Many babies are ready for solids by 4 to 6 months of age, and parents often turn to traditional first foods such as infant cereals and other bland purées. Plain food isn’t bad for babies, but too much of it may deprive them of important nutrients and lead to picky eating.
So how do you get your baby to branch out early? It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s the exciting new thinking on how and what to feed your baby.
Rethink food allergies
Experts used to recommend waiting to introduce common allergenic foods until at least age 1, and parents everywhere made a long list of items off-limits, including eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. But in 2008 the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) released a report showing that the research doesn’t back this up.
“There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of these foods beyond 4 to 6 months prevents food allergies,” says paediatrician Frank Greer, former chairman of the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition.
In certain cases, however, you should wait. Greer says that if your baby shows signs of an allergy (such as eczema) to food or anything else, hold off and consult with your baby’s doctor about when to introduce common allergens.
The guidelines are less definitive for babies with a strong family history of food allergies or asthma. Some experts believe it’s safe, but it’s a good idea to check with the doctor first.
Of course, it still comes down to parental choice. If the thought of serving eggs to your young baby makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Even some health professionals disagree with the new thinking.
Do not be afraid of spice and herbs
Most South African babies are still being fed plain and tasteless mushed foods. Traditional store bought baby foods still create a gagging reflex when sampled by adults. Babies across the globe are dinning on complex and flavour rich foods.
In other words, a culinary walk on the wild side won’t hurt your baby in the slightest. In fact, breastfed babies have walked that walk already.
Breast milk takes on the flavours of the food the mother eats, so if you dine at your favourite Indian restaurant and then nurse, your baby will also enjoy a flavourful Indian meal.
So toss some rosemary in with that squash, liven up that chicken with a dash of cumin, and give those mashed potatoes a kick with a blend of paprika and parsley. You may be surprised by your baby’s reaction.
You’ll want to steer clear of anything that would irritate your baby’s skin or mouth—no habaneros yet – but there’s no harm in giving mildly or moderately spicy food a try.
Don’t be intimidated by homemade baby food
Homemade baby food is not as daunting as spinning your own yarn. Making baby food can be as simple as mashing up a banana or avocado with a fork and adding a little seasoning, opening a can of beans and squashing them with garlic, or steaming veggies and spices and then pureeing them.
If you’re not in the mood to prepare separate meals, your baby can eat the same food you do – provided you’re eating something healthy, of course. Minus the salt and definitely no sugar!
On the flip side, a jar of natural baby food is just as good. In South Africa Woolworths and Orchard Baby and Toddler foods have great options that are perfectly fine as home made meal substitutes. The latter has perfected the use of complex flavours in meals for babies.
Changing the menu early on will help broaden baby’s palate. Use quinoa instead of rice, coconut milk as a base for sauces instead of cream or regular milk, and add multiple herbs to traditional steamed veggies such as sweet potato, carrot or butternut to create a taste explosion that your baby or toddler is sure to love.
Garlic adds great flavour and has great antioxidant properties. Use celery and turnips to create depth and complexity in flavour in any sauce. Here is our favourite cheat: add, celery, turnips, baby marrow, garlic and any fresh herbs to a pasta sauce and whizz them in!
Remember that most babies and toddlers prefer sweeter tastes (which they get from breast or formula milk), therefore be patient and persistent. Its ok if your baby refuses your herbed or spiced up meals initially as they do the same with bland regular food. Enjoy the revolution.
AAP, Baby Centre