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Home Cooking, From the Start

One of my favorite moments was when my dear friend, Karen, was preparing to have twins. I knew when she arrived home, she’d soon be overwhelmed with feeding, changing diapers, and simply trying to catch a few minutes of sleep. Who on earth would have time to cook? And once the twins were done breastfeeding, she would then spend a lot of her time making their meals. So, a freezer was a gift I knew would keep on giving.

I visited her and, before I left North Carolina, I filled her freezer with items she or her spouse could simply defrost, heat and eat. The moment I received a text message with a picture of a slice of quiche and a thank-you note, I knew I had actually done something that mattered.

These days Karen uses the freezer, and a slew of ice cube trays, to make and freeze her babies’ food. She also has a few other “tools” that make the job easier. A vacuum sealer keeps freezer burn at bay. A food processor allows her to puree the twins’ meals; later she’ll be able to “pulse” the foods to add some texture, as the babies become more experienced eaters. A strainer helps to separate out the “strings” left behind with some vegetables. And her steamer basket is a great way to soften the food, without overcooking it and removing the vitamins and minerals.

I asked Karen what she’d want other new parents to know about making her babies’ meals from scratch. She said the key is the ice cube trays. This allows you to pop out a single serving at a time—and it thaws quickly. She also wanted to point out that foods previously thought to be “high allergy” foods may not necessarily be so, according to recent studies.

So let’s start with solids. Most pediatricians agree they should not be introduced before the age of 4 months to 6 months. In fact, many doctors now say that if you’ve exclusively breastfed your baby for the first 4 months, then your child is not at risk for allergies, and you can introduce any foods, even the highly allergenic ones such as fish, peanuts and eggs, after 6 months.

In fact, surprisingly, one 2010 study suggests babies who are not given eggs until after their first birthday are up to five times more likely to develop allergies than those introduced at 6 months. Moreover, egg yolks are full of protein and are not shown to cause the allergic reaction. So, Karen is a big proponent of giving the twins yolks.

She also believes yogurt has been unnecessarily stricken from lists of babies’ first foods. Now, I am a Ph.D., not a medical doctor. Be sure to discuss any food choices with your pediatrician before introducing them to your baby. But I’d like to share some of the most recent thoughts on yogurt.

Most pediatricians advise that babies under 1 year not drink cow’s milk, for various reasons including a concern that babies’ guts cannot yet process the proteins in whole milk. However, yogurt and cheese have been cultured, and that process makes them easier to digest. Many people who can’t tolerate milk can eat yogurt. Plus, whole-milk yogurt has fat, which babies need. So, the new recommendations are that yogurt can be introduced at about 8 months. Again, as with eggs, talk to your pediatrician before introducing any foods to your baby other than breast milk or formula.

So, let me tell you why making your baby’s food is such a great idea: It’s just like cooking at home. You control what goes in their bellies. You can also “mix” foods to allow your children to have a broader selection of foods than they might have if they are eating only factory-processed baby foods.

But it’s not as simple as tossing a peach in a food processor. In fact, most pediatricians recommend cooking fruits and veggies before blending and feeding them to babies younger than 8 months. The cooking process breaks down the food and helps little ones digest them more easily. Toddlers have an easier time digesting the sugars and fibers than infants. (Bananas, which do not need to be cooked, are an exception to the rule.)

One of my favorite first baby foods is the sweet potato.

Click to view recipe.

Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.

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