As a dietitian and hard-core lover of food, I was so excited when the time came to introduce solid food to our little guy Max! It’s such a huge milestone in a baby’s development, which can be really fun but also a bit nerve racking. I can see how parents can get overwhelmed, there are SO many different thoughts on what, when and how to feed a baby, it’s enough to make any sleep-deprived mom’s (or dad’s) head spin!
If you’ve been following me on Instagram stories you will have seen that I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of foods for Max and Leo (my cousin Jillian’s sweet little boy), most with success… minus the beets, those were a disaster (I finally figured them out and shared the recipe with you further down)! This post was forever in the making (and is a LONG one!). I wanted to share my experience with you, give you some tips on setting you up for success and take the time to answer some of the top infant feeding questions that you’ve been asking to help any of you who are just beginning this journey. I’ve broken this post into 4 parts:
Part I: Baby Feeding Gear Essentials
Part II: Baby Food: Homemade or Pre-Packaged?
Part III: Making your own baby food
Part IV: The top 9 infant feeding questions (and answers!)
PART I: My Top 5 Baby Gear Picks
As with anything ‘baby’, it’s good to know what gear you need to make feeding your baby a breeze! I’ve included a must-have gear guide here to help you decide what is a ‘nice to have’ versus a ‘need to have’:
- Good quality high chair. Let’s face it, your baby is going to be spending A LOT of time in this chair, and YOU are going to spend a lot of time cleaning it! You want a chair that is easy to clean, safe, and is easy for your baby to sit in. Ok, and let’s face it, having one that is stylish (ahem, it will be in the CENTRE of your kitchen) is a good idea too! I was so fortunate to have a Stokke Steps highchair gifted to me by their team, as this was my absolute first pick when it came to choosing a highchair for Max. It is super sleek, so easy to clean, as a perfect little foot rest AND it adapts so that you can use it with the Stokke Bouncer way before your baby is ready for solids. This feature was the bomb to be honest, it let Max be up at our eye level and a part of the action (one of the hallmark features of the Stokke products, including their strollers which we have, I’m in love with their products), and was one of the best pieces of gear that we had for him along with the Stokke Trails Stroller. Note: if you are buying the Steps to use as a highchair you need to purchase all three parts pictured below.
- Baby Food Cooker AND/OR a Good Blender. I used the Beaba Babycook machine from West Coast Kids for most of my recipes (note: it was gifted to me), and have given you the proportions for the machine, but you can cook the ingredients in a pot on the stove as well with enough water to cook the food (just to cover, and add more if you need to) and use a blender such as a Vitamix to blend the food. I enjoyed using the Beaba machine, it was very easy to operate and I liked that I could cook and puree the food in one container versus dirtying extra dishes. The one I have has two small vessels, one side purees but you can purchase a less expensive one that only has one container.
- Small containers for freezing the food. I really loved the Beaba ones from West Coast Kids, the portions are perfect for a baby’s meal, and the food just pops out of it once frozen. I kept the frozen food in labelled plastic bags, and just pulled them out of the freezer when I needed them. So easy! I learned with Charlie that the stackable snack containers (like the one on the right below) are a lifesaver once your baby is eating finger food!
- Bibs…and more bibs. Just when you think you have enough bibs, buy more. Really, this is a messy affair and a couple of bibs just isn’t going to cut it! I love the Pehr, Aiden & Anais and the Numpfer ones the best! The Numpfer ones are neat because they double as a wash cloth as well. Which you will need a lot of too!
- Baby spoons, fresh food baby feeders, cups & bowls. There are so many to choose from here. For spoons, Max loved the Munchkin ones along with the Beaba ones, but it really depends on your baby’s preference. Tommy Tippy and OXO make some good sippy cups, and Thermos makes a stainless steel one for anybody who wants to avoid the extra plastic or simply wants an insulated version for the hotter months (alternately you can use a regular open cup and help your baby drink). A fresh food baby feeder was another great tool to have; the silicone ones are easy to clean and made it fun and safe for Max to try new foods without the choking hazard (I didn’t like the ones made from mesh, they were very difficult to clean).
PART II: Baby Food… Homemade or Pre-Packaged?
Making your own baby food can be so much fun…but it can also be a bit of work! It’s worth the extra effort to make home made meals for your little one, but I’m the first one to admit that I don’t think it’s realistic that everyone will be cooking exclusively home made meals for their babies. For those of you who are in this camp (I raise my hand, yes, me), there are some great organic pre-made baby foods on the market! I use the Love Child Organics for Max. They use simple, wholesome organic ingredients (many of them are ‘superfoods’) in their baby food with no fillers, additives, preservatives, refined sugars or GMO’s. I also love the fact that they are a Certified B Corp and give a portion of their proceeds back to children in need. I know that life can get busy, and feel zero mommy guilt feeding Max high quality baby food when I need to! Note: the founder Leah’s baby, children and family food cookbook, It All Begins with Food, is available from major booksellers from April 25th, 2017.
