Homemaking your baby’s food can steal a lot of time from us, and cause us a lot of unneeded extra stress- especially when you’ve got the rest of the family to cook for, too! We all want to try and give our babies the best first experiences with food and be able to offer them a tasty variety that is nutritious, but that means finding the time to come up with meal ideas, then cooking, puréeing, cleaning, storing…
We can reassure you that once you start, it will get easier. All the mums I have spoken to have found their feet with homemaking all of their baby’s meals eventually. It just takes some time to get into the swing of things! But the main things to remember are the safety guidelines for cooking for your baby and how to preserve the most nutrients in their meals. So we’re going to try and cut out the boring bits and give you some tips!
What are the options when cooking for my baby? And what are the best methods for retaining nutrients?
Steaming is one of the most popular options for cooking baby food, and comes most recommended by paediatricians. When cooking, the longer amount of time that the foods are immersed in water and exposed to high temperatures, equals the more natural nutrients lost. Steaming is the best way of avoiding losing those vital nutrients, and doesn’t need any oils to cook in. Best Used For: all vegetables (peel as required), all fruit except banana and avocado, and fish.
Baking or Roasting
By baking and roasting, we mean cooking the foods purely by dry heat in the oven. This method makes food much more tender, and makes it more digestible for little tummies that aren’t well developed yet. By baking or roasting, the food will retain a significant amount of nutrients, and by using this method you can cook lots all at once for storing... Win, win! However, do not burn or char food as this will lose nutrients and eating charred food introduces toxins into the body. Best Used For: root vegetables like carrots, potato and parsnip. Pumpkin and squashes, fruit, fish in foil, and meat.
Boiling & Stewing
These methods come a little less recommended by doctors when cooking for babies. When you cook foods in water, you can lose a lot of water- soluble vitamins and minerals as well as other important nutrients. So, if you are going to boil or stew foods for your baby, try using the least amount of water possible and try and keep the water in the purée so you don't throw the nutrient-rich liquid away. Best Used For: slow cooking meat to be juicy and tender.
Heating food in the microwave for your baby can seem scarier than it actually is. I always assumed it was much riskier to microwave food than using other options, but it generally depends of what it is you’re cooking. Some foods lose fewer nutrients when microwaved in comparison to boiling or even steaming. Two things I’ve found wrong with microwaving is that it can get hot too quickly, and you can only cook small amounts at once. Best Used For: steaming vegetables and cooking fruit.
What is the best method for cooking fruits & vegetables?
Baking is a common favourite for cooking fruits and veg for everyone, not just when it’s for babies! It preserves the most nutrients as well as being much more tasty! Especially things like sweet & white potato, peaches, pears, carrots and parsnips. Roasting and steaming are just as good for retaining all the good stuff in fruit and veg. Boiling should be a third choice with only a little amount of water. If your baby is starting to eat solid foods before 8 months of age, then it’s always best to cook fruits. Cooking fruits breaks them down so that it’s easier for younger tummies to digest. However, if a food can be given raw such as banana and avocado, give it raw as it will have the most nutrients.
What is the best method for cooking meat?
You can cook the meat separately – either poaching, steaming or baking it and then puréeing it with the cooking liquid. Baking preserves the most nutrients, but be careful not to make it dry. If you add different vegetable purees with the meats you can create a range of flavours and make the meat more palatable. This enables a lot of variety as you can mix and match different fruits and vegetables with the meats to create new flavours.
However, crock-pot or slow cooking the meat with vegetables will preserve many more nutrients, and also makes a super tasty meal for your baby. Including the bones in the cooking (effectively making a broth) will also add valuable vitamins and minerals, and you can sieve them out before puréeing.
How do I purée?
Making baby food purée is really simple and easy to get into a routine with. First, you cook the food you will use in the purée, either by steaming or roasting ideally. You should be batch cooking at least 1lb of food each time you are going to purée. Try to retain some of the water from steaming. If you didn’t use any water to cook, that’s no problem, you can use boiled water, or breast/formula milk.
