Buying or Making Baby Food: How About Neither?

Christie Haskell

baby led weaning, starting solids

My daughter at 6 months old, feeding herself steamed broccoli.

In the world of infant feeding, deciding when to start solids can be a huge debate despite the crystal-clear science, but in a close second is the debate over baby food -- buy it or make it? People will swear up and down that they believe commercial jarred foods are just fine, while the opposite spectrum says that baby needs homemade, organic produce whirred carefully into blends and frozen into cubes.

What if I told you that you could skip baby food entirely? That you need never buy another jar or puree another squash again? Well, that's what I'm telling you!

As we all know and should all be obeying is the acknowledgement that you shouldn't even consider any complementary foods (meaning foods other than formula/breast milk) until the baby's gag reflex is completely gone. This reflex is a safety precaution that prevents babies from choking on anything that isn't liquid -- obviously the body's way of saying they shouldn't have anything that's not.

In comes the rush for new stages despite the lack of biological readiness, and just plain ol' lack of understanding or bad info.

I'm sure you've heard to water down cereal until it's liquidy with formula or breast milk, right? Have you ever stopped to consider why you'd do that? Watering down their first "food" is just a trick to get around the tongue thrust reflex. If baby thinks it tastes like their normal liquid meal and it's almost as thin, that's not really introducing new foods -- that's more akin to tricking them into thinking they're having the same thing, fed in a different way.

When babies are honest-to-bob ready for solid foods, it means their bodies don't automatically push out thicker things for safety; they can mash things with their gums and tongue and can and want to pick things up with their own hands and put it in their mouths.

Think about it from a really primitive point of view -- what would baby do left to their own devices (other than life-sustaining care)? They taste things when they can pick them up, but their body makes them spit it out until they're around 6-8 months old (and just because they taste things doesn't mean they're ready to digest them -- they taste toys too folks and can't digest plastic ever). At some point, they attempt to mush up those things they put in their mouth. If they can't, they spit it out. If they can, they'll mush until they swallow. They are not designed to have things put in their mouths for them. Their body protects them from eating until they're ready so tricking their body with "almost-liquid" cereal isn't healthy nor wise.

Eating steamed veggies at a restaurant.
So what should you do? Offer them real food! Remember though that they are working with gums, a tongue, and maybe a couple of teeth so it still needs to be mushable (no steak yet, please!) but it doesn't need to be mush. Some great first foods are steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato or squash pieces, chunks of avocado or banana, and things of similar consistency that can be picked up. Some people suggest rolling the slimier things like really-ripe banana slices in powdered infant cereal or even wheat germ to help baby pick it up easier.

Babies can have spices, too! This is so much easier on everyone because you can just tear up some pieces of your steamed asparagus (with a touch of salt and pepper) that everyone is having with dinner and put it on your baby's tray. Still be conscious of slow intro of new foods to see how baby's body handles it. Don't be lazy and feed crappy food off your plate either -- instead use this as a way to be more conscious of what you're feeding the rest of your family and make your food healthy enough that you feel good about putting it into your baby and yourself.

So, no need for baby food -- babies eat ... food! Babies are perfectly capable of eating real food right from the start. Give it a try! You'll wonder why you ever wasted your time with baby food in the past, and you definitely won't miss the gooey mess that comes with liquid foods. Lastly, it makes eating out a breeze -- just order a side dish of steamed veggies.

Have you skipped purees? Would you?

Read More