Babies start eating solid food around 6 months (as early as 4 months if recommended by your pediatrician). The best book to have on this topic is "Super Baby Food". I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is a treasure trove of advice on which foods are safe at what ages, how much food a baby needs at what age, and how to create a healthy balanced diet for your baby. On the other hand, this book is guaranteed to make you feel inadequate as a mom. Suggestions, like mixing brewers yeast and desiccated liver into your home-made whole-grain baby cereal, are beyond the amount of effort I can (or would) put into my baby's meals.
I have no romantic ideals about what a super mom I would be if just spend all day growing, steaming, and pureeing organic vegetables to be lovingly fed to my baby. If you could buy healthy organic baby food at the store for a reasonably low price, I would be all over that! While there are a number of organic baby food options available now, they are often pretty expensive. Also, they only come in individual serving sizes that consume an inordinate amount of packaging and waste for the environment. I try to tread the balance of saving the environment, saving my bank account, convenience, and feeding my baby the best food I can.
Using the methods below takes no more than 15 minutes of food prep every week. To me, that is an excellent trade-off for serving slightly healthier, cheaper, and more environmentally-friendly food to HB.
Here's what worked for us:
I followed the super baby food book in terms of:
* what foods to introduce and when
* feeding a balanced diet (how many servings of what fruits/veggies/protein/etc per day/week)
* I skipped the "super baby food supplements" (brewer's yeast, desiccated liver, etc) that seemed like too much effort.
* I also never made my own super baby porridge that is so highly recommended in this book. I just used organic whole grain instant baby cereal from the grocery store.
I bought Gerber Organics or Earth's Best organic baby foods
I supplemented where possible with pureed adult food to reduce costs and environmental waste:
* Applesauce - there is no reason to pay $2 for 5 oz of baby applesauce when you can buy a 25oz jar of organic apple sauce for the same price! Make sure it's organic, and that there is no sugar added. The ingredients should read "organic apples, water (and possibly Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C))". At Trader Joes, I've also found organic pear, peach, and mango sauce.
* Bananas - are you kidding me? How easy is it to mush up a banana? Bananas also travel well in the diaper bag.
* Avocado - an oft-overlooked baby food. Has lots of fats for the brain and lots of vitamins. It's been said that if you had to choose one food to live off of on a dessert island, it would be avocados. Easy to mush up as you scoop it out.
* Baby yogurts - Buy a large tub of plain whole milk yogurt, and mix with any fruit puree or banana.
* Tofu - soft tofu easily mashes into any food for an added protein boost. Hard tofu cut into little blocks makes a great finger food.
* Hard-boiled eggs - I loved the super baby food book suggestion of having one egg yolk every other day. It's a great source of cholesterol (great for baby brain development), protein, and vitamins. You can cook 4 eggs on the weekend to last you the whole week. Prep time: 15 min. Note that babies can have only the yolks until age 1. After age 1, we switched to scrambled eggs with a little whole milk and cheese mixed in.
* Lentils - a great source of protein, iron, and other vitamins. They are difficult to find in baby food format. I buy a can of organic kidney beans or garbanzo beans at the store. I puree one can in the blender with some added water. Pour into ice-cube trays, and freeze. One can makes 1 tray of cubes. You can keep them in the freezer for some time (see super baby food book on exact storage times). To serve, defrost one or two cubes in the microwave and stir in some instant baby cereal to make a thick consistency. I like to call the version made with garbanzo beans "baby hummus", and the version with kidney beans "red beans and rice (cereal)". I freeze two cans of beans at a time which lasts about two weeks. Prep time: 10 min.
* Other vegetables - you can buy organic canned veggies and puree them yourself using the ice-cube tray method (above). You can do the same with frozen veggies (puree after cooking). It's all a matter of how much money you want to save vs. how much prep time you are willing to put in. I try to save the prepared baby foods for when we are out of the house, and try to use the home-pureed ones when we are eating at home. For things that are hard to find in canned version, like squash and sweet potatoes, I just use the prepared baby food versions. I once tried steaming and pureeing my own sweet potatoes, and it turned out to be way too much effort.
* Baby "meals" - as your baby gets older, the baby foods become more sophisticated ("Chicken dinner", etc.). To make my own "chicken dinner", I use the ice-cube tray method to puree and freeze a can of organic chicken soup. To serve, defrost 1-2 cubes in the microwave, and mix with instant baby cereal. You have to be a little careful about reading the labels. Make sure that all the ingredients are on your baby's list of approved foods. Most organic chicken soups have a really simple ingredient list. So, I am always able to find one or two brands that work. You can do the same with split pea soup and other canned organic soups, and also with organic spaghetti O’s (skip the pureeing, just fill the ice-cube trays and freeze).
* Chicken broth - once your baby is approved for chicken, you can start using chicken broth in lieu of water for mixing baby cereals and thinning down other foods. This adds flavor, fats, and protein. Make sure to get the full-fat version, since most organic broths are also "low-fat".
Snacks - Here's a list of healthy snacks that we like
* flat earth fruit and veggie crisps
* snap-pea crisps (nearly 100% snap peas, avl. at Trader Joes).
* freeze dried fruit (bananas, apples, etc)
* Fruit cups. Try to find ones packed in 100% juice. Dole fruit cups are widely available, but even the "light" versions contain corn syrup. Trader Joes sells jars of peaches, pears, and mangoes packed in juice. But, you have to chop up the fruit yourself. I have yet to find pre-chopped individual-serving-size fruit cups that are not packed in syrup. So, we use the Trader Joes fruit at home, and save the Dole fruit cups for when we are out.
* Annie’s mac n' cheese single-size servings. Mix in a small handful of shredded cheese to make it cheesier and some frozen veggies for an added healthy kick.
* Annie’s cheddar bunnies
* small pieces of cheese, and cheese sticks
* whole grain crackers and cereals
* smoothies - in a blender, mix yogurt, frozen fruit, a banana (optional), and some fruit juice. Serve with a spoon, or in a cup with a straw.
I am a strong believer in not feeding sugar (in the form of added sugar or corn syrup) to your baby. HB didn't have any sugar until her 1st birthday when she had birthday cake. From age 1-2, we limited sugar to occasional treats (maybe 1 cookie a week, and occasional trip to the ice cream store), and the fruit cups packed in light syrup when we are traveling. We even dilute her fruit juice 3:1 with water to make it less sweet (even 100% juice contains a large amount of natural sugar). There is no benefit in giving your kids sugar. If they aren't used to eating sugar, they really don't miss it. Aside from an occasional treat, I don't think that sugar should be a regular part of any kid's diet. I don't go overboard in forbidding sugar (like if the kids at playgroup or daycare bring in cookies or cupcakes, she eats them), but we make sure that it's not a part of her regular diet.