It's Way Easier Than You Think: How To Make Your Own Healthy Baby Food
Just when you have your routine mostly locked in—feeding, sleeping, playing—it's time to upend all of that and introduce solids. It can be extremely overwhelming, but the good news is that this stage should be a lot of fun! And while it can sound like a crazy thing that only DIY mavens would attempt, making your own baby food is actually really easy.
Even as a registered dietitian, I was super nervous to start feeding my son. My husband and I would sit there mixing his avocado to the perfect consistency. Looking back it was crazy—but as new parents, who could blame us? That experience led me to write the Big Book of Organic Baby Food and my follow-on, The Big Book of Organic Toddler Food, so other families wouldn't have to go through what I went through.
Everyone's goal, of course, is to raise a healthy, adventurous eater—while having fun along the way. The good news? Making your own baby food can help you get there—and it's far easier than you think.
What you need to make your own baby food.
There are two methods to starting solids—the traditional route of purees and the other is baby-led weaning (BLW). This article deals with the route of purees since baby-led weaning is more of a philosophy than a recipe-based plan.
To get started, you just need the right equipment:
- Steamer (this could be something like a Baeba or just a steamer basket in a pot)
- Food processor (could be a Baeba or just a blender like a Vitamix)
- High chair (this one's on you)
- Spoons (I like these)
- Bib (I like these )
- Storage (I'm partial to these glass jars and silicone trays from Oxo or Baeba)
- Plan (we'll get to that)
When to start making your own baby food.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting to supplement milk with food at around 6 months, and pediatricians typically recommend anywhere from 4 to 6 months. It's important to look for signs like a baby being able to sit up without support, leaning in for food, and showing interest in food. My daughter, who is just turning 6 months, literally grabs food from my hand and shoves it in her mouth!
How to make your own baby food.
There are only a few steps!
- Cook each item until soft (either via steaming or roasting).
- Toss ingredients in a blender and add liquid—either the liquid you steamed in or breast milk or water to start. As you progress, add in some fat like coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, and herbs and spices.
- Blend, blend, blend!
What homemade baby food to start with.
I recommend starting a single savory option (just avocado, for example). Save the sweeter fruits for later, so as not to overdevelop a sweet tooth (there's plenty of time for that later!). My favorite options to start with are avocado, carrots, zucchini, green beans, spinach, and sweet potato.
After a few weeks of the single-ingredient purees, I recommend starting to add in herbs and spices to excite their taste buds, as it's vital in expanding their palates and developing adventurous eaters. The more flavors you offer early, the more likely your child will enjoy a variety of foods later on. My favorite flavorings include cinnamon, ginger, mint, cumin, garlic, onion, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary. Then start combining ingredients with blends like spinach and onion with garlic (challenge them!). Finally, you can add in some steamed whole foods, like carrots (in long strips) for them to play with.
What type of food to use to make homemade baby food.
I recommend you feed your children organic foods when possible. They are grown without the use of hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or synthetic pesticides. If that's not possible, use the Dirty Dozen list to focus on purchasing the most-sprayed crops organically.
Avoid honey (for the first year), choking hazards (things like grapes, tough meat, hot dogs, tough skins, popcorn, hard nuts), fish high in mercury, and refined sugar.
When you make your own food, you know exactly what's in it and where the ingredients came from. I tell parents I work with to focus on a few key nutrients to make sure their baby is developing optimally: fats, omega-3s, iron, and probiotics (in fact, these are probably great nutrients for the whole family to focus on as well!).
Fats are needed for brain and nerve development and help with the absorption of key nutrients. Good sources of healthy fat for your baby include avocado, nut butters, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), oils (extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil), ghee, and full-fat dairy.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain development and have beneficial effects on numerous neurological disorders such as ADHD and autism.
Iron stores are diminished by the time babies are 6 months old, so it is important to get this mineral through food. Key sources are meat and poultry as well as plant-based options like legumes, beans, tofu, and green leafy vegetables.
Healthy gut flora is key to an efficient digestion and a strong immune system. A healthy gut can also improve or reduce the likelihood of some common childhood conditions like eczema, food allergies, and asthma. Good sources of probiotics include kefir, miso, yogurt, fermented vegetables, sourdough bread, and more. You may want to consider a supplement if you delivered via C-section or your baby took antibiotics at an early age.
How to portion homemade baby food.
All you need are a few bites (anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon at the start). Start with once a day for a few weeks before moving on to twice a day. Feed them at times when they are happiest, so not too hungry or tired. For example, after their morning feeding and before their nap is a great time or after their afternoon nap before dinner.
At the beginning (the first few months) your milk and/or formula amounts should stay the same (anywhere from 24 to 40 ounces). It's not until around month nine that milk/formula ounces should begin a slow decrease as food becomes more meal-like.
How to set yourself up for success while transitioning to homemade baby food.
Have your little one seated in their high chair, and sit down right in front of them so you are engaged during the feed. Place some food on a spoon (and on the high chair or mat) and put it on the tray, let them play with it a bit, and most likely they will figure it out. When you do have to feed them, make sure to put the spoon about 12 inches in front of them and let them lean in to eat. If they open their mouths for more give it to them, and if they close their mouths or look the other way, end the feeding and just have them play with the food and spoon!
Let your baby play with his food, and don't be too quick to wipe his little mouth. They are going to make a mess, and letting them play with food is a huge part of their development. Teaching your baby how to eat is just as important as what to eat. This is probably the one time you should be happy that she's playing with her food, so let her get messy!
Want to play around with a recipe? This is one of the more advanced ones, for after you graduate from the single-ingredient fare.
White Bean and Leek Puree
Makes 4 (2-ounce) servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 leek, white and green parts only, chopped
- 1 cup canned white beans
- Bring the beans (undrained) to a simmer in a saucepan. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chopped leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the white beans and sautéed leek to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Store puree in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Looking for reasons to make your own baby food? Here are 5 good ones.
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