Real Baby Food - how to nourish your awesome baby in an awesome way

Why Real Baby Food?



Why would you choose to feed packaged food at the most IMPORTANT time in your child’s health...while their lil’ taste buds are developing…while their lil’ digestive systems are forming?

Homemade baby food tastes WAY better, the nutrients haven’t been heated away, YOU control the contents always, the food is “real”, it sets them up for a lifetime of health and wellness and gut health.

OH...and making and feeding babies real food is also SUPER EASY!


Rules?



There are really only a few basic rules. And I would hardly call them “rules”. More like common sense, traditional wisdom, yaddah-yaddah.

And even THESE rules are debatable:

  • Start solids at 6 months, no earlier
  • Do NOT start your baby on grains — hold off a while
  • Avoid raw honey before 1 year
  • Avoid peanut butter before 1 year (or longer if family issue)
  • Avoid egg whites until 1 year (debatable)
  • Feed them enough fat



Every kid is different


FEEDING MY KIDS:

My daughter, Violet, would not touch a THING until she was nine months old. (NOT. A. THING.)

Her first food? Miso Soup.Yep, and to this day it’s one of her favourites. After that she would eat anything off a spoon SHE was holding, like oatmeal. To this day her palate is fussy and limited.

My son, Oscar, picked up a hunk of banana at six months and ate it, just like that. Well...he gnawed on it. His third taste was roasted garlic. And chicken chunks soon thereafter. He ate just about ANYTHING but carrots. And to this day he’ll eat just about ANYTHING. Even carrots. Loves flavour, loves variety, love FOOD. And he eats healthier than most adults I know.


FEEDING YOUR KIDS:

You will have no idea what will happen. That’s the exciting part about parenting. The constant surprise. What’s waiting around the corner. Just as there are no “rules” for feeding baby, there are no rules to raising kids. You do what YOU feel is right, follow your instincts and do your best. And no matter what…you’re an awesome parent. So try to approach their taste buds and little tummies in the same way. What “feels” right? Honour their little personalities and individual needs.



When Are They Ready?

I think, again, this is an instinctual thing. Your doctor may tell you they are ready — before you feel they are. Or vice versa. But there are some important things to keep in mind before you try.


Can Your Baby:

  • Sit up and hold their head unassisted?
  • Turn their head away?
  • Swallow (last tongue-thrust reflex)?


These steps are necessary to prevent choking and to respect where they are at in development. If you think rice cereal at four months is imperative because you read it in some old book then think again. These are the first clues.

After that, there are other signs that are more apparent and fun. Like, if they grab at what you’re eating, stare at you in wonder while you eat, and just seem generally interested. They may be grabbing at what you have because they are teething like mad (or in the beginning stages of it) — but it could also mean they ARE ready for more than just breastmilk or formula.


What To Keep In Mind

Here are some guidelines for giving your kid a lifetime of good:


Focus on SEASONAL FOODS and FLAVOURS

A body in rhythm with the seasons operates best, foods are more affordable, fresher and easier to digest. (That goes for grown-ups, too.)

In late fall and early winter (for example) our bodies want to be GROUNDED FOR WINTER, with lots of root vegetables, warming spices, more fat and more animal protein.


EAT REAL FOOD!!!!!

“Real Food is something that comes from the ground or has a mother!!!”

AVOID artificial sugar, bad fats (more on this), preservatives, (teething biscuits). They are not real foods — and baby’s poor body will yell at you for this.


Do not “NUKE” your baby food - NO MICROWAVES

No, not because of some conspiracy theory that it “zaps” food. Avoid it because it makes food taste like garbage and removes MANY of its nutrients. (Many!!)


Babies NEED Nutrients

Do not avoid fat (except the bad ones, like trans fats and vegetable oils). They REALLY, REALLY need it. Also, be aware of sources for iron, calcium, protein, too. Find them from FOOD sources, where their bodies understand how to digest and assimilate them — not in a supplement or food additive.


