Preparing food for infants can be an easy process, especially when you prepare ahead of time and take the time to do it right. I am passionate about offering whole foods to infants and I have realized through my years of practicing it with my own children and then with the infants at Tumbleweed I have come up with a method and list of foods that are nice to pick from when starting out.
I employ various method depending on the food that I am offering. Most things I prefer to steam, including apples and squash. Other times I use the oven to bake whole, larger pieces. I always prepare foods without seasoning so that the infants can learn about the food in their natural states, before introducing spices or even mixing things together. Here are a few tricks that might help and inspire you.
* Metal, basket steamers are your best friend. They can expand to any size of pot. I like to fill up a big pot at the beginning of the week and use what I have as needed.
* Leave the skin on! I have talked about this before, but leaving the skin allows all of the nutrients of the food to stay in the foods, even if it removed or spit out later.
*Steaming: Cut fruits and veggies into larger chunks, so they can be easily grasped. Layering works best, if the things which need to be steamed longer are towards the bottom. Place food in the steamer basket inside the pot. Add water so that it comes just below the steamer basket. Place a lid on, this is very important, and bring water to a boil over medium heat. I keep an eye on my pot, but it takes between 5 to 10 minutes for softer foods and up to 20 for harder. Steaming is my favorite method because it is fast (less water to boil), nutrients are kept within the food, and it is easy to make a large batch at a time.
*Save the steamer water! This is full of any flavors and juices from what you have steamed. It is great to add into pasta sauces, oatmeal or smoothies!
*Baking: This is the method I use for squashes and potatoes. Other veggies in the oven good for older infants who have the hang of chewing, as roasted veggies have a chewier texture. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
When an infant starts at Tumbleweed I tell the parents the same thing. We want to follow what works best for their family, so it is up to them whether foods are introduced at home or at school. We keep a list for each child what foods work for each family.
I am now starting to realize that I have a list of foods that are our basics and most children react well to starting out with. We emphasize fruits and veggies to start, then supplementing with proteins and grains once they are feeding themselves successfully and their body is ready to process the more complex foods. I have found this happens at around 7 months, though it depends on the individual infant, especially taking into consideration certain allergies and family preferences.
We are vegetarian at Tumbleweed, though many of the children eat meat at home. I fed my own children chicken, pork and tuna as infants.
Veg and Fruits: Sweet potato, Squash, Apple, Banana, Avocado, Carrots, Cauliflower, Prunes, Broccoli
Grains: Brown Rice Cakes, Oatmeal
Proteins: Egg, Yogurt, Cheese, Tofu and Beans
Amidst all the planning and prepping and feeding it's important to remember that food is fun! When we take the time to sit with our children, slow down and eat with them we show them how to enjoy meals, new foods and the importance of nourishing our bodies.
The important thing to remember when eating are small portions ( you can always have more!), encouraging trying new foods, offering but never forcing foods and watching for cues. Sometimes it is quite obvious when your infant is finished eating. When I am with the children in my class our meal is over the first time a child turns his head or pushes food away. I feel comfortable and confident about this, especially because solid foods are not a primary source of nutrients in their lives yet. The more positive an experience we both have during meals, the longer positive effects on eating and nutrition are learned.
I also suggest your goal during meals to be eating. The less outside distractions and toys available show your child what your intentions are. Meals for infants are short, and when I am feeding them on the floor in my classroom and they begin to show interest in playing, that is a signal to me that they are finished eating. Maintaining consistency in our expectations sets a natural limit and gives the child the power to own their meal and play times. We set these limits, so that when they are ready they realize them in themselves.