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When my son was born, I was still following some conventional advice about food. And so his first real food was rice cereal, followed shortly by Earth’s Best organic baby food. I thought I was feeding him the very best the world had to offer. Little did I know.
What’s wrong with all that?
So much is wrong with rice. For starters:
- Arsenic.It’s in all rice. Think brown rice is better? Turns out it contains more arsenic than white rice because this heavy metal is absorbed by the germ and hull which are removed in white rice. Even organic is affected. It’s likely due to soil contaminated by pesticides containing arsenic and chicken manure, also containing arsenic that chicken has been fed. The FDA does not regulate the amount of arsenic in rice, so you’re on your own trying to figure out what is safe. Read this Consumer Reports study on arsenic.
- Phytic acid. Rice (along with many other grains and legumes) contains anti-nutrients which are part of the plants natural defenses against pests. This acid blocks the absorption of vital minerals like calcium, zinc, and copper and inhibits enzymes, like pepsin, that we need to digest food properly. Traditional cultures have soaked grains to neutralize these effects, but the industrial food machine does not.
- Digestive enzymes. Babies do not produce pancreatic amylase, which is the enzyme needed to digest grains properly, until molars appear between ages 1-2. They do get some amylase—from breast milk, from their own saliva, and from their gut lining. But health experts (that I trust) say it’s not enough. Undigested grains can damage the gut, leading to digestive, auto immune, and behavioral issues.
- Low in fat. Fat makes up 10% of a baby’s weight and 60% of his brain. Essential fatty acids are critical for optimal brain development. Breastmilk—a food designed to provide exactly what a baby needs— is about 50% saturated fat. A cup of rice has less than a gram of total fat.
- Not nutrient dense. The most nutrient dense foods are animal protein and vegetables. These foods support the development of healthy bones and brains. Whatever vitamins and minerals rice provides can be found in greater abundance elsewhere.
Here’s what babies really need:
- Mother’s milk. Breastfeed if you can—the benefits are too numerous to list.
- High fat, nutrient dense, iron-rich food like soft-boiled egg yolk, liver (grind it!), bone broth, cod liver oil, and fermented foods.
- All kinds of vegetables, followed by fruits. This will help babies acclimate to a wide range of flavors and textures, preparing them to be better eaters later on. Taste buds are developed between the ages of 4 months and 2 years, so that’s a critical time period—use it well!
- No sugar except what naturally occurs in fruit (and breastmilk), and don’t overdo the fruit.
- No juice. Sugar is sugar and fruit juice is loaded with sugar minus the fiber that slows its absorption into the bloodstream. And most fruit juice is cooked, destroying valuable nutrients.
- No processed carbs. Almost all modern processed foods are problematic; even when quality ingredients are used, the processing often degrades them.
Read more about what babies really need from one of my most trusted resources, the Weston A. Price Foundation.
I had a few friends who used innovative methods of feeding their babies, but one seemed laborious, and the other, downright gross:
- blending veggies in a Vitamix and freezing them in ice trays, then defrosting as needed
- chewing “adult” food, spitting it out, and spooning into baby’s mouth.
Your reaction to #1 is probably, “that’s a lot of work, I don’t have time”. And you may regurgitate your dinner after reading #2. But guess what? This has long been practiced by humans as well as birds and mammals.
Premastication (or pre-chewing) has been practiced since the dawn of humanity and is still in use on every continent around the globe. If you think about it, it is the ideal way of getting maximum nutrition into a baby with no teeth. It also appears to boost the baby’s developing immune system, provided that the chewer is in good health and not delivering pathogens with every bite. So pre-chewing is not innovative at all—it is a return to the most practical method of babyfeeding—no tools, appliances, or refrigeration needed! And it is still surprisingly common. Read more about it!
How do you think kissing evolved?
That’s right! Mouth to mouth feeding is thought to be the precursor to kissing! Think about French kissing, where the tongue enters the other person’s mouth. These tongue aerobics are similar to the act of pushing food into a baby’s mouth. Sorry to yuck up your romantic notions…I suppose kissing will never be the same. But now you’re armed with a dual-purpose, multi-tasking tongue!😂
I love modern appliances and I hate french kissing food.
