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Creating a well-balanced, diverse offering of meals that baby will enjoy can be the most challenging part of feeding your baby. This challenge is largely responsible for why so many parents leave it up to food companies to create and supply their baby’s food for them. While commercially processed jarred baby food does offer convenience, homemade baby food made from fresh whole foods is far superior, both in nutrient and flavor quality.
Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined (or processed and refined as little as possible), and therefore maintain their natural flavor and nutrient integrity. Think of whole foods as those that can typically be found in nature, like whole fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and fresh cuts of meat. Processed jarred and pouched baby foods, while made mostly, but not entirely, from whole foods, are subject to very high temperature and pressure treatments, which allow them to remain shelf stable for literally years but result in substantial nutrient and flavor loss. The impact of this high heat can be clearly seen by comparing the color of processed jarred pea puree with homemade pea puree. The dramatic color change that results from excess heat directly indicates nutrient and flavor quality loss. In addition to extensive processing, jarred baby foods often include thickening agents, such as flours, starches, and gums, to increase stability (prevent them from separating during long-term storage), effectively diluting the nutrient density of the product.
Homemade baby food, on the other hand, can be prepared using gentle cooking methods, ensuring the maximum retention of nutrient and flavor integrity. Storing homemade baby food in the freezer is a gentle preservation method that locks in nutrients rather than destroying them, allowing this nutrient and flavor integrity to carry over until consumption. When babies are offered gently processed, flavorful whole food purees, they learn to accept and enjoy the natural, beautiful flavors that nature provides. This early acceptance, if cultivated, becomes a preference, and carries on with babies through life. Conversely, the bland flavors of jarred baby food purees often lead to an underdeveloped palate that is less accepting of the full flavors of healthy foods, and that, too, can be carried on through life.
Making homemade baby food provides an opportunity for you to prepare whole foods for your baby right from the start. Researchers have found that consumption patterns for fruits and vegetables often change adversely as babies transition from purees to a mature diet, primarily due to the introduction of processed foods. One study researched food consumption patterns of US infants and toddlers and found that, while deep yellow vegetables were consumed by 39 percent of babies at seven to eight months old, that percentage sharply declined to 13 percent at nineteen to twenty-four months old, when french fries became the most commonly consumed vegetable. This study also found that at nineteen to twenty-four months old, nearly one-third of babies consumed no fruit, while 60 percent consumed baked desserts, 20 percent consumed candy, and 44 percent consumed sweetened beverages on a given day.1 In our current Western food culture, many well-intentioned parents unwittingly fall into the processed food trap. And no matter how healthily you may have eaten before you had children, it can be even harder to find the time for fresh-food preparation once they come along. I hope this simple system will make it easier for you to quickly and confidently keep whole foods at the forefront of your child’s eating habits—even as life becomes increasingly more complex.
Preparing homemade baby food is very easy to do, but it does take time, the right cooking tools, and planning to provide a diverse, well-balanced offering of age-appropriate food. The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book does most of the planning for you, guiding you through a six-step process that will prepare you to make three months’ worth of baby food in just three one-hour blocks of time. After guiding you through preparing a large supply of individual whole food purees, this book shows you how to combine your individual purees into an endless variation of flavorful, nutritionally balanced meals, and then transitions you to preparing more advanced meals as your baby approaches readiness for a mature diet.
As you begin your baby food making adventure be sure to read chapter 2, which provides valuable information on feeding timelines, specific health concerns to be aware of, safe food preparation practices, and selection and preparation tips for whole foods. Please note that this book has been written as an informative guide to support your baby’s health and nutrition, but it is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of a physician. Always consult your baby’s pediatrician for health-related matters or concerns. Now, let’s get started!