Dont be afraid to FEED BABY WHAT YOURE EATING

If it’s too time-consuming to create different dishes for everyone, build on what you are already doing. Take a stew you’ve made and grind it up (if they are ready), or give them pieces of it cut up to their level. This helps prevent resentment from having to make too many different dishes. Begin good habits right off the bat. Make one family meal. Not two or six :)

Of COURSE they are going to be excited about what you are eating. Especially if you’re enjoying the experience. Let them share it with you.

Babies also LOVE being at the table with other kids. Keeping the family together for as many meal times as possible is a beautiful, important thing.


Avoid distraction and BE PRESENT as they eat

This begins to teach the importance of food and mindfulness — a lost art for most of us. Go one step beyond that — be mindful as you PREPARE their food with LOVE. If you resent it, they will feel it.


Embrace their INDEPENDENCE with self-feeding

As messy as this is, it’s also awesome. And provides great photo moments. Instead of getting upset about it, why not INSTAGRAM it. Or get a dog. Your floors will never be cleaner :)


Avoid PRESSURING them to eat

This one is super important:

If they’re not ready to begin solids, then just hold off a day or a week or longer.

If they haven’t had “lunch” yet today, who cares!!

Respect their tiny tummies and learn to read their full signals. (And/or teach them sign language. It’s seriously the coolest. When a baby can’t speak but can ask for food, and specifically for an item, it is just amazing. Don’t you think?)




First Foods



This is often the point in my baby food seminars when mom’s jaws drop or they get confused looks on their faces, or


they look at me like I’ve got two heads. When I begin to talk about first foods.

Why? (It’s not because I’m crazy, I promise.)

Because society (and professionals) have been telling us for a long time that the first foods we give our babies should be dehydrated, poor quality, artificially-iron-laced (and constipating) grain cereals out of a box.

This is their first introduction to food? Really? Yuck!! What I’m about to tell you is simply the opposite.

In MOST traditional cultures — even ours originally — babies first foods were ALWAYS egg yolk and raw, organic liver — then brain. These foods are incredibly rich in GOOD FAT, critical for baby’s brain, and naturally high in Vitamin A & D (which is important for a developing immune system). They’re also very easy to digest. THAT’S what you want in a first food.


I will give you another myth buster:

Myth: If the first foods your kid ever eats is a sweet vegetable or fruit they will be stuck with a sweet tooth for life. They will never enjoy a green vegetable in their childhood.

This isn’t true. In fact, they will appreciate the fact that the flavour or taste is close to what they’ve been enjoying their first six months. Breast milk is sweet. So is formula. Super sweet!

Do not fear the (sweet) banana.

And DEFINITELY be at ease if you give your baby liver as his first food.

Even most doctors are on board with this now: Starting with protein-rich foods, and avoiding grains for the first while.


First Foods Need To Be EASY TO DIGEST


That is what you should be thinking about, when deciding what to start with first.


If you are hardcore and want to stick to old traditions, try this first:

  • egg yolk
  • liver
  • brain


If the above is NOT a consideration (at first), try this:

  • banana
  • avocado
  • pear
  • carrot
  • sweet potato
  • parsnips
  • rutabaga


Banana is very easy to digest — almost pre-digested — but please look for organic or fair-trade options.

Avocado is a nutrient-dense, saturated fat, that’s also high in fibre.

Babies love these first foods. There is no need to cook them, either. Just mash or puree and go. They eventually make great finger foods, also.



Second Foods



For second tastes begin introducing green and red vegetables. Mixing them with orange vegetables will make them more palatable and familiar (and sweeter):

  • zucchini
  • beets
  • corn cob (technically a grain — you could hold off on this)



Third Tastes (or)

COMPLETE PROTEINS


After an introduction of simpler foods you begin complete proteins. Of course you would start with high-fat, easy-to-digest proteins ideally, but the following are the next way to go. Don’t forget the importance of amino acids in their diet.

Third taste vegetables are sometimes more difficult on the palate because they’re a tad bitter. That is a taste that takes longer to appreciate when you’re wee.


Complete proteins and third tastes include:

  • chicken
  • fish
  • more vegetables
  • legumes (lentils are a great starter)
  • kale



Other Tastes & Flavours


This is the time to include things like garlic, lacto-fermented foods, and a little cheese.