Grab a food blender or processor and blend the food until it is smooth and free of chunks, and especially for younger babies, the purée’s consistency should be quite runny, which is where the liquid comes in. Add a few tablespoons of the steaming water, boiled water, or breast/formula milk to get a sloppy, runny consistency for your baby. With meat or fish meals, it’s a good idea to chop the food into small pieces before blending, and you will definitely need some of the liquid to be able to reach that smooth texture!
From the age of 8 months and older, your little one will be able to handle coarser textures and be able to munch and chew foods, so you won’t need to focus too much on making smooth and runny purées.
The best way to introduce lumpier textures is to do it slowly by chopping the food into small pieces and puréeing roughly by ‘pulsing’ the blender or processor. Then a few months down the line from 8 months, you can start to discard the blender altogether, and just mash or chop foods into small chunks. When you’re done, be sure to give the food a taste yourself before preparing it to be stored for later use.
What if I’m using baby led weaning? Or want to make some finger food snacks?
Preparing finger foods is an even easier process. Pieces of fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese make great simple finger foods and snacks for our little ones. The foods should be cut into bigger than finger-sized chunks, so that they are a bit too big for your baby to put whole thing in their mouth to avoid choking, yet they can easily hold it in their dainty hands and put it in their mouth to chomp on it. Foods need to be cooked so they are soft and tender, and will mash down between your baby’s gums using the cooking methods above. Just watch out that roasted foods aren’t too dry or have tough skin, as for your little one this could be a choking hazard or harm their gums.
Giving your baby the best start with healthy foods is every parents intention, but there are a lot of habits and traditions that we do which we think are ok but often don't give our babies the optimal nutritional start. Here we go through the main things to know about optimizing the health of our babies.
The Building Blocks of Health
Protein - this is vital for growth and repair of all cells, and energy production. Found in eggs, pulses, lean meat, fish, cheese, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. However, the western diet contains a lot of protein and your baby doesn't need as much protein as you may think.
Fat - babies and young children need a higher proportion of fat than adults. However, there are two types of fat and they affect our bodies in different ways. Saturated fat is the unhealthy fat which is mainly found in meat and dairy product, and it is not good to have too much. Unsaturated fat is the healthy fat which is made up of Mono-unsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. The Polyunsaturated fats are very important to babies and children as they help the immune system and boost brain development. They include Omega 3 and Omega 6 found in oily fish, seeds and nuts. Many people choose to supplement these oils as it can be hard to get adequate amounts from diet alone.
Carbohydrate - the body's major source of fuel. This also comes in two forms: Refined Carbohydrates (such as sugar, sweets and most refined foods such as white bread, white rice etc) and Complex Carbohydrates (such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit).
Refined Carbohydrates give the body a burst of energy, followed by a slump and can cause mood swings, irritability, tantrums.... these need to be avoided! Complex Carbohydrates provide more sustained, slow-release energy and are therefore are better all round.
Fibre - essential for slowing down the release of sugar in the bloodstream but also helps aid proper digestion and avoid constipation. Again this comes as two types: Soluble Fibre (found in fruits, vegetables and grains) and Insoluble Fibre (such as Wheat and Wheat Bran). Soluble Fibre is best for your baby as Insoluble Fibre can be abrasive on the digestive tract and lead to other health problems in the future.
Vitamins and Minerals - I won't go into all the details here as it would take too long! Found in all natural foods in different quantities. But some vitamins cannot be stored in the body so your baby needs to eat them everyday. They can also be easily destroyed by boiling, which is why we advocate steaming as a preferred cooking method. Minerals are also required for different body processes, and some are needed in larger quantities than others.
What does all this mean?
There is a lot of information here, but don't get bogged down in it. The most important thing you can do is to continually offer your baby variety in their diet and try to keep to the healthier options most of the time.
Many people do also supplement vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 and 6 fats from an early age too. If you do want to supplement your baby, plant-based vitamin and mineral liquids or powders are the best option as you can slip a bit in their purée or milk without them even knowing!