Lucky for you, there is a magic bullet called a Vitamix which will blend everything but shoe leather to liquid in a minute. Vitamix blenders are not cheap, but they are the most reliable workhorse—you can make amazing smoothies, soups, sorbets, and yes—baby food, very efficiently. These are the newest, coolest, ones. Mine is almost ten years old and never skips a beat. Except for that time that the bottom came unscrewed and I had to clean up a lake of brownish sludge.
Other blenders, like the Nutribullet, will also work, but they may not produce the same consistency of food or provide as much versatility. I bought one for travel since it’s smaller.
Making high quality baby food is one of the best ways to give your baby a good start. You will be able to avoid all kinds of fillers, preservatives, sugars and other inferior ingredients. You can buy organic, high-quality meats, veggies, and fruits and ensure quality control every step of the way so that none of the valuable nutrients are destroyed during processing. More reasons to make your own baby food.
Making good baby food
What do you need? I went to two of my most trusted sources (thank you Jayme and Michelle!) for the inside skinny, and this is what they raved about:
Super Nutrition for Babies. This is a brilliant book of recipes and ancestral wisdom written by a doctor and a nutritionist. It is science based and provides a fascinating examination of ancestral traditions. It explains why traditional food—otherwise known as real food—is nourishing and why modern food is mostly crap. A must read!
BEABA Babycook Cooker and Blender. If I could do it all again, I would snatch this up in a heartbeat—it would change my life. It steam cooks and pureés vegetables, fruits, and meats, plus you can pour the condensed water back into the food to restore its nutritional integrity. You can make batches and freeze them. Try bison, lamb, liver, and other meats mixed with avocado, sweet potato, apple, banana, peas, carrots, butternut squash, kale, peaches, pears, and green beans.
Food storage containers. You can use ice standard ice cube trays or trays with larger portion sizes, or individual containers so baby can eat on the go. Just make sure they’re BPA-free.
First Bite, How we learn to eat. This books helps you understand how a baby’s palate is formed and what you can do to influence it and avoid a picky eater. Read this NPR interview.
These all make great baby shower gifts and new baby gifts—wish I’d gotten them!
Eating on the go:
Carry around avocados and bananas with a knife and fork and a sturdy surface like a cutting board. Wherever you are, cut, mash, and feed! Avocados and bananas have easily digestible enzymes that are really good for baby. Don’t let bananas get too ripe or they become starch.
Celebrate a milestone: teeth that can chew food!
Jayme’s Banana Pancakes!
These are sure to please.
- Mix one banana and two pastured eggs in a blender.
- Add dash of cinnamon.
- Heat up unrefined coconut oil in a pan.
- Spoon on the batter and fry away!
- Feed to happy baby
All this nourishing food requires a commitment—you need to purchase good quality ingredients, review recipes, and carve out some time. If you can manage this, the resources above are the best you’ll find. But if you don’t…..
No time, need good food!
I hear you. Wouldn’t it be great to find someone who does have time? Someone who has devoted years of time to developing recipes for babies’ tiny, growing palates. Someone who is as determined as I am to fighting the fight against toxins in our food supply and the processing that destroys nutrition?
Well, I found her, and her name is Brooke.
Brooke Cobourn owns Rooted Baby. We crossed paths at Mueller’s Farmers Market in Austin while I was running around in my green superhero costume trying to galvanize support for my cause. At first I was reluctant to try her samples—most baby food is not exactly scrumptious—but I needed to taste them to vet her products. They were unexpectedly delicious! If I ever must have my (mind-blowingly gigantic) tonsils out, this is what I’m going to eat! Brooke believes that it’s easy to get kids to eat meat—it’s available everywhere. Her mission is to introduce veggies to babies early on so they will grow to appreciate a huge range of subtle and unique flavors and will benefit from the unmatched nutrition that they provide.
Brooke whips up yummy combinations of power foods like: squash-spinach-coconut milk-turmeric and zucchini-pea-mint. She also does simple starter flavors of one ingredient only, like yellow squash, available in a package with four lovingly made frozen 1-ounce cubes. Her concoctions come in jars, pouches, and small containers.
What else is great about Rooted Baby?
- all organic produce
- mostly locally sourced
- immediately frozen to lock in flavor, nutrients and color. Freezing is “nature’s pause button” and eliminates any degradation.
