Giving your baby their first real foods is a big milestone! They’re going from formula or breast milk to a whole culinary world that’s newly opened before them (with some precautionary exclusions, of course). The step is a big one for both you and your baby.
Making your own homemade baby food is not only easy, but it’s also quick and usually more cost-effective than purchasing pre-made baby foods in the store. Additionally, some pre-made baby foods contain fewer nutrients and vitamins due to cooking and preservation processes.
Creating your baby’s first real foods at home, however, from fresh veggies and fruits, maintains all those important nutrients, like calcium and Vitamin C, that your baby needs to grow.
But before you start giving your baby their first real foods, you want to consider a few factors.
Is Your Baby Ready?
Every single baby develops at their own pace, but you want to ensure that your child is actually ready for solid and semi-solid foods before you start feeding them anything other than formula or breastmilk if you're breastfeeding.
Many infants are ready for solid and semi-solid foods by the age of 4 to 6 months.
Your baby might be ready for these foods if they’re within this age range, can sit up by themselves and can support their head without any help. Additionally, some babies may show interest in food, eyeing or reaching for your dinner; they might also exhibit hunger or dissatisfaction after finishing their normal serving of formula or breastmilk.
While these are all signs your baby is ready for new foods, it’s also smart to check with your pediatrician before you begin feeding your child solid foods.
Once you begin feeding your baby purees, it’s worth noting that most baby foods are meant for certain “stages” of your baby’s first year. Each stage correlates to your baby’s ability to process thicker, more complex ingredients.
Stage 1 baby foods are usually very thin (think baby cereal) and are the very first baby foods that you feed your infant. Stage 2 baby foods are a bit thicker, with more ingredients, and are usually suitable around the seven-month mark. Stage 3 baby foods get into thicker foods that might require a bit of gumming.
If you’re making your food at home, you can decide what stage a food belongs in, based on how much you puree a food and how much liquid you add.
David Lewis, Founder of Kitchen Ambition, shares, “Introducing your baby to a variety of flavors is a great way to feed their curiosity and develop their senses. Many experts say that early exposure to a diversity of foods will help babies to establish good dietary choices later in life.”
“In our kitchen, we started both of our children on fresh fruits like seedless watermelon and strawberry. As a parent, it’s amazing to watch our infant suck a full strawberry dry. It’s not fast and it’s certainly not graceful, but it does provide an opportunity to bring the child into one of our most essential and social family rituals - gathering around the table together at the close of the day,” Lewis continues.
As with most development, let your child decide when they’re ready to move from one stage to the next; baby-led weaning is effective for a reason.
Look Out for Allergies and Other Food-Related Illnesses
It’s likely that your child if they’re only four or five months old and have been living entirely on formula or breastmilk for their entire life, has not had an opportunity to exhibit signs of a food allergy. But when you’re introducing all of these new foods to your baby, certain types of foods can cause allergic reactions more often than others.
The most common allergens (for both kids and adults alike) include:
Other foods that you may want to avoid at first because they can cause both serious and non-serious illnesses for infants (from botulism to plain bad gas) include:
- Dairy of all types
- Fruit juice
A good way to notice if your child is having an allergic reaction to a certain food? Only introduce one new food item to your baby every four days. That way, if you do spot an allergic reaction, you can easily pinpoint what may have caused it.
Choosing Your Supplies
Before you can get started making homemade baby food, you’ll need to compile some supplies.
First and foremost, when choosing your ingredients for a baby food recipe, go with organic whenever possible. Infants’ bodies can handle fewer toxins and pesticides than adults’.
If you’re unable to afford fully organic produce, then try to avoid some of the fruits and vegetables that are known to contain higher pesticide residue, such as:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Bell peppers
Melinda Ashley, Founder of Unfrazzled Mama, adds, “When it's time, it's best to start out with a single mashed vegetable. Good choices for a first food include carrots, peas, or green beans. Practically any vegetable can be cooked and pureed into baby food at home for a healthier, cheaper option than store-bought baby food!”
Other than your baby food ingredients, you’ll need the right gear to get the job done. Many new parents find that all they really need is already in their kitchen. A good food processor or blender is handy, as well as your normal cookware.
It is possible to purchase a baby food maker, which is an all-in-one contraption that both cooks and then purees the food, but these can be pricey, and you can accomplish the same task with just a little extra effort.
Cooking Produce for Your Baby
Ready to start cooking your little one's first real foods?
Many parents choose to start with produce. Preparing fruits and vegetables for your baby is very similar to preparing them for the rest of your family, with a few added steps and leaving out a few ingredients. In fact, if you want to save time and money when cooking for your baby, you can plan the rest of the family’s meals around whatever vegetable or fruit you’re cooking up for your tot.
When cooking produce, always wash the produce and peel (if needed). You can then bake, boil, microwave or steam the produce until it reaches a soft enough texture for pureeing or mashing (you’ll find that some items — like avocados — don’t necessarily need this cooking step).
Then, puree or mash, adding liquid (water, formula or breastmilk) until the baby food reaches the consistency that’s right for your child. The older your child, the less liquid you’ll need.
