Whole food baby food [family food baby food part 2]

Wholesome baby food

I’m not claiming to be an expert on whole food baby food, but I am an information junkie, a research fanatic, and I spent last year wading through information (I’m talking 9 or 10 books and countless articles and websites – my PhD research skills in action).  What follows are the things that make the most sense to me, what seems to be the general consensus about the most up-to-date information, and how we approached the ideas of food with our son Mateo.  It is all based on our 5 basics of healthy eating, just in a baby version.  We focus on eating real, whole, good quality food, with no sugar or processed foods.

Obviously make sure you check in with your pediatrician about anything you are unsure of, but like everything in this world, there are many voices who say conflicting things.  These 5 tips are my distillation of research and experience, in line with my beliefs about food.

1. Before starting solids:  Your baby to solids, they need to be able to sit up, be able to coordinate all the muscles involved in swallowing, able to turn their head away, and they need to show interest in eating[1].  For many babies this happens around 6 months, but every baby is on their own timeline.

2. Develop their palate:  Beyond introducing them to the pleasures of food, you are also developing their palate and helping them acquire tastes.  If you don’t want a picky eater, provide a wide variety of tastes, flavours and textures.  Infant nutrition also plays a critical role in the fight against obesity.  By not giving our babies sugar, processed and refined foods, or foods high in trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, we can influence their taste and desire for certain foods[2].  Right now we control how they are developing, and we are setting the patterns for their nutritional choices later on.

3. Whole, real food:  Whole foods are tastier, healthier, and often cheaper (even the organic ones) than jars or tubes of baby food.  Letting your baby see you cook also creates a connection between where food comes from and what they eat.  Sit down and eat with them, or spend focused time with them while they are eating.  This allows both of you to experience the foods they are discovering, and it will help you learn your baby’s cues.

4. Listen to their cues:  It is very important for babies to self-regulate how much food they eat.  We should never, ever force babies/children to eat or to finish their food if they are no longer hungry.  If they eat a little less at one meal they will make up for it at the next.  This teaches them to listen to their internal cues about how much food they need (not the socially constructed idea of how much is enough/too much/too little).  A general rule of thumb is to start with one teaspoon of food at a time.  As they get older offer them one tablespoon of food for each year old they are (1 Tbs at 1 year etc).  If they are still hungry they will tell you.  Too much food at once is overwhelming.

5. 3 meals, 2 snacks:  Most pediatricians agree that three meals a day (a combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats) plus two snacks is optimal.  Letting them have time to digest in between is also important.  It means they will actually be hungry at the next meal and will taste/eat the nutritious food you provide them with.  If they have filled up on fish crackers they won’t want to try green beans.

The most important things: listen to (and respect) your baby, offer a variety of nutrients and flavours, turn off distractions and enjoy meals together, give individual foods first so the babies can taste what each food is like on its own, add spices and textures, eat the same thing as your baby, no sugar, no processed foods.

Sometimes when we are exhausted the quick option seems like all we can manage.  But just keep in mind that it’s easier to prevent weight issues and poor nutrition habits right now.  By encouraging eating as a pleasurable, communal activity (please turn off your TV, phone and computer), filled with nutritious, delicious whole foods, we CAN set the next generation up for better health.


Whole food baby food:

6-9 months:

Iron: many doctors recommend starting solids that are high in iron.  Since baby-cereal makers produce iron-fortified cereal (they add the iron during processing), it falls into this category.  But many other doctors and provincial guidelines also include naturally iron-rich food into this category: meat, fish, poultry, egg yolks, and well-cooked legumes.  Be sure to grind/puree the food up so that it makes a watery paste.  Use warm water, breast milk or formula to thin it out.  You do not need to use broth, salt or sugar, since babies palates are very sensitive and they should get to know what food tastes like in its original form.  Baby-cereal is one option to start solids with, but so are all the other iron-rich, un-processed foods.

Fruits and Vegetables: there are lots of stories about not giving fruit before introducing vegetables, an idea that has been disproven.  The key is to provide variety, and to keep trying even if the first time isn’t a success.  Babies need time to become familiar with texture and taste.  So if it isn’t a hit to start with, wait a week or two and try again.  Repeated exposure is key.  Many babies at this age love the silky texture of avocado and sweet potato, so experiment with combining those foods with meats and vegetables.  You can also try combining grains and vegetables, as well as grains and fruit (but remember to also give them the individual ingredients in their original form).

Grains: we weren’t crazy about the bland taste of rice/oat cereal, and we wanted to focus on whole foods.  Any grain you cook for yourself you can easily grind or blend into baby food.  Our favorites were quinoa, oatmeal and brown Basmati rice.