- small batches cooked in a local commercial kitchen
- focus on low fruit sugars
- opportunity to introduce kids to unique flavor combos using herbs and spices
- weekly delivery (to Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio). Also available at Mueller Farmers’ Market
- jars are glass and can be returned for free food
Where do I get it?
You can find Rooted Baby online at Farmhouse Delivery, which delivers to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. They’re also at the Mueller Farmers Market in Austin and have plans to expand to other markets so check the website periodically to see where it’s available. They hope to ship in the future.
So what should you not buy? How do the other brands rank?
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST are conventional products which are heavily processed, created in factories, and often contain pesticides, arsenic, preservatives and additives. They tend to be high in fruit sugar because the acid in sugar can be used as a natural preservative enabling a longer shelf life. According to this study, many products have even more sugar than reported. Most use high heat pasteurization (also known as thermal pasteurization) which destroys vital nutrients but allows products to sit on shelves for years—hey, that baby food jar could be older than your baby! Want to find out how most baby foods are made? You won’t believe it.
Last October USA Today ran a scathing article covering a study done by the Clean Label Project. This nonprofit tested 530 baby food products and found arsenic in 65%of them, lead in 36% of them, cadmium in 58% and acrylamide in 10%. 60% of products claiming to be BPA free were actually not. These chemicals are all dangerous to humans and especially to infants. Mainstream companies Gerber, Enfamil, Plum Organics, and Sprout got the worst scores and contained the most toxic metals.
- Gerber. Selection includes many non-organic options. Fruit sugar is extremely high (Banana-apple-strawberry contains 23g/sugar). Chicken Itty-Bitty Noodle contains canola oil, autolyzed yeast extract (a naturally occurring form of MSG), maltodextrin (a highly processed corn derivative) and something called “flavoring”, which could be anything.
- Plum Organics. Flavors are mostly fruit combos and therefore very sweet. Pumpkin baby bowl contains 11g fruit sugar, Banana bowl has 13g.
- Sprout. Same as above—high in fruit sugar, includes lots of grains.
A STEP UP. The following products have some merits but are processed using high heat pasteurization (HHP) to make them shelf stable. Both heat and pasteurization compromise the integrity of the food. These companies are trying to offer a cleaner product but fall short on some basic criteria for good nutrition.
- Happy Family Brands. Organic but lots of grains/fruit combinations which are high in sugar. Their Bananas, Raspberries and Oats purée has 12g of sugar.
- Earth’s Best. This is definitely not the worst, or they would have called it Earth’s Worst, which actually rhymes better 😜. But their oatmeal contains all kinds of things besides oatmeal, including zinc oxide, which has been linked to DNA damage, and phosphates. Their Blueberry Muffins contain three kinds of grain and dates to sweeten. Their French Toast Sticks contains cane sugar, canola/soybean oil and over 20 ingredients.
- Beechnut. Some flavors, like pear-kale-cucumber are low in sugar (5g), but others like mango-chicken-curry-rice contain 11g. They incorporate a nice variety of herbs and spices like cumin, turmeric, and ginger, and ancient grains like amaranth.
I LIKE THESE BRANDS BETTER.
These brands use a newer process called high pressure pasteurization (HPP), a technique that extends the shelf life of food to 30-50 days. It kills pathogens like salmonella using 87,000 pounds per square inch of pressure while allegedly protecting the integrity of the food. The food is thereby “cold cooked” in its container, which is usually plastic. This seems preferable to high heat pasteurization, but the technology is fairly new, data is scarce, and it’s yet unknown how this process impacts nutrition. Also, it’s cooked in plastic.
- Pure Spoon. Local to Austin. Available at Whole Foods
- Little Spoon. Good Flavor combinations. Order online.
- Nurture Life. Online subscription. Shipped from Chicago.
- Yummy Spoonfuls. Frozen, not pasteurized. A little on the sweet side. Many flavors contain grains (rice and oatmeal). This brand has good options for toddler food. Available online and at Target.
AND THE GOLD STAR GOES TO:
I wish that I could do it all again. Eleven years ago, a new mother in a new state with no family and few resources, I opened up bottles of pre-made factory food and spooned it into my son.
You get a chance to do a better.
Good luck, and please share with new parents everywhere!
