Guest Post: Removing the “huh?” out of starting solid foods

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My friend Nicole offered to do a guest post in honor of my Thankfully Thrifty Baby Shower! (She is also the one who made the fabulous baby shower button and who offered up the photo book and cards for the giveaway, which ended earlier this week!) You can visit her blog Wonderful Joy Ahead here. Nicole lives in the North with her husband and 7.5-month-old baby girl, Lauren or “LE.” She recently started making her own baby food!

At LE’s 4 month mark, I was eager to get her started on cereal in the hopes that it’d help her sleep longer than two hours at a time. I went out and bought the cereal, attempted to feed it to her, and she refused. She didn’t know what the heck a spoon is and the bland, sticky stuff on the end of the foreign object was not appealing to her. Four attempts later, I still only managed to get a spoonful here and there in her. Then, after waiting a week, adding cinnamon, and trying again… she opened her mouth for it!  I couldn’t believe the amount of pride that I felt for her doing such a seemingly simple task that I do so mindlessly as an adult.Even though I was really eager to get her to start eating, I quickly realized I didn’t know much more than that. I could figure out how to mix up the cereal, but how much should she eat? How often? In addition to or in place of her milk? I’m hoping this post will help show you first-time moms out there that it’s not hard to introduce solids, and please, please make your own baby food! Not only is it more nutritious and way cheaper, but it’s so (reiterate: SO) simple. If you already have a pretty well-stocked kitchen, you probably won’t need more to buy any more equipment other than what you already have. Although some people I’m sure swear by them, you don’t need the special baby food puree systems like Beaba.Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • Small to medium sized pot (preferably with a lid)
  • Steamer (you could just use the pot if you want, but this is better for some veggies)
    • Mine is the stovetop kind (see photo of the carrots below). You could use the countertop ones, too.
    • THRIFTY TIP: If you don’t have a steamer but want to steam veggies, you can use a metal colander that rests on top of a regular pot. Put some water in the pot and the veggies in the colander.
  • Ice cube trays (I have just 2; you can find them at the dollar store, Wal Mart, etc)
    • Or, you can use any small freezer-safe containers that you want.
    • THRIFTY TIP: Some places will say that you should buy a whole slew of containers or trays, but you really don’t need to. If you have more puree than what will fit in your containers, freeze what you can and refrigerate the extra. A few hours later or the next day or so, pop out the frozen ones into Ziploc baggies or larger freezer-safe containers. Reuse the trays for the rest of the refrigerated food.
  • Ziploc style baggies or large freezer-safe containers, used to store the food in the freezer.
  • Plastic wrap (optional)
  • Writing utensil to label the bags or containers
  • Blender, immersion blender, potato masher, manual ricer, or food processor.
    • I use this immersion blender, and it works wonderfully. It’s under $30, and you can use it for a ton of things other than just baby food.

Tips!

  • Your baby will most likely not be eager to take that first bite off of the spoon. They may be curious, but after the first taste of something other than their formula or breast milk, they may get turned off. Don’t be dismayed or force it. Just stop and try again a couple of days later. Rumor has it, breast milk fed babies take to solids faster than formula fed babies because breast milk tastes different depending on what foods the mom ate.
  • Until your baby is one year old, breast milk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition. That means that the solid food that you are giving is in addition to the milk! It is not a replacement of a meal. The goal is to work up to getting your baby to eat solids at breakfast time, lunchtime, and dinner time.

Let’s Get Started!

Cereals  (as early as 4 months old, or when your doctor advises)

I did not waste my time making my own rice cereal. The box of cereal can run from $1-3, and it will last you a long time. My first box lasted 3 months! Plus, it’s important to buy cereal for babies so that it’s sure to be fortified with iron.Start with just a tiny bit mixed in with formula or breast milk. Don’t anticipate success the first couple of times that you are trying to introduce it, so don’t waste a lot of your precious milk by making more than a spoonful. Simply add warmed breast milk or formula to the cereal keeping in mind the cereal thickens as it’s mixed in; a little bit goes a long way. Make the first tastes very runny, and feel free to add some cinnamon!

Veggies (as early as 6 months old, or when your doctor advises)


The first tastes of veggies are really so, so simple to make.  These are veggies that have a low risk of allergies and are easy to digest.

