Cooking for Baby

If you know me, you know that I love to cook and don't mind a challenge. I certainly don't accept the status quo and have issues in following a recipe. It is for these exact reasons that I took on the challenge to prepare food for my kids, with gusto. To this day, I refuse to believe in the idea of "kids" menus, purchasing baby food, or the whole idea of picky eaters.


In theory, I have no problem with the idea of kids menus. Kids certainly may have different needs, portion size being one of them. However, it seems ridiculous that children "need" to eat different food than adults, especially when these foods are less healthy and more processed. If anything, it should be the reverse. Give the kids the healthy whole foods and let the parents choose the unhealthy fried, processed meals. If you still believe the notion that kids need their own meals, I think that you simply are not trying or have bought into the marketing that tries to sell us overpriced, over-packaged "kids" foods. 


Children are born into this world with very few, if any, preconceived notions about what things should taste like. Sure, they have an innate preference for breast milk, but other than that, the idea that one flavor might be more appealing than another is a learned experience, one that is sped up when adults make assumptions about what is yummy and what is not. Simply think about how babies experience the world. They stick things in their mouths. I can't even remember how many times my one year old daughter has stuck something mysterious from the ground into her mouth without the least look of disgust. Just today, she was eating a dandelion flower and screamed her head off when I finally took it away from her. I didn't say "yuck" as it was obvious that she was enjoying it, but if you haven't, try nibbling on a dandelion sometime and be prepared for your bitter taste buds to get lit up. It is unpleasant to many, but certainly not my daughter.


Because of this openness to experience, we have the privilege to share all of the wonderful foods of the world with our children. We have the duty to start them out in life with a view of acceptance and diversity instead of limits and scarcity. 


Does this mean that kids are going to like everything you give them the first time? Not a chance. Not only that, you have no idea what they will like or not. My daughter loves pickles, olives and sucking on lemons, but wouldn't eat the applesauce I was offering the other day. She loved applesauce as a baby and sometimes still does. You just never know and do a disservice to your children if you assume that they might not like something. It is also folly to judge that they have the same food issues as you do. They probably don't. What is certain is that kids are still learning about flavors and therefore, may need to taste things 6, 7, or even 10 times before they accept it. My little boy did not like broccoli at all, but we kept putting the "little trees" on his plate and after quite a few tries and a number of them ending up on the floor, they found favor in his eyes. Not only that, he still begs for them in his mac and cheese. Alternately, a lemon may offer a novel experience at first, but may fall out of favor once kids get used to it.


Besides the flavor of foods, keep in mind that kids are also still learning about textures. At first, they are fine with most foods being mush, but then start to want to experience new textures. The pop of green peas, the crunch of puffed rice and the chewiness of cheese all have their place and at different phases of learning about food, each may be favored. The only true lesson I can offer is to keep trying everything and give up nothing except the false notion that kids need food to be sweet to eat it. I also know that once you do give in and start kids on an imbalanced diet with lots of sweet or fried and fatty foods, it is hard, if not impossible to turn back.


One way to encourage your kids to eat everything is to eat with them. Children mimic their parents in many ways, and eating is no exception. They are often not satisfied with their own foods, but are constantly reaching for yours. You can discourage this and lead them to being picky and unsatisfied or you can include them in the meal. Share with them and make them feel like they are part of the whole event. This applies to restaurants as well. There is no need to order off of the kids menu, when you can simply order good food, ask for an extra plate and share. This will save money, avoid unhealthy kids menu items like the ever present fried chicken fingers and hamburger and fries and encourage your kids to try new things. This is also your opportunity to improve your own diet if you need to. Often, we will not do something for ourselves, but might find it easier to change our behavior for our least one can hope.


Often parents worry that if they don't give in to the yummy kids options that their kids simply will not eat. Its funny, but when kids are hungry, they will eat. If they don't eat, it is my experience and opinion that they are not truly hungry. Don't worry, kids will not starve. Despite what one might assume, they have survival instincts. When times are still tough, the rewards of treats later as opposed to the treat being the meal, actually can lead to good eating during the meal. And in our house, the treats are not actually candy or super sugary desserts, but often consist of yogurt with honey and berries, dried fruit, and applesauce. We also offer cookies or ice cream at times, but you would be surprised how just a small amount is often enough to satisfy that sweet craving with no complaining.


Just a quick note about "picky" eaters. I have run across a few kids who simply have aversions to certain foods. This is often coming from a deeper place and at first, it takes a lot of awareness to notice the difference between a picky eater and a real aversion. A real aversion always has other signs or symptoms. The most common is simply feeling unwell or gassy. I have seen this most often with children who at one time or another have a dairy intolerance. They can associate the consumption of milk and dairy products with an unwell feeling and will vehemently refuse at first. Be careful not to push too hard here, because children put an awful lot of trust in us and in the end, will usually give in, despite feeling awful. If your child is old enough, simply asking the right questions is enough to find out why they aren't eating certain foods. Never give up. Just because a child may not be able to tolerate certain foods at one stage in life doesn't mean that it will be a lifetime problem.


Know that I am not writing this because I want to make feeding kids a chore or encourage adults to stress out every mealtime over whether they are doing the right thing. It is much the opposite. By developing a good eater early on, life becomes so much easier. It can be less work as you are not constantly making a separate meal for your children. Ordering at a restaurant is not stressful, ending in tantrums. The kids thrive, are healthy, feel good and have more consistent energy throughout the day.


