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Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.Dina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of VeganRD.com, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.
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My baby just started baby food. I live in a small town and my veggie resources are very limited. How do I make veggie baby food? - Lisa
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What a fun (and messy) time - when baby starts on solids! The bulk of baby's calories will still be breastmilk or infant formula until at least one year of age, but starting between 4 and 6 months, healthy infants start eating solid food. Every child is different; you will know when your baby is ready when he or she shows interest in food, turns the head away when full, can manipulate the food with the tongue and swallow it, and sits up on his or her own.
There's nothing particularly special about store-bought baby food; if you look at the labels, you'll see that the ingredients are familiar foods such as rice, carrots, and apples. There's no reason why you can't make your own baby food. There are two advantages to jarred baby food: convenience, and sanitation (the food is germ-free until opened). The disadvantages are the cost and use of resources (of course, you can minimize waste by reusing/recycling the jars and bringing along your own shopping bags). Many caregivers enjoy preparing their own baby foods because:
To get you started, I recommend buying a book such as: Fresh Start Kit from Fresh Baby, which comes with a cookbook, an instructional video, and tools such as freezer trays for the food.
I also recommend investing in a good food processor that purees food to a consistency appropriate for babies. These can be purchased via online stores such as amazon.com. If you're on a limited budget, consider or search for a deal on overstock.com and froogle.com, or consider buying one used from eBay (if you buy a used one, be sure to clean it extremely well with hot, soapy water or run it through the dishwasher).
Good starter foods include iron-fortified rice cereal, pureed cooked vegetables like squash, or fruits. Many parents prefer to start with vegetables and then switch to fruits, so that the baby will more readily accept bitter tastes and not expect only sweet tastes. The order is really up to you.
To make baby cereal, simply follow the instructions on the label. To make vegetables, boil the vegetable until soft, and puree with a food processor or blender. You can use fresh or frozen vegetables if you'd like. To make fruits like apples and pears, peel and cook (boiling works well), then puree. Fruits like mangoes and bananas can be pureed without cooking. Once your baby starts mastering solids, you will be able to simply mash well with a fork. Be sure to minimize lumps to prevent a choking hazard.
Large quantities of homemade carrots, spinach, beets, turnips or collard greens should not be given to infants under 6 months of age because of the high content of nitrate in these vegetables. Due to an undeveloped intestinal system, young infants have low stomach acidity and can convert nitrate to nitrite. Nitrite can displace oxygen in hemoglobin and, under extreme circumstances, this can lead to 'blue baby' syndrome, which is very dangerous. By age 6 months, stomach acidity increases and nitrate overload is less of a problem.
Hold off on nuts/nut butters, soybean products, and beans until you know that the baby can tolerate plain pureed fruits, vegetables, and baby cereals well. Hold off on nuts and nut butters until age three if there's reason to suspect a possible allergy.
In the first three years, be especially careful of foods that babies may choke on, like chunks of tofu, veggie hot dogs, raisins, and grapes. If you do offer these foods, chop them in itsy bitsy pieces first, or puree if possible.
Because allergies to foods are a possibility, offer baby one food at a time, and after you introduce a new food, wait three days before re-introducing.
The number of servings of foods from different food groups will vary according to your baby's age, size, and readiness. Ask a dietitian or doctor for appropriate feeding guidelines.