  • Carrots (see image below!)
  • Sweet Potato – same instructions as carrots
  • Green Peas (see image below!)
  • Apples (ok, this is a fruit, not a veggie) Wash, peel, and core then follow the green peas method, increasing the cook time until the apples are tender
  • Squash (I didn’t do squash yet because summer squash isn’t in season) same instructions as carrots
  • Avocado – give little tastes that are mashed in your fingers; Must be consumed immediately as it will not keep!
  • Bananas – use bananas with brown on the peel to ensure it’s sweet enough; mash some with a fork and stir in a little breast milk or formula to thin out; Must be consumed immediately as it will not keep!

General Tips for First Tastes

  • Most baby foods are freezer friendly. You can defrost in the fridge overnight, on the counter for an hour or so before feeding, or just heat it up frozen in the microwave or on the stove.
  • Applesauce can be used in just about everything! I keep some in the fridge at all times, and when something gets warmed up too hot, I spoon some of the applesauce into it to cool it off.
  • Cereal can be used to thicken up anything that’s a little too runny. LE really liked cereal made with really runny carrots + pumpkin pie spice. Cereal can also be used to tame the taste of something, like tart apples.
  • Don’t be afraid to add spices! Experiment, but use your head. Don’t add hot spices, and steer clear of salt in the starter foods. LE’s favorites are curry powder, cinnamon, apple/pumpkin pie spices (which are mostly cinnamon plus cloves and ginger).
  • Until after 12 months, stay away from trouble foods, like peanut butter, nuts, honey, eggs, sugar, and cows milk. Also, be extra careful if your family is prone to an allergy of a certain food, and some sources say to stay away from wheat and berries (especially strawberries but blueberries are fine).
  • One ice cube = about one ounce.
  • As with all of my groceries, I adhere to the dirty dozen, clean fifteen lists when deciding whether or not to buy organic. You can do as you want. Here’s a link to the list and a link to a PDF wallet printable.
  • Only introduce a new food once every few days so that if there’s a sensitivity or allergy, you will know what it’s from without further trial and error.
  • THRIFTY TIP: Coffee mugs are great for microwaving and serving the food when they aren’t spooning food to themselves yet.

After the First Tastes:

  • Make soup purees that you would eat, too, like Butternut Squash Soup. Or, if you are making soup for your family, make a separate pot with similar ingredients for your baby.
    • For example, make a simple chicken soup with water, chicken meat, celery, carrots, onion, a few peppercorns, some thyme or oregano, and a bay leaf. Simmer on the stove until it’s all tender, remove the bay leaf and peppercorns, and puree. This freezes well!
  • Feed foods that are in bite-sized pieces instead of just purees. Get creative! You’ll probably notice that you baby will want to taste all of your foods, too. Give tastes from your plate if it’s tender and small. Remember to stay away from trouble foods, like peanut butter, nuts, honey, and cows milk. Also, be extra careful if your family is prone to an allergy of a certain food, and some sources say to stay away from wheat and berries (especially strawberries but blueberries are fine).
  • Buy some Cheerios-style cereal to let your little one try to feed himself with. They’ll first start with palming the whole thing, then using three fingers, and then just the two fingers to pinch the cereal. It’s great for their fine motor skills, it is fortified with vitamins, they get to practice chewing, and they tend to like the different texture.
  • Instead of feeding pureed carrots, give a few bits of cooked carrots that are broken into bite sized pieces. Or, give some cooked beans or bits of cauliflower. Anything that can get broken up by gumming it to death is great (once again, stay away from trouble foods as mentioned twice above). Your baby will try to stuff as much in his mouth as possible, so give small quantities at a time and monitor him to be sure he doesn’t choke.

Some Good Resources I Used:

Have fun with it! It’s such a great time!

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Comments

  1. I’ve always heard you shouldn’t make your own carrots because of the nitrates in the soil. Maybe regulations of soil ingredients has changed.
    When making apple sauce, throw in some pears. Makes a nice variation upon regular apple sauce.

    • Interesting. I used to use that cookbook Deceptively Delicious – hiding pureed veggies in foods to help kids (or me and hubby! ;)) get nutrients. I am pretty sure it has carrots in there. And that’s essentially what baby food is. So I don’t know! Something to look into I guess.

    • Kristina- I haven’t heard of that before, and I looked at about 10 or so books and credible resources that all say to puree carrots. How would they make jarred babyfood? And there are so many pureed soups with carrots, like the one Wolf Gang Puck did this morning on the Today Show (not that he did research on the chemicals or anything). I’d be interested in more info if you have it. Like you said, maybe things have changed.

      • Our doctor at Mayo Clinic told us not to do carrots or broccoli at home/.home made because of the differences in the nitrate levels in different soils. Canned food companies test theirs so it is safe.

