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How do I choose the best food for my baby?
From simple veggies and fruits to fancy mixed dinners, you'll find quite an array of baby food on the supermarket shelf, so it's no surprise that you're wondering which one to choose.
Baby food is labeled according to a baby's stage of development, with stage 1 for babies who are just starting solids, and stages 2 and 3 for babies and toddlers who are more experienced eaters. If your baby's a beginner, at first stick to stage 1, which is pureed to a thick liquid. Stage 2 has a thicker consistency, and stage 3 is chunkier.
Check the expiration date on the container's label, and make sure the vacuum seal on jars is intact. (The center of the lid should be slightly indented.) Listen for a popping sound when you open the jar, and check that the center of the lid has popped up.
When it comes to ingredients, you don't have to worry much about salt because it's no longer added to most commercial baby food. But avoid food with added sugar and modified food starch, which are just empty calories.
Offer simple, single-ingredient foods (rather than combination meals) until you know your baby can tolerate each of the ingredients. For example, introduce plain peas before peas combined with potatoes.
Pouches are wonderfully convenient for on-the-go feeding, but make sure your baby gets lots of practice eating with a spoon. Babies and young children learning to bite, chew, and swallow need opportunities to explore food with different tastes, smells, and textures, and it's hard to do that when food is concealed in a pouch.
Should I give my child organic baby food?
Many parents prefer organic baby food, despite the higher cost, because they want to give their baby food that's free of pesticides and other chemicals. But other parents are comfortable knowing that commercial products meet the minimum requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an issue you'll have to decide based on what's best for your family.
Whatever you decide, don't skimp on fruits and veggies in an effort to reduce your baby's exposure to pesticides. You might consider buying organic varieties of the so-called "dirty dozen." These are the fruits and vegetables that typically contain the highest levels of pesticides, according to The Environmental Working Group, the environmental health nonprofit that updates the list every year.
Can I make baby food instead of buying it?
Yes, you can make all or part of your baby's food by pureeing fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods with a little breast milk, formula, or water to the desired consistency. You can also puree a little of what the rest of the family is eating. It's easy and much more economical than buying prepared baby food.
A blender, food processor, or food mill will do the job. With very soft fruits and cooked foods, you can even mash with a fork or push food through a simple wire mesh strainer.
You can use ice cube trays for freezing leftovers. For more details, read our complete article on homemade baby food.
Alternatively, instead of purees, you can start your baby on chunks of soft food placed on the highchair tray or table. See our article on baby-led weaning for a detailed guide.
How long does baby food last after I open the container?
In general, jars of store-bought baby food containing poultry, fish, meat, or eggs stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Those made with only fruits and vegetables should last two or three days. Opened pouches of food should be used within 24 hours. Check the label: It will sometime indicate how long the contents stay fresh after opening. (Finish up homemade baby food within a couple days.)
You can freeze baby food, but freezing changes the consistency. Use frozen baby food within a month or so for the best quality. And keep in mind that liquids tend to expand in the freezer, so put the baby food in a clean storage container and leave some room at the top.
Before storing leftover baby food in the refrigerator, make sure you didn't dip your baby's spoon in it during feeding – this could make bacteria grow. Instead of feeding your baby directly out of the jar, scoop a small amount of food into a bowl and feed your baby from that. If you need more, use a clean spoon to scoop some more into the bowl.
Treat pouches of baby food just like jars: Squeeze a small amount into a bowl, and feed your baby from that.
When feeding time's over, throw out anything that's left in the bowl. If there's food left in the jar, put the lid back on and store it in the refrigerator. You can refrigerate leftover food in a pouch, too, as long as your baby didn't suck directly from the pouch – saliva could encourage bacterial growth. Don't let baby food sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.
Is it okay to heat baby food in the microwave?
Yes, but be careful. Food heated in a microwave can quickly get too hot and often contains "hot spots." It may be safer to heat baby food on the stove top.
Another good warming method is to place a container of baby food in a bowl of hot water. (You can heat the water in the microwave or just use very hot tap water.) Leave it in the bowl for a few minutes and it will warm up nicely.
If you do heat baby food in the microwave, spoon some out of the container into a microwave-safe dish, cover with a microwaveable cover (not plastic wrap), and heat for just a few seconds. Stir well and let it stand for a minute. Test the temperature before feeding it to your baby. It should be no hotter than room temperature. Many babies don't mind unheated baby food.