Introduce international flavours and spices a few weeks in. Babies like food to taste enhanced, too. Though their taste buds are more sensitive at this time, they still enjoy flavour. Try giving your baby a jar of peas compared to fresh, for example. Just try it and see what happens.

Some flavour enhancer ideas include:

  • hit of vanilla in pears
  • small amount of ginger (helps soothe troubled tummies)
  • mint with berries
  • cinnamon with sweet potato — or cumin


I cannot tell you what age to introduce what thing — because that will vary based on the kid. You must follow what feels right in this case.


Nine to Twelve Months


That is when you can begin introducing some even MORE fun and good stuff.


Finger Foods

This includes things like well-cooked carrot sticks or hunks of banana.


More Texture

If you’ve been pureeing the heck out of everything you’ll likely want to do that less now. At some point they have to learn to chew. (Haha) It’s also easier at this point. You can mash with a fork, instead of a using a grinder.


Grains

You want to hold off on grains, up to this point — as I mentioned — and you’ll find out why shortly. This is the age you’ll likely want to begin introducing them, in general.



One Year


Some toddlers STILL rely on breast milk at a year. And they will eat only a few solid foods. Others have weaned on their own at this point.


This can be for a few (possibly obvious) reasons.

  • Appetites vary dramatically from kid to kid.
  • Some believe this can be a little body’s way of protecting itself against food allergies


I believe wholeheartedly that both of those things are true. Just as you are instinctual as a human, so are wee ones. They sometimes just “know” what they need to steer clear of. And some bodies are so sensitive they need to wait. Don’t panic if they aren’t eating much yet.


GRAINS

(and waiting until 9 months to start)


Why wait?

Babies lack enzymes required to digest grains for quite a few months. Therefore, grain flours are NOT good first foods. Leave it for a few weeks, until you feel the time is right — ideally nine months or longer.

When you do begin, start with easy-to-digest grains — such as amaranth, brown rice or millet.

It’s also INCREDIBLY easy to make your own grain cereals. So much so that there is no excuse at all to buy the less-than-quality stuff from a box. It’s likely rancid and/or full of preservatives.


There are recipes included in this. But a few things:


Soaking grains overnight, with a squeeze of lemon or whey, increase their digestibility, assimilation of nutrients and remove phytic acid. Phytic acid is what “protects” the grain, therefore making it very difficult to access the nutrients inside the grain. It also likes to strip the body of nutrients on it’s way “out”. So it’s a good thing to remove.

All grains should be soaked or sprouted, without question, at this point. This is also very important for future gut health.



MEAT & BROTHS


Meat

This is the richest source of iron and easiest to assimilate. If feeding baby a vegetarian diet, or dealing with deficiencies, you may have to supplement. (Supplementation is not as ideal.)


Bone Broth

This is incredibly beneficial. You can cook grains or legumes in broth, along with other stews. Bone broths, when made at home and done properly, draw nutrients out of the bones — especially calcium — making grains and beans MORE digestible. Broths also enhance the flavour of a dish, which is important even for baby.


Organic / Grass-Fed

The most important thing to remember, regarding animal protein, is it should always be organic and naturally or pasture-raised. Though this increases the expense of the food, meat should only be a small portion of what you and your baby consumes anyway. So adjust if you need to, accordingly.


Chop Popsicle

Don’t be afraid to hand baby a lamb chop and let them suck on it. The first time I did this with my daughter she actually made grunting animal noises while she did it. Caveman-baby!



DAIRY


Dairy is a funny one. (Oh, the debates are endless — especially in the nutrition world.)

Cow dairy is difficult for most babies to digest. If you feel strongly about using it there are important things to consider.


As far as straight up milk goes — these are your best options in order:

  • Unpasturized, organic, full-fat is the best option
  • If raw is unavailable, try goat or sheep milk — it’s easier on their tummies (partially due to the A2 casein versus A1)
  • Non-homogenized, full-fat, organic is the next best option


Yep — they are more expensive. So that’s important to keep in mind. The issue with “homo milk” as is often recommended… it’s been denatured in a way that tends to cause inflammation — and inflammation creates its own series of issues on the gut, the skin, etc. But full-fat is important, regardless of the milk source. So option “4” would be a full-fat conventional milk — or no dairy at all.

