Starting baby on solid food
Eileen Travers, www.montrealfamilies.ca
After you’ve mastered the one-handed diaper change, fuss-free nursing or
heating bottles to the perfect temperature, your baby will reach
another milestone: eating solid food.
What goes into a baby’s mouth has never before been so closely examined
by doctors, scientists and experts. Along with mountains of studies on
everything from foods that enhance brain development to eating habits
that can trigger weight problems later in life, new parents can often
Fresh or frozen? Organic or non-organic? Sweet potatoes or broccoli?
What comes first? Most experts agree that good eating habits start in
the high chair. Now, the question is: what’s on the menu?
The Canadian Pediatric Society says that at 6 months, a baby’s digestive
system is ready for more than just milk. So at this age, solid foods
can be introduced alongside breast milk or formula.
However, there’s no need to fill your shopping cart with dozens of jars
and boxes of baby food, says pediatrician Dr. Janet Grabowski. “Go slow,
there’s no big rush,” she notes.
Dr. Grabowski suggests parents begin with iron-fortified cereals because
a baby’s iron levels start to drop at this age. Parents can start with
rice cereal (which is unlikely to provoke an allergic reaction) for
about two weeks before switching to other single grain cereals, such as
oats or barley. Introduce one new type per week.
Because meat also contains iron, Health Canada recommends adding this to baby’s diet after the cereal.
At 7 months, babies can start on vegetables, particularly carrots,
squash and sweet potatoes. Next up are fruits, which often become a
baby’s favourites. Each fruit and vegetable should be introduced
separately for four or five days to alert parents to any existing
allergies, Dr. Grabowski says.
Dairy, such as cheese and yogurt, as well as egg yolks can come next,
which will probably cover the period between 9 and 12 months. Once
babies reach their first birthday, parents can consult the latest Canada
Food Guide for nutrition advice on what toddlers need.
While guidelines on what to feed baby and at what age are helpful,
parents soon discover that there are a daunting array of baby food
options available, from traditional jars to frozen purees, not to
mention what can be made at home with a few simple tools. Here’s some
information on the different choices available.
Traditional jars and cereals
A handful of baby food makers have been feeding generations of Canadian
infants for more than 70 years. Big brand names such as Gerber and Heinz
dominate the market, taking the lion’s share of the $85 million
Canadian’s spend on baby food each year.
“We try to provide moms with what they want,” said Heinz spokesman
Sandro D’Ascanio. “Moms have told us that variety, quality and nutrition
Heinz and Gerber offer the broadest choice in terms of different
flavours, from single fruits to toddler meals that combine meat,
potatoes and vegetables. Their products are widely available in grocery
stores and pharmacies. Both companies have websites, www.HeinzBaby.com and www.Gerber.com, that include product information and feeding guides.
There is growing interest and debate surrounding the need to feed babies
organic food. While some pediatricians recommend organic over regular
baby food, Dr. Grabowski says there are no conclusive studies favouring
one or the other. “It’s the parents choice,” she says.
Proponents of organic food say it includes more anti-oxidants, which may
improve brain development. They also note that organic food reduces a
child’s exposure to pesticides. Many argue that organic just tastes
However, organic baby food costs more, sometimes significantly so. While
the price difference between a jar of regular carrots and organic
carrots is about 10 cents, parents will pay considerably more for frozen
portions of organic carrot puree. A 50 ml serving of carrots will cost
between $1.75 and $2.
Parents looking for jars of organic baby food now have several choices.
The Earth’s Best brand, which offers starter foods (purees), cereals and
meals for toddlers, is widely available in stores and pharmacies. To
find out more, visit www.EarthsBest.com.
Both Gerber and Heinz have responded to the interest in organic with new
brands. Last year, Gerber launched its Gerber Organic label featuring
foods made with only organic ingredients. Heinz followed suit this year,
launching a full line of 21 varieties of organic baby food in jars and
Parents who don’t want to purchase jars of baby food often end up making
their own purees from organic ingredients. A few have built on this
experience to create businesses selling frozen, organic food for baby.
In 2004, Tanya Moore, a mother of two, decided to go beyond making her
own baby good and launched the Healthy Sprouts company in Whitby,
Ontario. “I wasn’t a savvy organic person before I had children,” she
says. “But the more research you do, the more frightened you get. Now I
wouldn’t feed my kids anything but organic.”
The Healthy Sprouts meals are available at some local health food stores
and in Montreal. There are four varieties of starter foods available as
well as two flavours of junior meals. Check out the web site, www.HealthySprouts.ca, for feeding tips, store locations and product information.
Montreal-based Mother Hen Baby Foods (often called by its French name,
La mère poule) has been making frozen organic fruits, vegetables, meat
and pasta since 1994. Starter meals come in more than a dozen varieties
and foods for babies 8 months and older include chicken cacciatore,
Parisian turkey, and spaghetti Bolognese. The products sell in grocery
stores and health food shops across Canada. The company’s website, www.MotherHen.com, allows visitors to search for a retail store in their neighbourhood that carries the products.
The Sweetpea Baby Food was the invention of two mothers who, in 2004,
turned their own home-made baby food into a business. Eryn Green and
Tamar Wagman now produce frozen organic cubes of foods, which sell in
grocery stores across Canada. The company web site, www.SweetPeaBabyFood.com, has recipe tips, nutrition information and more.
Make your own
Long before jars of baby food appeared on the supermarket shelves,
parents made their own purees. This do-it-yourself method is making a
comeback, because it is an easy and inexpensive alternative to prepared
Montrealers Lianne Castelino, Andrea Howick and Annick Melanson are so
keen on this idea that they wrote a book called Yummy in My Tummy. This
guide to feeding tots 6- to 12-months-old takes the mystery out of
making your own purees and meals.
It includes nutrition advice, cooking tips and recipes that have been
tried on their own children. Yummy in My Tummy and a how-to DVD is
available at local bookstores and toy stores or can be ordered from
their web site www.Liandrea.com.
Preparing your own baby food requires a good grinder as well as
containers for storing the
purees. Baby food grinders and food mills can be purchased at Protect
Enfant, located at 6900 Decarie Blvd., or through the company’s website
Companies such as KidCo and BabySteps offer food mills, freezer trays
and feeding dishes for parents who want to go this route. These products
can be found at stores selling baby products or online.
As Castelino notes, the importance of eating well is gaining new
urgency, especially in light of the alarming rates of obesity in even
very young children. Parents can gently guide their children towards
sensible, healthy eating by making wise choices in the first year.
“Good eating habits begin early,” she says. “It’s important to know what
to feed your baby and to start out right.”