    • I’ve always heard that about carrots too! From what I read when I was making my babies food was that you should steam the carrots with a steamer basket and then not use the leftover water and thin the puree with breast milk, formula, or fresh water.

  2. It’s easier to make a large batch to freeze, but I ended up cooking little “meals” as not to use the microwave. We started cereals at 6 months, and did veggie & fruit purees. My little one did not like jarred baby food and could also eat “chunkier” pieces earlier because we pureed simple table food!

  3. I chose not to use the microwave for so many reasons……but I just set the frozen puree in a bowl and put it in warm water…..it thawed quickly.

    Also……my daughter did then and still will eat pure pumpkin puree without any spices or sweetening…..makes for an easy puree to have available if it’s in the pantry and so many nutrients…

    I loved making my own baby food and it really is sooo much cheaper than even using coupons. In fact, you can buy most organic produce to make your baby food and it’s still cheaper than buying non-organic jarred baby food with coupons. Crazy! :-)

  4. I know this post is old, but I’m hoping someone can guide me. What kind of apples should I use? I’ve been worried that they will be too sweet or too sour.
    Julie
    ju71@hotmail.com

    • Hey Julie! I would use whatever apple tastes good to you. If one tastes too sour or tart to you, don’t use it. Generally, I have found organic apple sauce to be cheap, so I buy that rather than make it, even though I know Nicole (the guest poster here) made her own. The organic kind I buy doesn’t have preservatives (because it’s jarred) and is purely apples.

    • Hi Julie- I just read in a baby cookbook to use red delicious or golden delicious, as their acidity levels are lower than other varieties and are therefore easier for your baby to digest. Also- if you are able to find organic, this cookbook recommended steaming the apples with the skin on, and pulling the skin off afterwards (I cut the apples into larger strips so I didn’t have a million pieces of skin to peel). The skin came off very easily, as the apples were so soft. This way more nutrients can get into the apple puree, particularly if you incorporate some of the steaming water into the apples (or other purees).

  5. I read in a book, I believe it’s Happy Baby, that you can steam the carrots, but do not add the cooking water to the puree.

  6. You can make carrots at home, but you should peel them, and never use the cooking liquid to puree carrots, as the nitrates leech into the water

  7. I was all gun-ho about making my own baby food for my little guy and even had sweet potatoes, pears, apples, and green beans in the freezer ahead of time (I chose to wait until 6 months to try foods). Yeah, well I ended up tossing them a few months later because LO decided he didn’t want anything that came off of a spoon! So now we are to the point of just making soft foods and letting him feed himself. He likes apples the best, but tonight he had chicken, stuffing, peas, and sweet potatoes with mommy and daddy =) These little guys sure do like to keep us guessing =p

  8. Wondering about the peas. Can you refreeze them into cubes once you’ve defrosted the frozen whole peas?? Seems like it wouldn’t be good to thaw and refreeze them?

    • I have always been told that it is fine because you are cooking it in between thawing and re- freezing. Just be sure to let it cool to room temp. before freezing to stem the likelihood of bacteria. In fact, I was told that the flash frozen are even healthier because they retain their nutrients better then the ones sitting out for who knows how long in the produce section.

  9. Just a thought here, but I’ve been told not to give cinnamon to younger babies because of allergies. And it is better to give the baby food on its own, without spices first because you can quickly identify the culprit if your baby has an allergy to it. I would add one spice at a time just like introducing one food at a time. Also one more thought, although I find homemade applesauce to be very tasty, it is definitely cheaper to buy it. I happen to love applesauce so I share the same kind I buy for myself with my son. The ingredients are just apples, water and ascorbic acid.

  10. Props to baby-food-chefs out there! Helpful tip when doing it, both freezing and microwaving kill nutrients. Canning is what it is all about!

  11. Just my 2 cents, I happen to have just spoke with our pediatrician today about carrots, broccoli and spinach and she gave me the green light because our little guy has had and done well with other purees. But, to each their own.

    Love the advice here and Matthew 6:21 has really been on my heart lately, ‘funny’ how things come together right?

  12. Ive been making homemade baby food for my last four children and now with my fifth sweetie on the way I know all about being thrifty. I came across this website called Kindermint not too long ago and what an amazing website. They sell all brands of clothing that’s brand new with tags and some are gently used. The best part is that they are only a quarter the price of stores. I really suggest that all mommies looking to save some money check them out. Ive saved hundreds so far with kindermint

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