Other dairy options:

  • Fermented dairy, such as kefir and yogurt, is often easier to digest
  • Some cheeses are easier on the tummy and palate then others
  • Butter rules — ESPECIALLY pasture-fed (see FAT section)
  • Ghee — milk solids removed so may be okay even with dairy allergy


Be very observant when giving dairy to your baby. Be aware of any digestive, behaviour, bowel or skin changes. Your baby will not suffer from calcium-deficiency without it. In fact, they will likely absorb more without it, if it’s the wrong form of dairy. There are many wonderful food sources of calcium that do not come from a cow. But that’s another debate, isn’t it.


NUT MILKS are not a replacement for breast milk or dairy — they are a fine substitution for some adults but do not contain the minerals or nutrients to REPLACE other foods.



HERBAL TEAS


Does this sound weird to you? I know the thought of giving my baby herbal tea wasn’t something I could imagine — until I tried fennel tea after a particularly bad gas-issue with my son that he found unbearable.

It can be very soothing for babies to have a bit of cooled tea. Just be aware that herbal teas are still herbs — and it’s important to stick with the gentle ones that are less likely to cause any sort of reaction.

Camomile is incredibly calming and soothing.

Mint is wonderful to digestion.

Fennel is amazing for gassiness.



Baby Led Weaning

*an important note on this awesome system*

Before I go any further in this baby food thing, I want to discuss Baby Led Weaning (or BLW as it’s commonly known) here for a bit.


BLW is basically this…

It is skipping thin, runny purees and spoon-feeding. You offer foods soft-cooked, cut or mashed into small, manageable pieces. You do the offering, baby does the rest. You don’t EVER feed your baby or put food in their mouths. They take what they can handle. They learn to chew before swallowing. They decide what to eat, when and how much.

The concept behind this is that babies will eat the right amount and what their own bodies need to nourish them — and they will instinctually be attracted to it.

I do actually believe in the concept for the most part. My son essentially ate that way before I knew anything about “Baby Led Weaning”. I just did what felt right and came instinctually to me, as mama. I had stopped reading baby books by this point because I found my methods were already against the norm and I was tired of feeling attacked. I lived in a neighbourhood in Toronto where a lot of older, wiser moms hung out — most of them raising babies in ways that resonated with me — more than the baby shows and baby books. I observed them.

So I knew just about nothing before solid feeding, except to wait six months, and from what I observed at the drop-in centre I hung out in.

My daughter, like I mentioned earlier, didn’t eat a thing (except breast milk) until she was nine months old. But she LOVED being fed in the beginning (until she could grab the spoon herself) when she finally got around to it. Soup. Oatmeal. Pear Sauce. And still didn’t REALLY eat much until almost a year.

Both my kids were breastfed for a long time, so I wasn’t super concerned about it. But basically, BLW wouldn’t have worked for her. I took her cues to be fed, never forced it, but she preferred being fed until she could manage a spoon herself (which was early, actually).

I’ll never forget the first time I gave her a lamb chop though. The primal sounds that came out of that little beast. She LOVED IT SO MUCH. She sucked on that bone for an hour. That’s why I had to mention it in the Meat & Broths section.

My son could pick up and chew anything right in the beginning. A whole carrot for teething (while i watched the whole time), he gummed away at fruit, sucked on a meat bone. It was marvellous. He enjoyed food so much it was wonderful to watch him.

Every baby is different. This you’ve already figured out. You need to find a method that works for YOU while adopting the basic principals laid out here.



Allergies

(and how to not freak out about them)

Delay introductions to solid foods until six months. They get what they need from mom’s milk and feeding too early increases their chance of developing food allergies and sensitivities. Give time for their tummies and enzyme activity to fully develop.

It is important when introducing new foods to try items one at a time — at least in the beginning. It can be an annoying process, but if allergies are something you’re concerned with due to your own family history, then proceed with caution. To start off with, at least. This means waiting four days after each introduction to see if there are reactions to the food.

With that said, the ones that are most important to do this with are the super common allergy foods. I’ve listed them below.