Don’t forget to remove any pits or seeds when cooking produce for your baby. Additionally, if cooking a fruit or vegetable that grows close to, or in, the ground, take extra care with the washing. Bacteria may be lurking in the nooks and crannies of that carrot or potato, which can cause serious illness in an infant.
You can add spices to your baby’s savory vegetables (just make sure they’re age-appropriate; your baby may take well to a bit of salt, but not so much to a healthy dose of cayenne pepper), but try to avoid adding sugar to your baby’s sweet fruits.
The sugar might make the new food more appealing to your baby, but it’s also empty calories. Instead of sugar, opt for tasty, sweet spices, like cinnamon.
Once you have a finished puree, you’ll likely have more than you need.
Most babies, when you’re just starting to introduce their first real foods, won’t need more than a few tablespoons of food at a time. You can save the finished puree in an ice cube tray for later use; the next time you want to feed your baby that particular food, all you have to do is pop out a few ice cubes, reheat and feed. Produce purees can last up to three months in the freezer (except for bean purees, which last two months).
Ready to feed your baby their first taste of produce? Try one of these homemade baby food recipes:
- Sweet Potato Puree
- Pea Puree
- Butternut Squash Puree
- Banana Puree
- Peach Puree
- Apple Puree
- Broccoli and Olive Oil Puree
- Green Bean and Basil Puree
- Mango and Vanilla Puree
- Pear and Cardamom Puree
- Red Pepper Puree
- Dried Bean Puree
- Spinach with White Yams
- Papaya Puree
Cooking Grains for Your Baby
Grains are also a popular option for parents cooking their baby’s first foods, possibly due to the popularity of store-bought brown rice cereals. But you can make your own brown rice cereal and similar grain food items at home.
To cook grains for your baby, all you need to do is cook the grains, then puree or grind them as needed, and thin with the liquid of your choice.
For baby cereal in particular, which is made with brown rice, you’ll want to grind the brown rice first, which can be done in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and then mix with boiling water (2 tablespoons of rice to every cup of water). You can choose to use formula or breastmilk instead of water.
That’s it. Once the cereal is creamy and thickened, you turn off the heat and let it cool before feeding.
If you want to kick things up a notch, you can go past this popular brown rice cereal and introduce your baby to other grains. This multi-grain cereal, for instance, incorporates not only brown rice but also oats, barley and probiotics. You can also combine grains with fruits and veggies, like this lentil and apple puree recipe does.
You can preserve grain purees for your baby just like you would fruit and vegetable purees by dividing the puree into ice cube trays and popping them into the freezer for reheating as needed. Grain purees will last for two months in the freezer.
Cooking Meat and Poultry for Your Baby
Feeding meat and poultry to your baby is an easy way to introduce a new food to your infant while also feeding the rest of your family. For example, cooking chicken breasts for the family? Set aside one, unseasoned chicken breast for baby, cook as you normally would and then puree.
Just make sure that any meat or poultry that you feed to your baby has been properly skinned, trimmed and removed of any fat, gristle or bone. Additionally, always make sure that any meat or poultry is well done, as infants are much more susceptible to food poisoning.
Try some of these meat and poultry baby food recipes to start:
- Basic Chicken Baby Food
- Chicken Carrot Mash
- Turkey Baby Food
- Red Meat Puree
- Chicken and Corn with Cilantro
You can preserve meat and poultry purees for your baby just like you would fruit and vegetable purees by dividing them into ice cube trays and popping them into the freezer for reheating as needed.
Meat and poultry purees will last for two months in the freezer.
All-in-One Baby Meals
For an all-in-one meal, you can combine pureed meat or poultry with other vegetables or fruits that you know your baby already likes. For example, this recipe for a baby beef stew can feed the entire family.
All you have to do for the baby is set aside some of the cooked ingredients before you add your spices (you can add spices to your baby’s food separately, in smaller proportions) and give them a few turns in the blender.
You may want to try these other, all-in-one baby food purees for more complex flavor profiles (after all, it’s never too early to start educating the next generation of foodies!):
Tips for Cooking for Baby
This experience is meant to be fun, so don’t overthink it. Just make sure you’re following all the proper precautions and then enjoy the ride. Your baby will be making all kinds of funny faces and sounds as they experience new tastes, smells and textures.
Some quick tips for your journey:
- Allow your baby eat at their own pace; if they’re not interested, don’t force it
- Don’t worry about a mess; messes are to be expected (and not just on the high chair… baby food will somehow find its way on the floors, the walls, you…)
- If you’re short on time, you can use frozen produce versus fresh, so long as you fully cook the food
- However, while bulk cooking baby food can be a time-saver, you might want to hold off on bulk cooking new foods just to be sure your baby doesn’t have an allergy and that they actually like certain things
Making Your Own Baby Food Comes with a Ton of Perks
Whether you’re doing it to save money, to give your baby more nutritious food or simply because it’s a fun experience to share with your child, making your own baby food is a rewarding endeavor.
With just a handful of recipes and ingredients, you can start introducing your infant to the wild and wonderful world of food.
You might also be interested in: When Should My Baby Crawl? And 9 Other Milestones In The First Year