06.Choosing and making baby food
Choosing baby food
- If you want a 100% organic product, look carefully at whether all or only some ingredients are certified organic.
- Don't be swayed by claims of no added artificial this or that. Vitamin C is often added to make up for losses in processing, and it acts as an antioxidant to prevent fats going rancid and fruit and veg turning brown. But food regulations mean you won’t find additives such as preservatives, colours and flavours in any foods for babies under 12 months.
- Concerned about sugar and salt? Check the ingredients list for added sugars (including fruit juice concentrate, which can act as a sweetener and isn't as nutrient-dense as fruit) and the nutrition panel for sodium content per 100 g, which should always be less than 100 mg. Some varieties manage much less.
- Don’t just be guided by the product name - check the ingredients list to see how much of the food is the ingredients you think you’re paying for. The ingredient present in the largest amount comes first and so on down to the smallest. At the very least the ingredients in the food's name and pictured on the label should have their percentage declared.
- Are thickeners and water being used? They’re sometimes necessary, but work out how much of the product is the food ingredients you want and how much is water and/or thickener, which for many products should be low down on the ingredients list or not there at all.
- Think about what you’d put in it if you were making the food at home – if there are too many other ingredients of dubious value, there may be better choices on the shelf.
- Does your baby really need a special dessert? Dietitians have told CHOICE that babies don’t. A 100% fruit purée, which you can use as is or mix with regular plain yoghurt or baby yoghurt from the chiller cabinet, is a better option than most baby custards or yoghurt-based desserts.
- Food safety is especially important for babies. Processed baby food in unopened jars, cans or shelf-stable packs can be left unrefrigerated, but chilled or frozen baby foods need careful handling when you’re out and about. In addition, make sure you refrigerate unused portions (following the pack instructions) and never reheat already heated or eaten-from foods.
Making your own baby food
- Introducing solids gets your baby from breast milk or formula at about six months old to eating appropriate family foods by 12 months.
- Puréeing or mashing what the family is eating is the simplest solution, as long as your whole family has a healthy diet. But try not to mix too many flavours together at first — try single ingredients or simple combinations.
- Gradually moving to chunkier textures and finger foods is important. If you keep your baby on soft, smooth foods for too long, eating problems can develop.
- You don’t need to add sugar or salt to your baby’s food (manufacturers can’t add salt to baby foods). Remove your baby’s portion first if you salt the rest of the family’s food and go easy on salty ingredients like cheese. Choose low-salt versions of creamed corn, baked beans and tuna.
- Follow safe food handling principles stringently — babies are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning. For home-prepared foods, the Food Safety Information Council’s factsheet Protecting tiny tummies offers good advice.
CHOICE Books publishes the popular Practical Cooking for Babies and Toddlers, by Joanna Whitby. It contains over 100 recipes suitable for babies over 6 months old as well as the rest of the family.