Some food reactions can include:

  • digestive upset
  • gas
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • respiratory issues: runny nose, wheezing
  • skin rashes, eczema, hives


Most common allergies/sensitivities among babies and children are:

  • eggs
  • soy
  • dairy
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • chocolate
  • corn
  • rice
  • wheat & gluten
  • oranges
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • fish


This does NOT mean your child will react, but keep close watch the first while.

If you suspect an allergy but aren’t sure, remove from the diet for two weeks. If you child shows improvement during this time it is likely the offending food.

Like I tell my OWN clients...KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL. This will be especially helpful when trying to determine food allergies. Again, you may only need to do this in the beginning.

The really annoying thing is — something may cause a reaction or some tummy trouble, but be fine the next time. Have patience when you're going through the process of introducing.

Raw Honey should be avoided until 1 year, when they have stomach acidity closer to an adults. This is to prevent botulism. Egg whites and nuts should also be avoided until one year, though many find they are okay after a couple months of eating — when they accidentally feed them these anyway.

If you have many food allergies in your family you may want to avoid eggs, gluten, dairy, and nuts for 2 or 3 years. Speak with a health care professional about this.


GUT ISSUES:

If there are many food sensitivities already developed it is essential to look at the gut heath of your child. This can happen — especially if mom has unnoticed, poor gut health (which is common, unfortunately).

See a naturopath and/or a nutritionist to clear up these issues. Trust me — the earlier it’s done the better.

With all this said...after a short period, when I saw my son not reacting to things at all, I started to feed him just about everything.

My daughter I was more careful with. Thankfully — as dairy made her entire body break out in eczema. Ouch! Until we switched to raw, organic milk.


Teething

It sucks for them.

It sucks for you.


Here are some foods (while you watch them) that might be helpful:

  • frozen wild blueberries
  • frozen peas
  • piece of toast
  • frozen breast milk — in a mesh bag feeder or a popsicle
  • frozen mango or peaches — in a mesh bag feeder or on its own
  • a whole carrot


Teething biscuits have few nutrients and often contain many preservatives and nasty (low quality) fats.



Choking Hazards


Anything hard in texture is inappropriate in the beginning. You must feel confident in your child’s chewing abilities before introducing anything harder in texture.

Then items that are safe will vary, depending on the child.

The most obvious ones to be careful of are the foods usually used as examples: hot dogs and grapes.

You shouldn’t be feeding babies hot dogs ANYWAY — but grapes can be sliced and cut into very small pieces.

I encourage finger foods because it gets their little, fine motor skills working while doing something very practical — and fun.

But finger foods should be very small in the beginning — or very soft. Raisins are considered a choking hazard at first. (Dried fruit better to eat cultured and soft — like a puree.) It’s more fun to give them a spoon and a bowl of something pureed — watching what they’ll do with that — if you can handle the fun mess.

I’m not going to lie: Choking is one my biggest fears. So much so I had begun to make my kids afraid. It was getting a little silly. I’ve had to learn to suck it up, in a way. You will also likely experience some kind of choking at some point, as I have. A spaghetti noodle that gets caught going down (yep, you just pull it back out). Or bacon (believe it or not). And it’s often just for a moment. But it is still pretty terrifying.



Nutrients


Obviously, there are nutrients to be considered. Some are more important than others for baby. Consider the following to be important.


IRON

  • Essential for brain development and immune function
  • Best absorbed when found in a food source — and the best food source is meat (especially red meat)
  • Other sources include: beans, molasses, prunes, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, other dried fruit


FAT

  • This is insanely important — essential actually
  • Provides energy, contributes to nervous system development and brain function
  • Protects vital organs, provides body insulation, increases absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Best sources include: avocado, coconut oil, wild fish, nuts ground into food, egg yolk, organ meat
  • Pure oils include: unrefined seed or nut oil (that haven’t been open long), ghee or butter, cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil
  • WORST sources that should be avoided: vegetable oil, refined oils, trans fats, margarine, canola oil, rancid oils


CALCIUM

  • Important for healthy, strong bones and teeth — but also for muscles
  • Great dairy sources are: full-fat milk or sheep milk, yogurt, some cheese
  • Great non-dairy sources include: broccoli, kale, sesame seeds and tahini, almonds, black beans, salmon, sardines, molasses