PART III: Making Your Own Baby Food – Max’s Favourite Recipes!
These recipes are all geared toward the Beaba Babycook machine as that is what I used, but you can cook the food over medium heat on the stove with just enough water to cover the food, and use a Vitamix to puree it. If you happen to have a personal sized Vitamix blender or a Magic Bullet, I would recommend using that if you are only making a small amount, as the larger blenders have a wide base that makes it challenging to blend small volumes. Always save the cooking liquid to add back to the food as you’re blending it to get the consistency that you want.
I’m sharing Max’s favourite five recipes, but there are so many out there! The Beaba Cooks cookbook has some great ideas for making your own baby food and I also found some on the Vitamix website; I linked a couple of others cookbooks below in case you were looking. Don’t make it too complicated: you can even blend or mash up your own family meal when it is feasible (i.e.: some of you may have seen me make a moose stew for Max, and that was all it was, our stew that we pureed in the Vitamix without the extra salt and just some water added to it).
Where it indicates ‘diced’ below, I diced them into approximately 1/2″-1″ cubes. All ingredients are uncooked. Use the baby food within 2 days if storing in the fridge, or freeze them into small portions to thaw as needed.
The instructions for each recipe below are identical unless otherwise indicated:
Fill the Beaba water tank to level 3 and cook for 15 minutes. Place all of the ingredients in the basket and cook according to the instructions. When cooked, empty the basket back into the cooking vessel (adding the cooking water back to the vessel if you emptied it), and puree until smooth. Add more water to get the desired texture if needed.
If you don’t have a baby cooker use cooked ingredients (i.e.: steam them in some water in a pot) and purée in a good blender (save any cooking liquid to add back to the food to attain the desired consistency, plus extra water if needed).
Salmon + Potato + Yam
- 2 oz. diced fresh (or previously frozen) salmon, de-boned & skin removed – I used Haida Wild
- 3/4 c. diced yam
- 3/4 c. diced peeled russet potato
- 1/2 tsp. fresh dill (optional)
Important: Double check to make sure that no bones remain in the puree before feeding it to your baby!
Chicken + Pear + Butternut Squash
- 1 c. diced peeled and seeded butternut squash
- 3/4 c. diced peeled and cored ripe pear (I used Bartlett)
- 2 oz. diced organic skinless and boneless chicken breast
Lentil + Apple + Yam
- 1/2 c. red lentils, soaked
- 2/3 c. diced peeled and cored apple (I used Spartan, MacIntosh or Gala)
- 1 c. diced peeled yam
Roasted Beet + Apple
- 2 c. diced peeled beets (about 2-3 medium beets)
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 c. diced peeled & cored apple (I recommend Gala, Spartan or MacIntosh)
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the beets in a 9×9 baking dish, toss with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour. Set the beets aside to cool, then cook the beets and the apple together in the Beaba as per the instructions above.
Green Pea + Split Pea + Spinach or Kale
- 1/2 c. dried split peas
- 1 c. frozen green peas
- 1 c. loosely packed baby spinach leaves (or kale, ribs removed)
Directions: Rinse the split peas, place in a small heavy bottomed pot (I used a mini Staub rice cooker, worked perfectly), cover with about 2 inches of water, and cook over medium heat until the peas are soft, about 30 minutes (stir the peas occasionally and add more water if needed). Drain the peas, place them in the Beaba with the remaining ingredients and cook according to the directions above.
PART IV: Top 9 Infant Feeding Questions and Answers!
I wanted to share some of the top infant feeding questions that come up on a regular basis and my answers.
Note: these guidelines are in-line with Canadian recommendations and are based on my professional opinion coupled with latest evidence. Always speak with your healthcare provider (i.e.: doctor or dietitian) if you have any concerns or questions. The information provided is not meant to replace any personalized advice you may get from your healthcare provider.
1. When will I know that my baby is ready to eat food?
At about 6 months, most babies are ready for other foods. Some babies are ready a bit before, some are ready a bit after. However, you don’t want to wait more than a couple of weeks past the 6 month mark, as babies’ iron stores are depleted around that time, and breastmilk and formula alone aren’t sufficient to meet their needs. Of course, along with other foods, you can continue to breastfeed until your baby is 2 years and beyond (at this stage when you are introducing your baby to solids, continue to breastfeed or formula feed your baby). You’ll know baby is ready to start other foods when he or she:
- Seems hungry earlier than usual.
- Can sit up without support, and has good control of his neck muscles.
- Holds food in his mouth without pushing it out on his tongue right away.
- Shows interest in food when others are eating.
- Opens his mouth when he sees food coming his way.
- Can let you know he doesn’t want food by leaning back or turning his head away.