Learning to feed your kids.

For new parents, the idea of feeding kids can be a bit of a daunting mystery. For the kids themselves, eating food is definitely a strange and mysterious event. I would love to share what I have learned about food and eating with kids.


First of all, there is the question of timing. All kids are ready for their first foods at different times. This is equally true for babies who are breast fed and those who are formula fed. There are certain signs to look for when trying to decide when to start experimenting with food. First are the teeth. Common sense tells us that when kids start getting teeth, they may be ready to start trying foods. Of course this doesn't lead to eating. Trying and eating are very different things and if you go into the first times expecting kids to eat you will be sorely disappointed.


This brings me to the second sign. The food simply doesn't go in. Try as you might, you spoon the baby some food and it comes right back out, often with extremely funny reactions from the child and a bib full of what you just prepared. Don't sell your kid short. They often know when they are ready...don't ask me how. And don't be discouraged or take offense that you have failed as a cook. You should be glad that your child is telling you in their own way that, "well, that was interesting, but don't expect me to know what to do with it." Then suddenly one day, its like a switch is flipped and they eat up everything you made.


It will help if you understand that babies don't actually need to eat solid food at first. For up to a year, babies will thrive on breast milk alone and will need nothing else, thank goodness. Can you imagine if we had to try and get all of their nutrition in the food we feed them? Seems risky and stressful to me, but luckily we are designed quite well.


Next, there is the issue of what to feed your child. The basic rule is that any simple whole food that is not a common allergen (think peanuts, strawberries) is a good place to start. Common starters are yams, winter squash, pears, applesauce, avocados, peas, carrots, peaches, oats, barley and rice to name just a few. Notice the common theme there: vegetable, fruit and grain. Notice also, what is not on this list: fats, meats, acidic items (tomatoes and citrus), sulphuric items (cauliflower, broccoli, onions) and processed foods. I also leave dairy items off of my babies first food list, which is sacrilege to some, but the possible digestive upset that can ensue is not worth it to me. When it was time for dairy, we stuck to yogurt and shredded cheese (a favorite for our daughter). Bananas are a common and favorite first food and in moderation are good, but I hesitate to recommend them as they commonly cause constipation in small babies (and are not at all locally grown).


Our basic food millOur basic food millA first necessary note. Try things yourself before feeding them to baby. It is unrealistic to expect your child to eat something that you would not. This also prevents you from burning your child or serving them something that may have looked good, but perhaps went bad.


These first foods are all easy to create and keep, but you need just a little know how, some practice and a few tools. Our basic tool is a food mill to make our mush. It is easy to use and clean and always produces a nice consistency in a moment. Other than that, you should have everything else on hand. We have some baby spoons and some metal, wood or plastic plates and bowls for baby to throw around. We also use some extra ice cube trays to keep leftovers. Babies usually eat no more than 1 to 2 tablespoons of food at one time. If your timing is off, they may not eat anything at all. Be prepared for leftovers or you will throw away a ton of food.


Grain cereals are a great first food for baby. Many stores have processed cereals that you just add water to and serve. These are very easy and ok if there are not any additives or unnecessary ingredients. Squash cubes!Squash cubes!However, there is no reason that you cannot make your own. We often have barley, rice or oats on hand and/or cooked. Before we add anything to the cooked grains, we set some aside for the baby. Basically, overcook the grains until they get nice and soft and begin to fall apart let them cool and put them in the food mill with a little extra water. Grind them up and add a bit more water if necessary. As with any leftover baby food, we place the extras in ice cube trays, freeze the food and then bag up the cubes. This method makes for quick preparation and easy portion control. Just be sure to label the bags if you want to know what you are feeding your baby. It is funny how all the grains look the same in the freezer.


As for the fruits and veggies, once they are nice and ripe or cooked, most (like bananas, avocados, cooked squash and yams and ripe pears can simply be mushed up with a fork once you remove the skins and seeds. The food mill also works great. I've read that it is a good idea to introduce just one food a day at first and not to combine foods. Once the child is eating well and you have a feel for how things are going, try things like oatmeal and peaches and other combinations. Even babies like a little variety.


Once the baby is well on their way to eating these items, you can begin to add new items slowly and see how they "deal" with them. Around the 9-12 month area, babies will begin to want to eat finger foods and play with everything. Do not discourage this. I don't care if you have an immaculate house or a desperate fear of choking. If you are stressed out and have too many rules, your child will be too and will become quite neurotic around food. Many doctors and other professionals have noticed that kids who are let to play with their foods and make a mess end up being the best eaters. Kids are not limited to one way of experiencing their food. They want to smell, eat, smash, and throw it to fully understand it. Just have a broom on standby and everything will be fine. As for choking, simply keep things pea-sized and know that babies have an extremely sensitive gag reflex. This protects them a great deal. If you are still worried, learn how to deal with infant choking as it almost always happens to some degree. By 12-16 months, they are eating anything and everything...hopefully with the exception of processed foods, fried foods and sugars. 


Be sure to let us know what you have learned and share any tricks of the trade below in the comments section. We always appreciate a good conversation.


For more great recommendations about what to feed your baby when, check out one of my favorites, Dr. Sears. There is a wealth of information about feeding infants and toddlers found on his website.

Also, check out this great resource:



Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good, and Tasty. He has two kids and loves gardening and eating with them. His last article about kids and gardening was: Hey boy, don't eat all the rhubarb. He can be reached at