WHEN their little ones are ready to start exploring foods, many parents, particularly because of the convenience, turn to pre-packaged baby foods to satisfy this need. However, even on our local supermarket shelves, the majority of the available products are imported from the United States.
And while under normal circumstances parents would not find this fact alarming, this is now of great concern in light of a recent report which shows that the foods often contain potentially dangerous substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic, which have been linked to lower IQs and short-term learning problems in children, other health challenges such as diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancers, and even reproductive problems later.
The report from Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a US alliance of scientists and child health advocacy organisations, looked at 168 products across 61 brands, measuring the amount of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in one sample of each product. Foods tested included cereals, fruits, vegetables, juices and snack foods such as puffs, and the results showed that at least one harmful contaminant was found in 95 per cent of all the products.
While the US Food and Drug Administration has proposed guidelines for the production of infant foods, parents will always be wary of what they feed their children, and this has led to a growth in the organic market, and a push by many to make their own baby food. And whether you're a busy mom or one who has loads of time on your hands, nutritionist Janique Watts says you can provide a safer alternative for your baby by making foods from scratch using local foods.
“When preparing foods for your baby the first thing to consider is the age of the child. This will determine what can be introduced into the diet. For instance, babies one month to six months should be exclusively breast-fed. However, after this six-month mark complementary feeding can be considered. This is when the baby can be given food from the family pot,” Watts said.
However, she cautions parents that even at this time they still have to think about the baby's ability to chew. As such softer or semi-solids are what are best to give them via a spoon or cup or when feeding fluids, feeding with a cup since this helps the child's jaw muscles to develop and encourages them to feed themselves as well.
“Parents can make the transition to solid foods easier by mashing, blending or puréeing foods to the consistency that is best suited for the feeding utensil being used. Fortunately, we have a diverse produce market here in Jamaica which is perfect for soft foods,” Watts reasoned.
She shares below some tips for making your own baby food.
Using a fork or hand held food masher, you can mash vegetables such as pumpkin, Irish potatoes, carrots and broccoli with starches like green bananas and plantains. For those foods not so easily mashed, a small amount of applesauce, butter or milk can be used to aid in the process.
Using a blender or food processor you can purée fruits such as bananas and apples and foods like avocados. Before using these, make sure that they are properly washed, and ensure that the stems and inedible skin portions are removed carefully.
Watts said that cleaning foods properly is imperative to preventing or reducing the chances of food-borne illnesses.
Turn oats to powder
Using a food processor you can turn oat flakes into a powder to make oatmeal cereal for your baby instead of buying the packaged ones.
If you want to add flavour to your baby foods, then you can introduce spices. Add cinnamon or nutmeg and a few fruits to your baby's oatmeal, for example, or add fresh herbs like basil or thyme to your baby's mashed potatoes. Watts advised against adding sweeteners such as sugar or honey to foods, as you want the baby to appreciate the flavour of the food.
Note that fruits and vegetables have a natural sweetness and as such there is no need to add sugar or honey. Honey, in particular, should not be given to babies under one, because it may cause botulism — a potentially fatal form of food poisoning.
Tweak the family pot offerings
Your baby can, for the most part, have what you are having for dinner, with a few adjustments. If you are having spaghetti and meatballs, for example, take out the baby's portion and purée it. Same goes for chicken and rice, beans and the like. The baby is adapting to the family's tastes and food choices, and starting small and with a variety is the way to go.
One important point to consider when making baby food is how leftover food will be stored, and this will affect what quantities you make each time. Storing leftovers properly is very important — you should make sure that the container is clean, is locked airtight, and is refrigerated for preservation. You can freeze foods for long periods, but if you are storing pre-made baby food in the regular part of the refrigerator, you will need to use it up within 24 hours, especially if it contains poultry, fish, meat or eggs.