Legumes: the key is to cook them really well, and blend with other enticing flavors.  Delicious combos include lentils, rice and veggies; chickpeas and sweet potato; white beans mashed with vegetables and chicken.  Adding spices like cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, thyme and rosemary are easy ways to introduce different flavours.  #baby #foodie!

Dairy: aside from avoiding unpasteurized cheese (and honey) until 12 months, most other dairy is fine for little ones, depending on their curiosity and the consistency.  Plain, high fat yogurt mixed with un-sweetened applesauce is usually a hit, and some babies like to experiment with different soft cheeses.

*Check with your doctor about when and how to introduce peanuts or other allergens like egg whites.

9-12 months:

Experiment with texture and taste.  The wider variety of food a baby is exposed to the better.  By 8 or 9 months most babies can be eating a texture-appropriate version of your meals (provided you are feeding yourself good, nutritious, wholesome foods).  Start by making the food a little lumpier, and gradually introducing more texture/chunks.  One rule of thumb is that as babies start to crawl they can begin eating ground, mashed, coarsely chopped (soft) foods.

It is important to provide enough healthy fats in the form of real food, since it is critical in brain development.  Avocado, fish, egg yolk, and higher fat plain yogurt are great options.

Let them experiment with finger foods, and encourage them to practice eating on their own.  It’s messy, but extremely important for their fine motor skills, dexterity, hand/eye coordination and sense of independence.  Good, healthy options (aside from processed things like Cheerios and Fish Crackers) include green peas, blueberries or other chopped up berries, chopped soft fruits like melon, and small cubes of chopped cheese or meat.  When Mateo was teething, chewing on pieces of frozen fruit was really soothing, and a dry piece of toast (we buy Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread) also helped.

By 12 months, formula fed babies should make the switch to whole cows milk.  Small amounts of water can be given, but no juice (partially because of the concentrated sugar content, partially because they tend to fill up on juice).

Keep a mental tab of what kinds of nutrients your baby eats over the day (you should be doing this for yourself as well).  Make sure that over the day everyone eats whole, un-refined grains, vegetables, fruit, protein (including dairy) and lots of fiber.

Baby food recipes:

The recipes below are more like lists of ingredients that we found go well together in the first stages of solids.  We usually steam or roast the ingredients, and then blend/puree them.  Add enough liquid (water, breast milk or formula) until it reaches a watery consistency for stage 1 foods (introduction to solid foods, usually in puree form).

By stage 2 (around 8 months and older), or if you are following baby-led weaning, our little ones can be eating the same healthy, delicious foods as we are.  Baby food mills, a potato masher, fork and hand blender all work well to produce interesting textures.  For the healthy, family food recipes mentioned in the workshop (and many, many more) that have been tested and enjoyed by Mateo.

Chicken and sweet potato

Brown rice and green peas (mixes well with chicken)

Applesauce with plain yogurt

Sweet potato and steamed kale

Oatmeal, quinoa flakes and peaches

Mashed avocado (mixes well with sweet potato and ground meats)

Mashed sweet potato (can be sprinkled with cinnamon or cumin, mixed with pureed beans, meats, legumes/beans and greens)

Pureed fruit (banana and melon are good choices that can be mixed with grains like rice, oatmeal or quinoa flakes, or mixed with yogurt)

Mashed banana, applesauce (can also be mixed with yogurt)

Squash (baked or steamed, possibly with cumin, cinnamon or rosemary, mixed with poultry, fish, or grains)

Squash, peas, beans and carrot

Egg yolk, rice and avocado

Lentils and sweet potato or pumpkin (with a sprinkle of mild curry powder)

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with carrot and peas (with a sprinkle of mild curry powder)

Blueberries, Peach and Spinach (steam the spinach slightly and then blend)

Kidney or black beans, sweet potato and avocado


 Helpful Resources:

Health Canada (excellent publication): http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/publications/feedingyourbaby6_12months.pdf

Eat Right Ontario: https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/default.aspx

The New Basics” by Dr. Michel Cohen.  HarperColins Publishers, 2004.

You Raising Your Child” by Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Free Press, 2010.

Feeding Your Baby From 6 Months to 1 Year: http://www.healthunit.org/children/feeding/feeding_baby_best_start.pdf

Dietitians of Canada: http://www.dietitians.ca/



[1]The New Basics” by Dr. Michel Cohen.  HarperColins Publishers, 2004; http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/publications/feedingyourbaby6_12months.pdf

[2]You Raising Your Child” by Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Free Press, 2010.