ABCs of baby food

Fresh and surprising news and approaches to your child’s first bites, from A to Z

You want the best for your baby. That’s why you researched the right car seat, test-drove a dozen strollers, and battled it out on the breastfeeding front, sore nipples and all. Yet when it comes time for your little one to lose the all-liquid diet and start solids, moms and dads may grab a baby-faced jar without inspecting the ingredients. Even parents who whip up their own purées can make simple mistakes that short baby on valuable vitamins and nutrients. So read on for an alphabet’s worth of tips that will change the way you feed your baby — for the better!

A-E

A is for allergy
Myth: Parents should avoid offering suspect foods like fish and eggs until after baby’s first birthday. Truth is, unless there’s a family history of food allergies, holding off won’t prevent allergies in your child, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Just watch closely and wait three days between introducing new foods to be sure there’s no allergic reaction.

B is for BPA
If you’re freezing your homemade baby food in plastic ice-cube trays, beware of BPA, a hormone-disrupting toxin found in plastic that can leak into baby’s food, especially under extreme temps. Look for BPA-free freezer trays or choose stainless steel (naylanaturalcare.com offers both, with shipping across Canada).

C is for choking hazards
Beware of foods that may pose a choking hazard (think dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter, popcorn), particularly before baby’s first birthday. Psst: Cut grapes, raisins and cherry tomatoes into quarters before serving, and never leave baby unsupervised while he’s eating.

D is for desserts
Steer clear of baby desserts, which have added sugar. For example, a single jar of Gerber Spoonable Smoothie Fruit Medley contains 15 g sugar (31⁄2 teaspoons!). Offer naturally sweet pure fruit purées instead.

E is for eggs
You may already know that eggs deliver protein, B vitamins, and choline, a necessary nutrient for brain development. Babies can eat egg yolks at six months, and the protein-packed white as well from their first birthdays.
F-J

F is for fish
Introducing fish follows the same rule as for egg yolks. Skip high-mercury seafood (such as swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel) in favour of fatty fish (Atlantic salmon, canned light tuna). They’re rich in DHA, an essential fatty acid important for nerve and eye development, and infant brain growth. Bonus: New research shows that babies who start eating fish before nine months of age have a lower risk of developing eczema. (For a list of mercury-safe fish, see nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/walletcard.pdf.)

G is for garlic
Bland is not better. Kick up potatoes with paprika, pears with ginger, and chicken with garlic. Herbs and spices, such as oregano, turmeric, cinnamon and vanilla, stretch baby’s taste buds and add antioxidants. Psst: Spices can start at nine to 12 months, but hold off on the hot ones.

H is for homemade
Do-it-yourself baby food is easier on purse strings and the planet, and more nutritious than store-bought, which may lose nutrients in processing. Plus, you control what goes in. Steam fruits and veggies, rather than boiling, to maximize nutrients. For how-to, see Todaysparent.com/DIYbabyfood.

I is for in-season
For peak flavour and nutrition, along with the lowest prices, purée in-season produce (see eattheseasons.com). Going local also cuts down your carbon footprint.

J is for juice
Too much juice can lead to tooth decay and diarrhea, and dampen baby’s appetite for more nutritious foods. Offer only breastmilk, or formula if bottle-feeding, for the first six months; after that, start offering a bit of water to quench baby’s thirst. Reach for the cold-water tap, as hot water may contain contaminants.
K-O

K is for kiwi
Think beyond apples and bananas. You’ll expand baby’s palate and nutrient intake by offering a wider variety of fruits and veggies, including kiwi, papaya, persimmons, figs, beets and bok choy.

L is for label
Commercial baby fruit purées can contain as little as 30 percent fruit by weight, so judge a jar by its nutrition label. The first ingredient should be a fruit, vegetable or meat. Avoid added sugar, salt or modified food starch. Finally, check the expiration date and vacuum seal (the lid’s centre should be slightly indented).

M is for meat
You needn’t follow the traditional progression of baby cereal, then fruits, veggies and meat; puréed meat is a fine first food, especially for exclusively breastfed babies who need the extra iron. If your budget allows, opt for grass-fed beef — it contains more brain nourishing omega-3 fatty acids than the conventionally farmed kind.

N is for nitrates
Nitrates are found naturally in beets, radishes, spinach, turnips and carrots, but 100 ppm or more in baby’s food can cause methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome). Avoid these veggies in homemade food until six months (jarred versions are OK).

O is for organic
Contrary to popular belief, organic foods are not necessarily safer (they can be contaminated by handling or the source itself) or more nutritious. But they are lower in pesticides, which are potentially harmful chemicals that could harm baby’s health and development (see “P Is for Pesticides”). Organic meat, poultry and eggs are also farmed without antibiotics and growth hormones.
P-T

P is for pesticides
To cut down on pesticides, pick in-season produce, wash all fruits and veggies first, and opt for organic, especially when it comes to root vegetables, and the “dirty dozen” — the Environmental Working Group’s produce picks with the highest concentration of pesticides (visit foodnews.org).

Q is for quinoa
High in iron, zinc and fibre, gluten-free quinoa is a complete source of protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids. Other powerhouse grains for baby include iron-fortified basmati rice, couscous and amaranth.

R is for rainbow
Pick produce spanning the colour spectrum — from button mushrooms to blueberries — to ensure baby is getting the gamut of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

S is for starting solids
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, but what if baby fancies food before then? There’s no harm in starting solids slightly earlier — but it’s best to discuss baby’s feeding with her paediatrician first.

T is for texture
Don’t spend too much time making thin purées; baby’s food should grow progressively thicker and more textured. This builds jaw muscles and challenges baby to learn new mouth skills, an important part of development. Tip: It’s best to start solids by seven or eight months — if you wait much longer, baby may have trouble handling textured foods.
U-Z

U is for unpasteurized cheese
Before 12 months, avoid unpasteurized cheese (which may contain listeria, a cause of food poisoning), and honey (a potential cause of infant botulism).

V is for variety
Offering baby an array of tastes and textures early not only has nutritional benefits, it means baby is more willing to like these foods later on — and that may fend off picky eating.

W is for water
The more water in commercial baby food, the less nutritious it is. When making baby food at home, thin with water reserved from cooking rather than straight H20 for extra nutrients.

X is for xanthan gum
Avoid foods containing unnecessary fillers, like xanthan gum, flours
and modified food starches, which may dilute the density of nutrients.
Baby food tips

Y is for yogurt
You can introduce yogurt at nine months, but skip the fat-free kinds with added sugars. Instead, choose plain full-fat yogurt (baby needs fat for growth). It provides protein, calcium and beneficial bacteria. Serve plain or flavour with puréed fruit or mashed avocado.

Z is for zinc (and more!)
Zinc, iron, vitamin C and omega-3s are essential for healthy skin, immune system function and brain development, especially during the first year.

Our expert panel:

Daina Kalnins
registered dietitian at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto

Lianne Phillipson-Webb
registered nutritionist and author of Sprout Right: Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler

Tina Ruggiero
registered dietitian and co-author of The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet

Joey Shulman
registered nutritionist and author of Winning the Food Fight: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising a Healthy, Happy Child

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