Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the founder of a thriving private practice in Southern California. Recently retired, she continues to serve on the clinical staff at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and has been consistently voted one of the Best Doctors in America from 2003 through 2012. Drawing from her experiences as a pediatrician and a mom, Dr. Levenstein is the cofounder and president of MD Moms—the maker of Baby Silk, which is the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms.
Best Food for Babies
Food. It’s essential for survival, growth, intellect, and a healthy immune system. And the best food for babies, when possible, is breast milk. If that’s not possible, an infant formula designed to be as close to breast milk as possible.
You may not know that your baby’s brain grows 180 percent by weight in the first year of life. And this growth drives their appetite into a frenzy in order to feed that process and their little bodies too. What nutrition a baby receives during the first two years of life certainly impacts how their brains and bodies grow. Providing high quality, nutritious food for babies is paramount to jump starting great development. Once Baby is ready for solid food, it’s important that the experience is a positive one in order to promote a desire for healthy and delicious food.
Feeding baby quality food is often perceived as hard to meet in our fast-paced world—especially if all adults in a household work. So much so that taking shortcuts at mealtime is often a survival strategy. However, when it comes to feeding, I’m a firm believer that the best food for babies is made with fresh, high-quality ingredients—rather than jarred, boxed, prepared, or bagged. The nutrient quality and taste of fresh food far surpasses the rest.
How to accomplish this goal?
FEED BABY REAL FOOD WHEN POSSIBLE
Fresh food has many advantages and is really the best food for babies: better flavor, more retained nutrients, no added dyes or preservatives, and you know exactly what your baby is eating. There are no hidden ingredients to worry about. Real food is better for the following reasons:
- It’s less expensive. Prepared baby foods are very high priced, even compared to their adult counterparts in the canned food aisle.
- Real foods have higher nutrient quality. Did you know that the shelf life of some baby foods is up to three years? Heat pasteurization is necessary to kill bacteria in baby food but it also kills off healthy bacteria in yogurt-based products, rendering the probiotics useless.
- Jarred baby foods and snacks often have sweet notes and are marketed specifically because they appeal to the greater number of sweet-sensing taste buds in babies.
- Fresh food is not diluted with fillers, starches or tapioca, no hidden sugars or additives.
When you prepare fresh baby food you have the ability to regulate texture without losing quality. A combinations of foods can be decided by you—not manufacturers.
- Easier to fit into your family’s culture and preferences.
- Make fresh food in batches—you can use a blender, food processors designed to make baby food, your own food processor, or grinders and mills. There are many very affordable, easy to use options out there.
- Spend one hour a week to prepare your purees, label and freeze them, and you will be able to build up a nice supply in your refrigerator or freezer, and your baby will thank you for it!
Depending on the baby and your doctor’s preference, usually by six months most babies show interest in the food and mealtime behaviors of those around them and are ready to start solids.
Envision yourself eating a sandwich in a crowded, loud, and dreary cafeteria. Now change scenes and sit outside on a deck, surrounded by warm sand and the ocean…the setting certainly can enhance and heighten the feeding experience. So make sure that the place where baby eats is a pleasant, well-lit positive environment, and make sure not to rush through eating. Let baby experience food with her hands, her mouth, and likely, she’ll discover the benefits of avocado and oatmeal as a facial! It’s all good—messy mealtimes teach babies a lot about the texture, feel, smell, and taste of food.
Food that looks good is presumed to also taste good—so “marketing” your plate may add appeal to an eating experience…fresh food has more color and texture than a putrid blob of jarred food thickened with starch. A colorful plate and colorful food assortment will appeal more to baby!
Taste is a composite sense that's partly determined by the taste buds, but also affected by a food's aroma, its appearance and even previous experiences with that or similar foods. Studies have shown that adolescents have more sweet taste buds than adult males, but other studies have shown that the sweet tooth is replaced by a more refined palate as children age into young adults. It certainly may explain why most kids will prefer sweet over savory. That being said, by preparing fresh food for your baby, you may be able to wake up those savory taste buds with more delectable flavors compared with jar food. Hopefully your baby will find a place in her heart for all the foods you feed her. Even partial success is better than none, so give some thought to carving out a little time to encourage the wee gourmet in your baby!
Want to get more health advice for your child from MD Moms? See what Dr. JJ has to say about allergies and changing pediatricians.
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