Nutrition for Infants
When the time comes to introduce first foods, your baby's palate is a blank slate and his nutritional future is in your hands. No pressure!
Even though it's an exciting milestone, many parents find the idea of starting solids downright daunting. As you become your child's guide to the wide world of grown-up food, let us help you navigate.
The first thing we recommend? Relax.
We are all about sharing an appreciation for foods in their unadulterated, natural state. And that's the best place to start when it comes to introducing foods to your baby.
Whether you make your own food or buy pre-made, using high quality ingredients is important. Luckily, we're experts on evaluating quality, so you don't have to be. From first foods to finger foods, strict standards apply to every item on our shelves.
Sound Advice on Solids
Baby's first solid meal is a big event. Don't let anxiety about meeting nutritional needs overshadow the fun. The majority of calories and nutrition will continue to come from breast milk or formula until solid feeding is well established.
In our view, healthy foods should be enjoyable as well as nourishing. With that in mind, it's important to help baby establish a positive attitude toward eating from the first meal. So, don't push baby into starting solids if he doesn't seem ready, and don't get discouraged if he rejects your spoon-wielding advances at first. When he's ready, that mouth will open wide.
The decision about when to introduce solids may be based on a variety of factors, but most pediatricians recommend doing so at around six months of age.
Some signs that indicate your baby may be ready for solid foods:
Head control: Baby can keep head in a steady, upright position.
Sitting up with assistance: Baby can keep body upright while supported.
Interest in food: Baby notices or reaches for food, exhibits chewing motions or increased appetite.
Loss of "extrusion reflex" (tongue-thrusting reflex): Baby stops pushing food out of mouth with tongue.
By the time you serve baby's first mouthful, you may have already gotten an earful of advice about what babies should and shouldn't eat. There are many books and guides available to suggest which foods are the best to start with, or ask your pediatrician.
Generally, it is recommended to start with foods that are easy to assimilate, nutrient-rich and least likely to cause an allergic reaction.
A few easy, fresh choices include mashed ripe banana or avocado. Other popular first fruits include unsweetened applesauce or pears. Sweet potatoes and winter squash are often recommended as first veggies because of their high nutrient content and mild, sweet flavor.
Cereals are also often recommended as early foods; rice is the most popular option. It's easy to make your own baby cereal from rice or other grains in your cupboard, or use the just-add-water varieties available off the shelf. Remember that cereal is not as nutrient dense or flavorful as fruits and vegetables. Highly processed cereals also have a high glycemic index (meaning it may raise blood sugar and insulin levels).
Keep first meals small and simple. Introduce each new food alone, rather than in combination with other foods, and serve it for three or four days in a row before moving on to the next new food. This provides an opportunity to observe and detect any food allergies or sensitivities baby may exhibit.
Gradually work your way toward a wide variety of foods. Once you have ruled out the possibility of allergens with individual foods, you can begin to offer combinations of multiple foods. Our shelves also offer a variety of nutritional "enhancers" that can also be quickly added to your baby's meals (homemade or jar), including brewer's yeast, acidophilus, flaxseed oil, wheat germ and more. Just spoon in proper amounts before serving a meal for a nutritious boost.
Gaga for Organic
Demand for organic commercial baby food is on the rise—and for good reason. Many experts believe that choosing organic foods is especially important for infants because they are much smaller than adults and often eat more food per pound of body weight.
As a result, any pesticide residue remaining on conventional foods may have a more significant effect on an infant or child than on an adult. And because they are experiencing rapid growth and development, everything you put in your infant's body has the potential to affect them more significantly than at later stages in life.
Infants also lack the same defenses as adults and even older children, such as established blood-brain barriers, immune systems or liver detoxification enzymes. This makes them more vulnerable when it comes to potentially toxic compounds.
These concerns have led many parents to favor organic foods whenever possible. Our shelves offer many organic choices for baby. Options include: fresh frozen purées, baby food in jars, cereals, crackers, teething biscuits and other snacks for infants and toddlers. We even offer organic infant formula. Whole Foods Market is also the ideal place to shop for ingredients to make your own baby food because we offer more fresh, organic produce than any other store.
Food Cautions During the First Year
Use caution when introducing nuts and eggs, which are common culprits for allergic reactions. Other common allergens include: soy, dairy, citrus, shellfish and wheat.
Some children are sensitive to tomatoes, chocolate and strawberries.
If making homemade baby food (particularly using non-organic produce), avoid carrots, celery, beets and spinach until age seven months due to possibly high nitrate content.
If you serve meats to your baby, be sure they are fully cooked and chopped or puréed to a safe texture. Meats can enhance the absorption of nutrients and may be an excellent source of iron.
Certain fish species, including shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and tuna, may have high mercury content and are not recommended for babies.
Juice contains high amounts of sugar. Even though it is natural, it may take the place of other more nutritious choices.
Honey should not be served to infants under one year of age.
Never limit fat intake for infants. Dietary fat is essential for the development of the brain and immune system. Babies need significantly more fat than adults.
Making Homemade Baby Food
Just like grandma used to make—but easier! With modern appliances you already own (blender, freezer, microwave) and a few time-saving short cuts, it's easy to make your own grab-and-serve, homemade baby food, which gives you total control over texture and food combinations, and can save you money.
Don't feel like you have to go "all or nothing" on this choice—many parents find that a combination of prepared and homemade baby food makes life easiest and still provides some of the benefits of fresh foods.
To get started, simply mash or purée something the rest of the family is eating for dinner. You may need to add a little liquid, especially for beginning eaters. For example, if you're baking sweet potatoes, set aside a small, unseasoned portion for baby, mash until smooth and let it cool. If it's too thick, stir in water, breast milk or formula.
Another time-saving approach is to make baby food in large batches and freeze it for later. You can spend about an hour or so cooking and puréeing enough foods to last a few weeks.
Experiment with different textures of homemade baby food as baby's eating skills develop. You can adjust thickness and texture easily using any of the following:
Some foods need to be peeled, some don't. Beginners may need completely smooth foods, then increase thickness or leave small chunks as baby gets older, and eventually grate, chop and dice as you transition baby to "table foods."
Many fruits can be mashed raw (banana, avocado) or simply puréed. Steam, boil or bake vegetables. Whole grains and legumes can be put in the blender and ground into a powder, then boiled with water to make homemade baby cereal in just minutes. Experiment with different combinations from our bulk section to create your own high-protein cereals.
Remember, the freezer is your friend. After making a purée or mash of a particular food, spoon it into ice cube trays or small containers, freeze until solid, then toss your nutritious "food cubes" into freezer bags labeled with the date (most foods can be frozen for 2-3 months or more). Then just thaw and serve individual servings whenever baby is ready to eat. As you build a nice freezer stash, you'll be able to mix up a fresh dinner with complete nutrition in a matter of seconds.