(Source: Canadian Pediatric Society website)
2. What should I feed my baby first?
Iron rich foods should be the first thing that you introduce to a baby, as your baby’s iron stores are depleted at around 6 months of age. Commercially prepared iron fortified baby cereals, beans, lentils, tofu, meat, fish, and eggs are all good choices (texture appropriate, of course), and should be offered to your baby at least twice a day. Maintaining adequate iron is essential to infant growth and development (iron is a critical nutrient in brain development), and iron deficiencies in infancy and childhood can lead to serious irreversible effects.
3. When is the best time of day to introduce solids?
Morning is typically the time of day when babies are most hungry. It’s best to introduce a new food in the morning to give you time throughout the day to monitor for any possible reactions, including allergic reactions.
4. Should I delay introducing any certain foods to help prevent allergies?
Current evidence supports introducing a variety of foods, in no particular order (other than iron rich foods above), including foods with a greater allergic potential (i.e.: peanuts, eggs, wheat, fish). Talk with your healthcare provider should you have concerns surrounding the introduction of certain foods and allergies. Honey should not be offered to babies under a year of age due to the risk of food poisoning (botulism).
5. How often and how much should I feed my baby?
Between 6-9 months, it’s recommended to feed your baby pureed and well mashed foods without lumps 2-3 times a day.
After 9 months it’s safe to start introducing more texture, including whole grain crackers and foods that dissolve in the mouth, family foods, ground or soft mashed foods with tiny soft lumps, and finger foods. Offer your baby food 3-4 times per day. If you’re introducing cow’s milk to replace breastmilk or infant formula, wait until your baby is 9-12 months in age.
How much your baby will eat is up to him or her. Your baby may only eat a teaspoon when you first introduce solids, but will increase the volume consumed as he or she gets older. This will vary from meal to meal so don’t get too fixated on the exact volume so long as your baby is growing and developing well.
6. When should I start offering water, and what about other liquids such as juice or milk?
Water should be offered throughout the day once your baby starts solids. There is no need, or benefit, to giving your baby juice, and juice may cause stomach upset and tooth decay. Milk (start with homogenized if you are introducing milk before two years of age) is not necessary to introduce until your baby is no longer being breast or bottle fed with formula or breastmilk.
7. Is a vegan diet appropriate for my baby?
Technically, you can feed a baby a vegan diet if you are VERY vigilant about what you feed your baby. HOWEVER, I don’t recommend it. I know this may be controversial, but it is very difficult to feed your baby all of the nutrients that he or she needs at this critical stage where the brain and body are growing and developing at such a rapid pace with a vegan diet (i.e.: Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, iron, zinc and calcium). Vitamin B12 is a specific concern as a shortage can lead to neurological problems. Vegan diets can also contain a lot of fiber, which fills you up quickly. Children have small stomachs, and the fiber they eat can fill them up before they get enough calories (frequent nutritious high calorie snacks can help).
Should you choose to feed your baby a vegan diet please consult a dietitian who specializes in this area prior to starting solids to make sure that your baby is getting the nutrition that he or she needs to grow.
Commercially prepared infant cereal is iron fortified, which serves as a significant source of iron for babies. I therefore don’t recommend making your own baby cereal.
9. What about Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW), which is essentially ditching the purees for regular food that the baby feeds to him or herself, has gained enormous popularity in recent years. Parents typically choose this route of feeding because they perceive that it offers a range of benefits to the baby including enhanced enjoyment for the baby, greater participation in family meals, reduced risk of developing ‘picky eating’ habits, decreased cost of feeding the baby or accelerating the baby’s feeding abilities.
What is the risk? Choking. Young children don’t know how to chew food into tiny pieces. And they haven’t learned how to bring a piece of food back up when it gets caught going down. Note, choking and gagging are different as choking can be life threatening. I’ve had Max gag on foods (even simple pureed foods) more time than I can count which still scares me. Some babies may be able to tolerate a more varied texture earlier in life, each baby is different!
I think that the notion of Baby Led Weaning is seen as an ‘all or nothing’ type of approach, which I don’t agree with. Babies need to learn how to eat, and may not get all of the nutrition they need if left to fend for themselves with finger foods exclusively. I support a combination of pureed and mashed foods with the introduction of texture-appropriate finger foods when the baby is ready such as ripe avocado, strips of whole wheat toast, ripe pieces of banana and well cooked sticks of carrots.
Avoid foods that are likely to cause choking including those that are small, round or cylindrical in shape, like hot dogs, whole grapes, carrot slices, seeds and hard candy (avoid candy all together of course, but I had to put that in there). Always supervise children while they are eating, and make sure that they are sitting down to eat to decrease the risk of choking.
Thank you to the following companies for helping make this post possible!
Thanks to West Coast Kids for giving me a Beaba cooker, Stokke Baby for gifting me a Steps Highchair, Vitamix for the blender, and Love Child Organics for the yummy organic baby food!