Introducing solid food to your baby’s diet is a huge milestone. Finally, you can share the joys of food with your little one!
Once you and your pediatrician have determined that your baby is ready to begin the transition from milk or formula to baby food, a world of possibilities opens up. This is an exciting time, but it can be overwhelming, too. Suddenly, you have many more variables to consider and decisions regarding your little one’s diet.
What’s Special About Baby Food?
“Baby food” is a vague term; really, this refers to any food that’s been processed to make it easy for babies to consume and digest. Most commonly, this means that the food has been thoroughly cooked, then mashed or pureed to make for easy feeding.
(When you’re ready, you can read our article on how to make your own baby food for helpful tips.)
There are many options to consider when it comes to acceptable foods for babies. The high fiber and vitamin content of fruits and veggies make them excellent choices to get your little one started on solid foods.
Babies can also benefit from pureed meats and legumes' high iron and protein content, such as beans and chickpeas.
What Are The “Stages” of Baby Food?
Pediatricians and child nutritionists divide baby food into two categories. As your little one grows, they will graduate from the first category – known as “stage one” baby food – to the second, or “stage two.”
The difference between the two stages lies primarily in the fact that in stage one, baby food only ever consists of one ingredient at a time.
Stage one baby food must be thoroughly pureed and possibly thinned with water or formula. This will help prevent choking and teach your baby to swallow solid foods more easily.
While introducing new foods, be patient. Waiting several days between trying new food groups allows you time to be on the lookout for any adverse reactions or food sensitivities.
However, with stage two baby food, you may choose to get more creative with ingredient combinations. Stage two foods are still pureed, but they can be thicker in texture than stage one foods.
As you begin to understand your baby's likes and dislikes during this phase, mealtimes will become even more fun!
When it comes down to it, every baby – and every family – is different. Both store-bought and homemade baby foods can be nourishing, delicious, and wholesome. Read on to discover what you need to know about homemade and store-bought baby foods.
Homemade Baby Food: As Fresh as Can Be
For nutrition-focused parents, the primary draw of making homemade baby food is the ability to have complete control over the process. Making homemade baby food allows you to be sure of the ingredients, preparation, and freshness of the food you’re creating.
Freshness of Ingredients
When making homemade baby food, you have the freedom to source ingredients from safe, familiar sources. This is important when it comes to freshness. As store-bought baby foods must be pre-prepared and packaged, they lack the freshness of homemade baby food that’s straight from the blender or food processor.
Many store-bought baby foods contain preservatives or other additives that help keep them ready-to-eat for months. While this is convenient, chemical additives may not be an appealing addition to your baby’s meal for the health-focused and clean-eating parent.
The ability to make baby food as needed and select fresh ingredients to eliminate the need for preservatives in homemade baby food. By making your own baby food, you can also ensure that no fillers, added sugar, or other nutritionally poor ingredients are sneaking into your little one’s diet.
When making your own baby food, the sky's the limit! Most foods, after all, can be effectively steamed, pureed, or mashed into a baby-friendly form. As long as you maintain awareness of what foods should not be fed to young children, experimenting with new, exciting food combinations can be enjoyable for you and your baby!
Preparing baby food in bulk and freezing the extra servings is a great time-saving trick. Most homemade baby foods will freeze very well for one to two months.
To freeze baby food, begin by thoroughly sanitizing an ice cube tray. Spoon in the baby food and freeze solid overnight. Then, transfer the baby food in cubes to a freezer-safe container or plastic bag. As long as the container is airtight, you now have a safe food supply that will last for up to two months!
Store-Bought Baby Food: Convenient and Nutritious
One of the benefits of using store-bought baby food is its ability to deliver high doses of vitamins and minerals that might be difficult to incorporate into your baby’s diet.
Fortified with Essential Nutrients
Zinc is a mineral that’s vital to your little one’s growth, immunity, and cognitive development. Many grain-based foods, like baby cereals and some oatmeals, are fortified with zinc. Fortified grains also contain high levels of iron and other essential minerals for your baby’s diet.
If you would rather not use store-bought baby food, don’t worry! It is certainly possible to find natural sources of iron and zinc, such as leafy greens and meat. However, feeding your little one fortified foods can be an easy, worry-free way to ensure their nutritional needs are met.
One of the major draws of store-bought baby food is its lengthy period of usability. Baby food that is sold packed in sterile cans, jars, or pouches often does not need to be refrigerated and will last for weeks or months on the shelf.
(Every brand is different, though – check the label before jumping to conclusions!)
Shelf stability is a major factor for moms who are too busy to go to the store often, on a budget or live in climates where produce is hard to come by in certain seasons. The ability to buy baby food in bulk and then have access to a wide range of flavors and nutrients for weeks is certainly a perk of store-bought baby food.
Steaming, pureeing, mashing: the steps involved in making homemade baby food aren’t exactly easy. Buying store-bought baby food will save you time in the kitchen. If you’re a busy mom or if prepping and freezing food ahead of time isn’t your thing, store-bought baby food is always an option.
Store-bought baby food comes packaged in many forms. Convenient pouches and tiny, cute jars are easy to bring with you on an outing to feed your little one on the go.
Choosing Healthy Store-Bought Baby Food
If you’ve decided to opt for store-bought baby food, making the right choice can impact your little one’s well-being. Look for foods that incorporate a wide range of food groups, including many different kinds of veggies and fruits!
Eating diverse foods supports your child’s gut health while ensuring that they get the vitamins and minerals they need. In addition, make sure to avoid baby foods with added sugar or sweeteners.
These ingredients add empty calories to your little one’s diet and can have adverse long-term health effects. It’s always good to choose a food with a simple ingredients list of whole foods for maximum nutrition.
Homemade or Store-Bought? It’s Up To You!
Making homemade baby food can be a rewarding process that will allow you complete control over your child’s diet. Choosing fresh produce and eliminating chemicals, additives, and other undesirable ingredients can make for whole and healthy baby foods.
However, the ease and time-saving benefits of store-bought baby foods shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, thanks to the incorporation of fortified foods, some important vitamins and minerals can be delivered through pre-packaged foods.
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All in all, every baby is different, and so is every family. Whether you choose to feed your child with homemade purees, store-bought mixtures, or a combination, it is your decision.
The most important thing is that your baby gets the vitamins, minerals, calories, and diet diversity that they need to thrive. With a healthy diet of whole foods, you’re well on your way to making that happen.
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