The benefits of cooking for your baby in the first year

Best-selling author and children's food and nutrition expert Annabel Karmel on why homemade is a healthy choice for your child.

Annabel Karmel

Weaning is one of the most important milestones for moms and dads during the early months of parenthood. The choices you make for your baby during that time will establish his or her eating habits for life.

Weaning is a gentle process. There is a window of opportunity when your child is between six and 12 months of age when he or she will tend to eat pretty well. Take advantage of this time to introduce your child to a variety of new flavours that will hopefully set him or her on a path of healthy eating for life.

From the time babies are around six months old, their regular milk no longer provides them with all the nutrients they need – in particular, vitamin D and iron. However, it is important to remember that your baby’s milk will continue to form a significant part of his or her nutrition for many months to come.

When babies are ready to start solids, parents should breastfeed them as usual, or, if they are on formula, make sure they get at least 28 oz per day. Try feeding them after they have had their first solids instead of before, so that they are hungrier and more willing to try foods being offered.

Fresh is best

Some parents are put off cooking for their little ones from scratch by the thought of all the mess, the preparation, and the possibility that, after all the hard work, their babies will reject it. However, cooking from scratch is often a much more economical and rewarding experience than buying ready-made food: Fresh really is best.

When you begin to wean your baby, it is best to start by offering them vegetables, fruit, or baby rice. Sweet root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are my top choices – then fruits such as cooked apples and pears. Purée these to a consistency similar to yogurt. Slowly progress to lumpier, thicker purées, and then lumps. Variety is important: The greater the variety, the easier it will be to progress to a healthy, nutritious diet.

Remember, the first stage of weaning is about introducing new tastes and teaching the art of eating – it can take some time.

Tips for cooking from scratch

Food should not be overcooked or cooked for long periods of time at a high temperature, as this destroys a lot of the nutrients.

Add as much variety as possible: This makes the transition to family food much easier, and helps avoid fussiness.

As fresh food is not sterilized, it keeps more natural nutrients. It is also far more economical.

No-cook purées are great first foods to give your little one, and they are perfect for when you are out and about. Good examples of these include banana, avocado, mango, peach, and papaya. (Banana and avocado mixed together is a very popular combination).

The best ways to cook first foods include steaming fresh vegetables, which retains more nutrients than boiling them would, and baking root vegetables, which naturally caramelizes the sugars to make the vegetable nice and sweet. It is a good idea to use these naturally sweet root vegetables to introduce green vegetables such as spinach to the diet.

To save time and money, batch-cook your purées and freeze them in ice-cube trays. Spending a couple of hours in the kitchen during the weekend, you can prepare enough food to feed your baby for the week. Try mixing different frozen cubes of puréed fruits and vegetables, such as pear and apple or apple and carrot.

Introduce protein to the diet fairly quickly. Red meat is a particularly important source of iron (babies’ natural iron supply runs out around the time that they are six months old), and oily fish such as salmon contain essential fatty acids needed for brain and visual development. Jars and pouches with savoury recipes only contain small amounts of protein.

Do not stick to a diet of just fruit and vegetables for too long. Babies need calories to grow, so it is a good idea to mix purées with cheese and give your baby proteins such as chicken, fish, and meat after six months.

Content provided by The Mark News.

Annabel Karmel is creator of Annabel’s Essential Guide to Feeding your Baby and Toddler iPhone App

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