Note: Good Food Fighter is not a third party affiliate for Rooted Baby or any other company and receives no direct financial benefit or kickback for providing this recommendation.
Debbie Denenberg says
Can you please decipher these little plastic “go-go” pouches that are served to young children? They claim 100% fruit, but the 90 grams inside somehow contain 12 grams of sugar. SO many folks feel these are like health food for kids, but I’m sure that “apple puree concentrate” is just added sugar. Can you explain the ingredients , oh food fighter?
Good Food Fighter says
I found a very helpful article that addresses pouches not only from a nutritional standpoint but also from a developmental one:
It turns out that there are many concerns.
1) the kale and spinach contents are usually masked by the sweetness of the fruit so kids don’t actually learn to appreciate the taste of vegetables.
2) The pouches usually contain more fruit and fruit juice than you think, so toddlers end up consuming too much sugar.
3) Kids should have contact with actual produce to be one accustomed to it, not bright shiny pouches.
4) Learning to eat through a spoon in the mouth teaches important skills that sucking from a pouch does not.
I hope this answers your questions!
Kathryn Brooks says
Hi! Loved your article. Do you have formula recommendations? I don’t want to go that route but I might have to. And how about best oatmeal (rice cereal alternative) brand? I didn’t see one sold with little spoon or pure nutrition.
Good Food Fighter says
That’s a great question.
The answer is, surprisingly, using a breast milk bank, since breastmilk is a “live” food full of beneficial bacteria, and the powders are all shelf-stable mostly-synthetic powders. Check out this excellent, informative article to learn more:
For oatmeal I would use steel cut oats.I always add in grass fed butter or coconut oil and cinnamon, plus mashed banana for sweetness.
Hi, I actually inquired Nurture Life whether they use HPP as I am interested in their service. They replied they don’t (so you probably would want ro update your article) but use modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). So you have any insight on MAP method whether it is safe and actually lock in nutrients?
Good Food Fighter says
Thanks for weighing in and for your correction. Food manufacturers are always changing their systems so it’s hard to stay current! Here is a good article on MAP from a respectable site called Science Direct:
MAP is used on precut fruits and veggies, which is probably why the big bag of apple slices that I found at Costco were not browned:
Another legitimate website, Research Gate, warns that even slightly damaged food containers using MAP can be unsafe:
At present I could not find any research demonstrating a loss of nutrients or harm to the integrity of food products using MAP, but I will keep my eye out. Please do the same 😉
This is a good post. All mothers will surely remember the best baby foods and be cautious with the worst baby foods.
Jennifer Kulhavy Crow says
Hi there, I’m wondering if you have an opinion about Yumi? Frantically searching for “the best” baby food for 8 month old twins!
Good Food Fighter says
Thanks for your question. I was not familiar with Yumi but did some research. Here are things that I like:
MEALS ARE FRESH: From website: “Our meals are prepared weekly and stay fresh in the fridge for 6 days. You’ll find an expiration date under the lid and we color-code our deliveries so you can easily spot last week’s jars in the fridge. Our jars are sealed using modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) which displaces oxygen with inert gas to make sure freshness lasts the full week.”
BETTER GRAINS: Although I’m not a big fan of grains and I think babies should be eating organ meats instead (like they did in the “old days”, at least they are using higher quality varieties: oats, sorghum, millet. And they use some paleo ingredients like green banana flour and lots of coconut.
INTRODUCES MANY TEXTURES. Variety is extremely important and sets baby up to be a good eater.
Here’s what I don’t like:
TOO SWEET. I think there’s too many fruits and sweet vegetables, not enough emphasis on greens and veggies with subtle flavors. So I believe baby is getting too much sugar. I only found one meal that wasn’t overly sweet: Mulligatawny soup which has carrots, turmeric, curry powder, ginger powder, coconut milk, apple, chickpeas, and lentils.
NOT ORGANIC. I think it’s imperative that babies eat only organic foods. According to recent studies, most babies are born “pre-loaded with chemicals”. So we want to do everything to keep their diets pure.
NOT ENOUGH FAT. Babies need a ton of fat, and I don’t see much in this food. Just coconut oil, and a bit of avocado.
If you learn more about the company, either positive or negative, please post your findings here so other readers can benefit from your research.