatives and lots of sodium. That doesn’t mean they’re always off limits, but parents should be diligent about ingredients when choosing these options. Check out Wholesome Baby Food’s guide to meats for all the answers to your questions. And Jessica Coll’s blog breaks down how to cook meat for babies and includes handy recipes.
Fish can be a little dicier because it comes with allergy risks, not all species are safe for baby due to mercury levels, and small bones present choking hazards. However, as with land meats, it just takes some care and planning, and your baby will be able to enjoy this healthy food option. Check out Made For Mums’ 15 scrumptious fish recipes for kids 7 months to 1 year old.
What if you don’t want your little one eating any meat? No problem! It will take more planning, and you should consult with your pediatrician, but it’s definitely possible to have a vegetarian and even vegan baby. Wholesome Baby Foods answers many questions about going meat-free here.
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese: From Animals or Other Sources
It might sound counterintuitive, but baby can start eating yogurt as early as 6 months old, but shouldn’t drink milk until 12 months. This BabyCenter guest column from Dr. Tanya Altmann breaks down the reasons why, but essentially it has to do with digestibility, nutrition and the fact that, once yogurt becomes yogurt, it’s not really milk anymore.
The same goes for cheese: It’s OK from 6 to 12 months. And for those non-dairy babies, almond milk and other alternatives should not be given to kids under 1 year old.
Yogurt is a terrific source of protein, calcium, vitamins, live cultures and probiotics, according to Dr. Altmann, and she includes it as one of her 11 essential foods for infants and toddlers. It’s also really easy to make at home, as this recipe from Wholesome Baby Food attests (there’s even a method for soy milk yogurt). We also found one from Homemade Baby Food Recipes for something they call “yogurt cheese.” And this story from First Cry is a great resource for the good and bad cheeses for baby.
Once baby reaches milk-drinking age, parents might want to consider goat over cow because, as New Kids Center points out, it’s easier to digest and contains less lactose and allergen proteins.
Chocolate: Yes, Please
Since we’ve covered the basics for babies up to a year old, let’s move on to some more adventurous foods. Most everything we’ve shared so far can be enjoyed by both parents and babies, but chocolate will certainly, um, take the cake.
We love this fondue recipe from Baby Foode because warm, sticky chocolate is the stuff of dreams, and more importantly, it incorporates other foods like fruits and pretzels that come with their own nutritional benefits.
You might be asking yourself if chocolate is too indulgent for kids. Like anything, restraint is paramount. But you might be surprised by the many health benefits of chocolate and the other great things it can do for the parent-child dynamic.
Wow Factor in the Highchair
Most parents think bland when they think of baby food. Or if we hear the word “spice,” it might make us think of something hot and tongue-numbing. However, many kids around the world are exposed to foods that many Americans would find completely exotic, even as parents. And, as discussed earlier, spice can certainly be nice. So, take a chance with these four awesome recipes from ParentMap, and put some adventure in your child’s next meal.
One is from Afghanistan and includes coriander, garlic and mint. Another is popular in Thailand, Malaysia and Southern India and uses coconut milk, turmeric and saffron. The third also uses coconut milk, but incorporates cinnamon, cloves and raisins for a sweet treat. And in the last recipe, from Thailand, you’ll find chicken, basil, ginger and curry working their magic.
For parents who love to experiment in the kitchen or make really good food for themselves, there’s no reason your toddler can’t enjoy a little bit of that gourmet touch. As with all food for little ones, just make sure it’s wholesome and low in sodium.
Our gourmand readers have likely heard of Kitchn, but for those unfamiliar with the site, it’s a fabulous resource for home cooks. They do a wonderful job of explaining the ins and outs of recipes, where dishes originated and often all the alternative ways something can be prepared. We found this terrific collection of recipes from a mother who took her kids’ meals up a notch even when she wasn’t quite feeling it after a long day. Think avocado toast, chickpea nuggets, lentil soup and lettuce wraps.
What Kids Eat in Japan
Children in Japan essentially eat the same things as their parents, which is actually the case in most countries (even the U.S.). However, Japanese people have an incredibly unique diet that is filled with flavors and textures that are exotic to most of the rest of the world.
Savvy Tokyo compiled a terrific list of foods in Japan that will likely appeal to many children, if you happen to be traveling there are just want to try something new. It includes simple dishes like udon noodles, which are really no different to a child than spaghetti; tamago sushi, which is just egg and rice and contains nothing raw; and anpan, the light sweet cakes made from protein-rich red beans.
A good place to start your little one on Japanese cuisine is with a simple miso soup. This soup usually contains cubed tofu, and fears about tofu and babies are largely unfounded, according to Wholesome Baby Food, unless of course your child is allergic to soy. Here’s a fun and easy recipe from Super Healthy Kids that incorporates alphabet pasta.
What Kids Eat in India
India is another country with a food culture that might seem too rich, exotic and flavorful for a budding little palate. However, there are so many unique and interesting Indian foods that don’t involve copious amounts of chili peppers or creamy goat brains.
Check out Big Apple Curry’s informative and interesting take on Indian food for your baby. Author Ina consulted many of her Indian relatives, both in the U.S. and India, to figure out what they feed their tots. The results are well worth a read and could change your mind about spice in foods.
If you want to start with something very approachable, khichdi is a mild and popular Indian dish for babies and kids (or adults) of all ages. It’s something everyone can enjoy at mealtime. Here are 10 variations on the dish from Shishu World.
What Kids Eat in France
We admit that, after researching what the French serve their kids, we wished we were a French child. French food is arguably the world’s greatest cuisine, and that means little Pierre has likely scarfed down plenty of coq au vin, duck rillettes and lobster bisque by preschool. Why? Because he’s eating an incredibly well-rounded diet. For eye-opening insights into what French babies munch on, check out Karen Le Billon’s research on her blog.
For instance, babies are introduced to a wide variety of vegetables early on for “taste development.” The French Society of Pediatrics (FSP) recommends a rigorous four meals a day from 9 months onward. And, contrary to its U.S. counterpart, the FSP recommends feeding babies a mixture of consomme (thin broth) mixed with milk starting at 5 months so as to gradually wean children off breastmilk or formula and get them used to the flavors of vegetables.
So where should you start with French food for your little one? You can’t go wrong with this French mother’s awesome cooking blog. Recipes include black radish, mascarpone and nutmeg puree for 6 months and up; beetroot and feta with fresh chives gazpacho for 8 months and up; and chocolate cake with creamy banana heart for baby’s first birthday.