Baby food 101: The basics all mums and dads should know!
Read about the basics of giving your baby solid food for the first time.
Your baby is around 6 months old and is grabbing wildly at everything you eat. You know that he’s now ready to start eating solid food and you’re very excited about seeing him ‘eat’ for the first time ever!
But with the excitement, you may also start to feel slightly overwhelmed by all the baby food products in the market, and by all the information you might hear from friends and relatives, or read in books or on the Internet.
To make this time a bit less overwhelming for you, here’s some information related to some of the the most common questions about baby food.
When is my baby ready for solids?
According to Gina Shaw of WebMD, most babies are ready for their first taste of solids by the time they are 6 months old. She explains that by this ages, babies lose what’s called the ‘extrusion reflex’ that they use for sucking a breast or bottle.
Here are some signs that your baby may be ready for solids:
- He can sit up with support, and also hold his head up well.
- He can keep food in his mouth rather than let it dribble out.
- His birth weight has doubled.
- He shows plenty of interest in what you’re eating.
How do I choose the best food for my baby?
Experts point out that around the time babies are ready to start eating solid food (6 months), their natural stores of iron begin to deplete.
Because of this, the Health Promotion Board of Singapore (HPB) recommends giving your baby iron-fortified cereal, as well as foods naturally rich in iron, as some of his first foods.
Making your baby’s food at home
If you are planning to make your baby’s food at home, keep the texture smooth and runny to help your baby enjoy the process of learning how to eat.
The HPB recommends giving your baby soft, mashed fruit and cooked strained vegetables. They also advise giving soft protein-rich foods such as soybean curd, cooked and mashed lentils, and finely flaked fish.
As your baby’s ability to chew and bite improves, you could add finely minced meat and finely shredded poultry in his diet.
Here are some fruit and vegetable options that are appropriate first foods for your baby:
- Avacado: Avocados are full of essential fats and nutrients for your little one, including vitamins A, C, niacin and folate; and the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and calcium.
- Pears: Containing vitamins A, C and folate, and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium, pears are an ideal first food for your baby.
- Sweet potato: This vibrant orange yam is a super-food and is chock-full of vitamins such as vitamins A, C and folate, and minerals like potassium, selenium, magnesium and calcium.
- Pumpkin: A strong favourite with babies, pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A and beta carotene, and is also a great source of potassium, protein and iron.
- Banana: Another popular first food choice for babies, bananas contain vitamins A, C and folate, and minerals like potassium, selenium, magnesium and calcium.
Buying your baby’s first food from the supermarket
Most baby food jars are labelled according to your baby’s stage of development. So if you’re looking for first foods, look for jars labeled as Stage 1, which contain food pureed to an appropriate consistency for your little one.
What to check:
- The expiry date on the jar label/lid
- That the vacuum seal on the lid is intact and hasn’t ‘popped’ — the center of the lid should be slightly indented
- The ingredients — they shouldn’t contain added salt, sugar, preservatives, modified starch or colouring
- Stage 1 foods should ideally contain just one ingredient, i.e., the fruit or vegetable it is made of.
Also, before you open the jar to feed your baby, don’t forget to wipe the lid and then check that when you open it, you hear a popping sound which indicates that the seal was intact.
Should I buy organic baby food or use organic food when making my own baby food?
Many parents prefer to give their babies organic first foods, even though they cost more. However, others trust in the Singapore Government’s food safety standards and may opt to buy commercially produced fruits and vegetables.
Either way, this is an issue that’s best resolved by considering your family’s budget and beliefs.
However, do try to avoid skimping on fruits and vegetables in an effort to reduce your baby’s exposure to pesticides.
Instead, consider buying organic for the following fruits and vegetables known as the ‘dirty dozen’ — produce that typically contain the highest levels of residue pesticides.
The ‘dirty dozen’ are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes, and imported grapes.
Here’s an idea: If you have enough garden space, why not grow your own fruits and vegetables? Even if you live in an apartment, you could still grow things like herbs and tomatoes in pots!
Can I make my own baby food instead of buying it?
Of course you can! Baby food is one of the simplest things to make. All you need to do is puree or mash cooked vegetables, grains or other foods, then add a little breast milk, formula milk or boiled and cooled water to get the desired consistency.
- Fruits such as avocado, banana and papaya can be mashed. They can be passed through a sieve and then mixed with breast milk, formula or water to achieve desired consistency.
- Apples and pears can be diced and then simmered in water till soft. After that, they can be pureed and mixed with breast milk, formula or water.
- When cooking vegetables, it’s best to steam them to preserve maximum nutrient content.
- If you are feeding your child rice or other cereals, follow the instructions on the box or container.
- Consider giving your child whole grains — there are plenty of wholegrain cereals on the market, including affordable local brands.
- If you are giving your child what the rest of the family is eating, remember to puree his/her portion before you add salt and/or other seasonings.
To avoid wastage, make large batches of purees and then freeze them in appropriately sized containers (many baby shops have great first food storage solutions) or even in ice-cube trays.
This way, you only need to thaw the amount you need for each meal. Remember not to re-freeze thawed baby food.
How long does baby food last after I open the jar?
In general, baby food containing poultry, fish, meat, or eggs should stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Those made with only plain fruits and vegetables should last 2 days. Do check the jar label, too, for recommendations on how long to keep the food once the jar is opened.
Baby food can be kept for a month or 2 (6 months for plain fruits and vegetables) in the freezer, but take note that freezing does change its consistency.
Keep in mind that liquids tend to expand in the freezer, potentially cracking the jar or causing the container to pop open, so place the baby food in a clean storage container, leaving some room at the top.
If you store leftover baby food in the fridge, make sure you didn’t dip your baby’s spoon in it during feeding, as this could cause bacteria to grow in the food.
Instead of dipping into the jar, scoop a small amount of food into a bowl and feed your baby from that. If you need more, use a clean spoon to dish food out from the jar.
When feeding time’s over, throw out anything that’s left in the bowl. If there’s food left in the jar, put the lid back on and store it in the refrigerator.
Is it okay to heat baby food in the microwave?
You can heat baby food in the microwave, but with plenty of care. Food heated in the microwave tends to get hot very fast and heat unevenly too.
Because of this, it may contain ‘hot spots’ which could be dangerous for your child.
Heating the food on the stove-top may be safer. You could also place the container with the food in a bowl of hot water and it should heat up nicely.
However, if you do use the microwave to heat your baby’s food, scoop it out of the jar (if shop-bought). Then place it in a microwave-safe container. Heat it for only a few seconds.
Take the food out, stir well and let it stand for a few minutes. Always test the temperature of the food before feeding it to your baby — it should be at room temperature.
More tips about baby food
- According to the HPB, the earliest phase of introducing solids to your baby is to tech him to swallow. So you only need to start with about a teaspoon of solid food. As your baby grows, you can gradually increase the portion size.
- Do take note that the HPB and the World Health Organization recommend exclusively breastfeeding your child for the first 6 months.
- If you are wondering when the best time to feed your baby his first meal is, pick a time when he is alert and not too hungry — mid-morning is a good time for most babies.
- As your child grows, encourage him to feed himself and introduce plenty of finger foods when he is old enough to handle them.
- Always serve your baby clean and safe food, and supervise his eating. Avoid hard foods that could cause him to choke.
- The HPB advises to introduce one new food at a time. Continue to feed your baby the same food for 3 days in a row and observe him for any adverse effects such as rashes or diarrhoea.
- If your baby tolerates the food well, then add on another new item to the menu. If there is a history of food allergy in the family, take particular care to avoid introduction of the known allergens.
Share your tips about feeding a baby solids for the first time — do leave a comment!