PROTEIN

  • This is especially essential during the first year of a babies life
  • Building blocks (or protein) are needed to make and repair cells, form antibodies for fighting infection, building and repairing new organ tissue, enzymes and hormones — and that’s only the beginning
  • Sources obviously include meat — the most common and easiest way to get protein
  • There are loads of other sources that are awesome: beans, fermented kefir and yogurt, whole grains, nut butter, edamame (fresh soy beans — or fermented soy is okay, too)



Food Storage


Fresh is best!!!

This is my attitude but it just doesn’t work with everybody. When you freeze food its molecular structure starts to break down, reducing its nutrient value and affecting taste.

HOWEVER…making food ahead can save everybody a headache or two. Especially for busy, out-the-door people.

Taking one or two hours a week and preparing foods for the week ahead is good practice no matter what age you are. This is especially helpful for busy people or moms who return to work early.

Some of you won’t really need to store food at all, if you are feeding them what you eat, after their initial food introductions.


A guideline for baby food storage:

Fruits & Vegetables Fridge: 2 - 3 days Freezer: 1 - 3 months

Meat Fridge: 1 day Freezer: 1 - 2 months

Meat/Veg Combo Fridge: 1 - 2 days Freezer: 1 - 3 months

Egg Yolk Fridge: 1 day Freezer: 1 - 2 months



Equipment


You don’t need ANYTHING fancy. You’ve got enough baby stuff around, right?

You do NOT need to buy a fancy, baby food blender. Any old blender will do.


The following are USEFUL (but not essential):

  • Steamer basket (one cooking method)
  • Food processor or blender (for pureeing food)
  • Food mills (hand-held for pureeing food)
  • Coffee grinder (processing whole grains)
  • Glass jars (canning jars or other for storage)
  • Ice Cube Trays (freezing and portioning food)
  • Glass baking dish (for cooking)
  • Label maker (for fun) or masking tape




Sugar

*plus an IMPORTANT rant you need to read*


SUGAR IS AN ANTI-NUTRIENT!

That should be all I say on the subject but unfortunately, so many of you with a sweet tooth, will think of any excuse why it’s okay to eat the stuff. I know this to be true.

I’ve got a little list here on some of the better reasons to avoid it, or at least why you shouldn’t be feeding it to your baby.


Sugar is harmful because as a substance it:

  • causes acidity and inflammation in the body — and is connected to MANY diseases (or future diseases in this case)
  • feeds bad gut bacteria and parasites, kills good gut bacteria
  • depresses immune system
  • can cause hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes
  • leads to mineral and vitamin deficiencies
  • promotes tooth decay
  • can cause hormone imbalance
  • is addictive
  • affects moods and contributes to anxiety and depression
  • triggers weight gain and obesity


A little sweetness is okay. I mean, gee…that’s baby’s first taste. But there is nothing good to be said for refined sugar. I recognize a need for balance in the diet. But you can do *sweet* and *sugar-like* in a much healthier way, by using some alternative sugars or real food. Remember, sugar can become addictive. An addiction to anything is harmful. Rare is an addiction to something like kale. I’ve had clients work very hard trying to get their deep sugar cravings under control. My feeling is that NOW is time to start with all the good habits you can bestow on your wee one.


Some of the healthier natural sugars include:

  • real maple syrup
  • coconut sugar
  • molasses
  • NOT YET BUT EVENTUALLY raw honey
  • dried fruits, like dates
  • fresh fruit is obviously fine


If a label says fructose it is not “fruit”. It’s a concentrated sweetener that builds the worst kind of fat. This includes High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Agave Nectar (a little less bad).

Avoid giving baby juice if you can. If it says “100% juice” assume that doesn’t matter. If you are making small quantities of fresh-pressed juice, a little is fine — especially if it’s mostly vegetables — but mostly prepared juice is just concentrated sugar.

Don’t start your baby’s food experience with junk and anti-nutrients. Don’t begin your baby’s life with potential gut issues, inflammation and a depressed immune system.

There’s my rant!!




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