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As a true Southern girl, my youngest daughter Natalie’s first taste of solid food was cornbread crumbled into a soupy bowl of pinto beans. She saw me enjoying a spoonful and wanted to know what the “Mmm” was all about. I skimmed a few soft morsels off the top, and after her first bite, I barely got another without her grabbing for my spoon. Natalie was just four months old then, but she still loves her beans and cornbread.
Babies explore the world with their mouths, and reactions to new things make for fond, sloppy memories. The American Association of Pediatrics advises starting solids at four to six months or when your baby has doubled birth weight, can sit supported, and has good head control.
The AAP warns against introducing solids too early — sometimes assumed to promote sleep — which can lead to obesity later in life.
Most infants begin their culinary journey with single-grain cereal like rice or oatmeal mixed with breast milk or formula, a runny texture that’s easy to swallow but thick enough to push to the back of the throat. Naturally more winds up on baby than in him at first. Take comfort in knowing he still receives all the nutrients he needs from the bottle or breast, which should continue at least through the first year.
Whether store-bought pouches, homemade concoctions, or self-fed soft foods, introducing solids sets the stage for future eating habits. Include baby in your family dinner around the table, though your meal might get cold before you finish.
Baby food is big business. While pre-packaged items can be convenient, make sure to look for all-natural ingredients. Most commercial products are generated from concentrate and diluted with water. This process can raise levels of sugar and sodium, while decreasing fiber. On the upside, it all must be prepared under strict safety guidelines. Organics reduce baby’s exposure to pesticides, which can be significantly more than fresh foods because the base is so concentrated. Also, avoid products with preservatives other than citric acid (which works like lemon juice to control acidity and reduce spoilage). Jar or a pouch?
Earth’s Best, a popular organic line, produces both and makes a comparison. Jars are less expensive, last longer, and offer chunkier blends. You’ll pay a premium price for pouches, but I liked the puree consistency, and found them lighter for travel. Rest assured, both are BPA-free and vacuum-sealed so no bacteria can grow inside. Whatever the packaging, put a small amount in a bowl and feed from there, so the unused food doesn’t get contaminated. Jars are great for home use, but pouches are better to toss in the diaper bag without the worry of breakage.
Make your own meals
For one, making your own baby food is economical. A 98-cent sweet potato can feed baby for almost a week. And there is peace of mind knowing the freshest ingredients fuel his growing body. But you trade assurance and savings for sweat equity, which isn’t a problem for those who don’t mind spending time in the kitchen.
Fruits and veggies must be washed, skinned, and diced. Bananas and avocado make for great raw purees. Root vegetables or hard fruits like apples should be steamed or baked rather than boiled so you don’t lose nutrients. Cook until soft enough to blend fine. Store in BPA-free jars or freeze large batches in ice-cube trays to pop out later into labeled bags. Homemade food lasts a week in the fridge and a month in the freezer.
More easily explained as self-feeding, baby-led weaning is the practice of skipping purees altogether so infants learn to chew before they swallow. “Fingers” of food in the shape of French fries, long enough to stick out of a tiny fist, should be cooked soft enough to squish between your thumb and forefinger. Instead of an adult gauging the speed and amount of food consumed, babies are in control of how much they eat at their own pace.
Tina White of Olive Branch chose this approach for her daughter Olivia at six months. “It was simpler, and I made food we could all eat together.” White started by roasting strips of zucchini to a mushy texture. “The first night, she just sucked on it, but by day three, she started to chew. Then, we moved to small broccoli florets.” The AAP recommends introducing one food at a time for two to three days in case of allergies. “Every few days, we tried a new squash. Acorn is her favorite.”
The downside to baby-led weaning is the scary gagging. Little mouths spit out most big chunks, but when some slips to the back, their gag reflex kicks in. Gagging is not choking. A gagging baby will turn red-faced and make productive coughing noises. Choking is terrifyingly silent, and babies turn blue. Only serve food soft enough to work its way down or out. Once clear, reassure with a sip of water and give it another go if baby is up for it.
Start with the noon-time feeding
On the big day, start at the noon feeding time, when baby is awake and alert. Have him seated in the high chair. Be patient while his little tongue thrusts out more food than will likely go in. If after a few tries, baby seems uninterested or profusely protests, try again another day. When he is ready, break out the big bib and capture those messy grins on camera. This time in life only lasts a few months.
PRODUCTS WE LIKE
FAO Schwarz Baby Chef • Steams, blends, defrosts, reheats, and warms bottles.
$80 with jars
Magic Bullet Baby Bullet Baby Care System • It was good, but in retrospect, I should have invested in a decent food processor and silicone ice trays. These I could have used long after my little ones grew a mouthful of teeth.
$60 on Amazon.com