How to Prepare Healthy Baby Food
Once upon a time in Thailand, new mothers would prepare their own baby food, quite often out of economical necessity as well as lack of availability. Fast-forward to today, and Bangkok in particular is a sophisticated city where every type of food is available in just about every supermarket, including well-known international baby brands.
What’s wrong with commercial baby foods?
While there’s been a global focus on the nutritional and bonding benefits of breastfeeding, there’s less of an emphasis on the feeding stage of infants, when they first start eating solids. Many baby foods contain a lot of sugar, particularly so-called baby juices, and they’re also not the most affordable option either which is not welcome during what can be an especially expensive time. An appetizing solution for new moms and dads, who want to give their baby the best start in life, during an absolutely critical developmental stage, is to prepare their own homemade baby foods.
While jars of baby food may be super convenient, the danger is that they could be introducing too many sugar-rich foods to little ones too early; setting up a food trigger that could lead to problems later in life. Added to this is that during manufacturing a heating process can be used to produce the food, meaning valuable vitamins and minerals are lost.
Pureed foods, such as ready-to-eat pouches, don’t let youngsters get to grips with chewing food properly and also learning valuable early-development skills such as feeding themselves. Obviously, foods with some bite may come later, but extended use of softer foods for too long can adversely affect the health of the teeth as infants start to develop and teethe.
A great gadget is a Munchkin Baby Food Feeder which is a soft silicone pouch for babies to feed on which allows soft foods to be released through a small hole in digestible amounts, enabling easier feeding of mashed-up fruits and vegetables.
Everybody eats food with their eyes first, and serving up even the youngest of children with snacks and foods that copy the concept of adult junk food creates a visual concept. These types of foods aren’t treats. Instead, this approach could form signals that trigger an unhealthy habit to eating and a lack of connection with nutritious whole foods.
When to introduce solids
After around six-seven-months-old, an infant is ready to be slowly introduced to solids, during one meal of the day, as well as continuing with a diet of breast milk. Bumrungrad’s Nutrition Support Team suggest starting with a few tablespoons of pureed rice with half a cooked egg yolk or a tablespoon of cooked meat with half the quantity again of mashed vegetables. Extra salt or sugar is not needed, even for babies in Thailand subject to higher temperatures because of the climate. A health add-in however is half a teaspoon of rice bran oil or a healthy oil to give homemade baby food an energy boost.
There’s no need to create complex recipes and certain foods can be batch-cooked and frozen in ice-cube trays, or prepared ahead and left in the fridge, at least until the next day. In fact, the blander and more natural the food the better. Introducing fruit is part of the milk-to-solids journey of nutritional development too. Baby’s first bites of fruit should be just one or two pieces, with mashed bananas or papaya perfect as neither is too rich in sugar.
Baby food ingredients to avoid
As well as not adding salt and sugar to meals, here’s some other no-nos when it comes to preparing healthy baby food:
- Only introduce whole eggs to babies at around six-to-eight months old. At this age an egg a day can enhance development. Make sure that egg yolks are always cooked, with no foods containing raw egg served at all.
- Don’t give babies under one years old honey. Apart from being a teeth-rotting sugar, honey can contain harmful bacteria that impact the intestines and may lead to a life-threatening illness.
- A youngster may have an allergy so allergens should be avoided if these run in the family. Peanuts can be a serious choking hazard too in the under-fives and are best served ground up.
- Rice milk should be avoided completely for infants and toddlers too, as the nutritional values are not enough for a youngster’s needs under the age of around four and a half. Cow’s milk can be introduced at six month once other foods have been introduced due to the prevalence of allergies to the sugars in milk or the milk protein. evels of arsenic, which is produced naturally in the environment and enters the food chain, may be too high in this particular food. The arsenic level in rice products developed specifically for babies is strictly restricted. Only the over-fives can drink rice milk.
- Just as pregnant women are advised to avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese, because of the risk of deadly listeria, this is also the case for infants. Calcium, which is found in plenty of non-dairy products too such as broccoli, is essential for bone health and development, and other vital functions. Harder cheeses are far less risky than blue cheeses and soft cheeses such as brie.
- Shellfish is notorious for causing food poisoning and best avoided in infant diets. Fish such as mackerel, however, can be an amazing source of Omega 3 and vitamins, and can be added to a child’s diet once other food groups have been introduced. With recommended consumption of fish being twice a week, fish can be a valuable source of protein and nutrients. Don’t give youngsters swordfish or tuna though as the longer lifespan of these fish can equate to higher toxicity levels of mercury which damages the development of the central nervous system.
- With a growing number of parents adopting a plant-based diet, there’ s greater interest in the possibilities of adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet for babies too. This cannot be undertaken lightly, with nutritional support necessary in terms of dietary advice and/or possible supplements. However, with the right guidance, it’s entirely possible for parents to eliminate meat and also animal products from the diet of their baby. Fortified soy milk can be added to the diet, although not as an alternative to breastmilk, while parents have to be aware of their baby consuming adequate B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, protein and fiber levels.
With a specialist maternity ward and pre-natal and post-natal care, plus the practical assistance of the Nutrition Support Team, Bumrungrad Hospital helps parents provide the right nutrition to their newborn babies and as they grow and develop.
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