Making Baby Food
Preparing homemade food safely
After 6 months old, if you’d like to make your own baby food from scratch, we’ll show you how to give your baby all the nutrients they need. Discover how to prepare food safely and which ingredients are best to limit or avoid to protect your baby’s health.
How to make baby food: Safety first
With your baby’s immune system not yet fully developed, they are vulnerable to stomach upsets, so good food hygiene and safe preparation is essential.
Here are a few tips for preparing your baby’s food:
- Preparation – make sure your hands, surfaces, bowls, plates and cooking utensils are completely clean. Bowls, plates and cooking utensils need to be sterilized to ensure they’re free of bacteria which could make your baby ill.
- Cooking meat and fish – always make sure that meat is cooked thoroughly, with no pink bits. Fish should be firm and flaky – if it’s still soft, it’s not cooked through. An ideal way to cook fish for babies is to bake it in foil, because even when it’s cooked thoroughly, it’s still tender and easy to chew. Never forget to make sure that there is not any piece of bone in your meat and fish before giving it to your baby.
- Fruit and vegetables – wash thoroughly and peal them before use. For vegetables that need to be cooked, steaming is the best option as it retains the most nutrients. If you don’t have a steamer, simply use a metal colander in a covered saucepan of boiling water.
- Serving your baby’s food – your baby’s food should be cooked and piping hot all the way through to ensure all the bacteria has been killed. Allow it to cool to a comfortably warm temperature before serving.
Food and ingredients to avoid or limit when making baby food
A balanced diet for a baby or toddler is very different from an adult’s. Certain ingredients and foods are best avoided or limited to protect their growing body, namely:
- Too much fiber – a small amount is OK
- Low-fat foods
We all need sodium to perform a variety of essential bodily functions. It helps us absorb fluids from the digestive tract and keeps the body’s fluid levels in balance. However, we only need to consume a small amount of salt each day, and babies and toddlers need even less1. For babies and toddlers, sodium is brought through their food.
Keeping your baby’s salt intake low
For the first 6 months, the level of salt in your breast milk is enough to support your baby’s normal growth and development. However, you’ll need to pay more attention to your baby’s salt intake when you progress to weaning.
One of the best ways to ensure your baby doesn’t have too much salt is to prepare your own baby foods. When preparing your baby’s food, don’t add extra salt. The food may seem bland to your taste but will be perfectly acceptable to your baby.
By giving your baby food that’s low in salt, they are less likely to develop a taste for it in the first place.
Babies have a natural preference for sweet foods, such as breast milk and fruits, because it reflects their basic biology. In fact, a liking for sweet foods and beverages is evident among babies and children around the world, regardless of diet, advertising or modern-day technology.
Recent research also suggests that a liking for sweets may be influenced by the pain-relieving properties of sugars2.
However, adding sugar to your baby’s diet has been shown to increase the likelihood of them developing a sweet tooth in later life3.
Not as sweet as it seems…
Although it’s tempting to add sugar to foods to encourage your baby to try something new, giving your baby food with added sugar can cause serious dental issues later in life, such as tooth decay, leading to fillings and even tooth loss. Drinks with added sugar are particularly bad news for teeth.
How to avoid giving your baby a sweet tooth
It’s much easier to encourage healthy eating habits now, rather than try to change bad habits later on. So avoid adding sugar to your baby’s food and steer clear of non-baby products, as they can be high in sugar.
Certain foods that you may think are fine for your baby can be surprisingly high in sugar: rusks, dried fruit and baked beans.
When it comes to drinks, sweetened fruit juices, cordial, milkshakes and flavored water are usually packed with sugar. Unsweetened fruit juice is a healthier option, and even then, it’s better diluted with water.
After your baby is 6-months-old, a better idea is to stick to breastmilk and water. When offering snacks, opt for healthy foods such as fresh fruit, toast and unsweetened rice cakes instead of sugary alternatives4.
High-fiber and low-fat food
Your baby needs a lot of energy and nutrients from their diet to support their rapid growth and development. However, they have small stomachs and can’t cope with big meals, so they need to get their energy and nutrients in a compact form4. This means that low-fat, high-fiber foods aren’t suitable for baby food recipes
Fat is an important source of energy for your baby, which makes low-fat milks or dairy products unsuitable too. Fatty acids are essential for your baby’s development. Cows’ milk should not be given as a drink until your baby is 3 years old. Give her/him instead dairy products adapted for babies, rich in fats and low in proteins.
High-fiber foods can fill your baby up before they’ve got all the energy they need. However, getting children used to wholemeal and wholegrain foods right from the start will help to encourage consumption of these when they are older. Try to use a mixture of different breads and cereals. A mixture of white and wholemeal is fine and avoid bran-enriched cereals until they are eating a full, healthy and balanced diet. Encouraging your baby to eat different cereal foods with higher and lower fiber contents will also help to avoid a low-fiber intake and problems with constipation.
Foods to avoid when you’re preparing baby food:
- Pre-packaged adult food such as pasta sauces and ready-made porridge
- Sweetened drinks
- Low-fat yogurt and cheese
Foods to add to your baby food shopping list:
- Vegetables such as onion, tomato, okra, pepper and carrots
- Fruit such as banana, plantain mango, melon, pineapple and guava
- Rice, sweet potatoes and potatoes
- Full-fat yogurt and cheese
- SACN. Salt and Health Report [Online]. 2003. Available at: www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/sacn_salt_final.pdf [Accessed April 2019]
- Ventura AK, Mendella JA. PubMed. Innate and learned preferences for sweet taste during childhood [Online]. 2011. Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21508837 [Accessed April 2019]
- Liem DG, Menella JA. Sweet and sour preferences during childhood: Role of early experiences. Dev Psychobiol 2002;41(4):388–395.
- NHS UK. How to avoid giving your baby a sweet tooth [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/start4life/Pages/babies-avoiding-sugar-sweet-foods.aspx [Accessed April 2019]
- NHS UK. What to feed young children [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/understanding-food-groups.aspx#starch [Accessed April 2019]
After the intensity of labour, meeting your newborn baby for the first time is an overwhelming experience. You’ll be relieved, proud, amazed and sore in equal measure. Thanks to a rush of oxytocin, you’ll also be head-over-heels in love.