What Can Baby Makan?

Is your weaning guide all about potatoes and pasta? ELISA CHIA and EVELINE GAN ask the experts about barley water, bee hoon and feeding, Asian-style.

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Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran is the vice-president at Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, which created Meal Prep 101 for Weaning Babies, a collection of recipes prepared with the Philips Avent 4-in-1 Healthy Baby Food Maker recently.

Pauline Xie is a principal dietitian with the Clinical Services Division at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

Grandma likes to add ikan bilis to porridge to boost the taste and calcium content. But aren’t they a tad salty for Baby?

Dr Bhaskaran Ikan bilis (or anchovies) are a good source of calcium and protein, if consumed whole. Whole ikan bilis with the head, organs and bones intact, are richer in nutrients such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and iron, compared to cleaned anchovies without those parts.

It is found that the consumption of the cleaned body resulted in a significant reduction in calcium (eight-fold difference), iron (two-fold difference) and zinc (1.5-fold difference) compared to the whole ikan bilis. That’s why the nutritive value depends on how they are eaten.

But your concern is valid, too. They’re very high in salt and should be used in moderation. In order to reduce the sodium content, the ikan bilis should be soaked in water and then rinsed thoroughly. Use them immediately or have them dried to remove moisture. Then blend them and store the fine powder in an airtight container.

If you have a family history of allergies, however, you may want to add ikan bilis slowly. Instead of ikan bilis, you can add finely minced meat such as chicken, or prepare a chicken stock to cook the porridge.

Pauline If you’re using poultry, remove all skin and trim off visible fat before cooking. You can also try healthier alternatives to make stock, such as with soya beans or mushrooms. When preparing stock with carrot, pumpkin and potato, cut them into large chunks to retain more nutrients.

How about popular processed food, such as fishballs and fishcakes?

Dr Bhaskaran Fish cakes and fishballs bought off the shelf are processed food high in sodium. Besides, they can be choking hazards because of the springy texture. 

Pauline Go for fresh ingredients instead, such as lean minced meat, minced chicken breast, fish and tofu, which are higher in protein and other minerals. Babies actually do enjoy the natural taste of food, so avoid introducing any condiments and processed foods until they turn one.

Dr Bhaskaran When your baby is nine months old, try making your own healthy version of fishballs and fish cakes with fresh ingredients and of softer texture.

Is it okay to flavour her meals with herbs and spices?

Dr Bhaskaran In many parts of the world, herbs and spices are introduced at a very early age. Besides many health benefits, they enhance food’s natural flavours without the need for salt, sugar and added flavourings that aren’t as good for us.

They also help expand your baby’s tastebuds and reduce fussy eating habits, while also providing a varied diet that the whole family can enjoy.

When your baby is aged six to eight months, you can introduce aromatic spices such as cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg, garlic, turmeric, ginger, coriander, dill and cumin. These have many benefits, ranging from antioxidant to anti-inflammatory properties and immune system improvement, among others.

Hot spices such as chili, curry, paprika, hot pepper and other pepper-based spices are best left until your baby is at least a year old. The same rule of thumb applies to other food: Offer only one spice at a time, in very small amounts. Wait for few days before introducing another new spice, so you can monitor for an allergic reaction.

My family loves noodles. When can we share them with our little one?

Pauline Noodles are wheat-based and should not be among your baby’s first foods. There are two broad categories: yellow mee (such as Hokkien mee and wonton mee) and pasta.

Yellow mee is not recommended for babies until they turn one. It is chewy and contains lye, commonly known as alkali, which is made up of various permitted food chemicals. 

If your family doesn’t have a strong history of wheat allergy, you can introduce pasta when your baby is around nine months old.

Dr Bhaskaran Pasta is an enjoyable finger food for babies. Spaghetti or linguine keeps your baby’s attention on food for longer periods because she can play with the strands as well as eat them. Pasta is encouraged as part of baby-led weaning. But ensure that it is cooked until it is soft and cut it into small enough pieces for a tiny mouth to handle.

Pauline Iron-fortified rice cereal is still the best weaning food. It is easily digestible and least likely known to cause an allergic reaction. Choose those without added sugar or preservatives. You can also make your own by grinding rice into powder with a blender.

How about bee hoon and kway teow?

Dr Bhaskaran Similar to pasta, bee hoon and kway teow can be introduced after nine months of age, but this is also very individualised and is based on how and when the baby can eat pieces of food that is not pureed.

Pauline Although both are made of rice, bee hoon has a springy texture which is not suitable as a first food for babies. Kway teow is a better option, but introduce this only after your little one is comfortable with eating rice cereal and oats, and is ready for chopped food.

What’s the most nutritious way to cook baby food?

Pauline Steaming the ingredients in large chunks. More nutrients are lost when you cut and cook them in small pieces. You can puree or dice them just before feeding your baby so you retain more vitamins and minerals.

Dr Bhaskaran Busy mums can try weaning equipment to reduce the hassle of preparing baby food.

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What’s your take on freezing purees, which is commonly practised in the West?

Dr Bhaskaran As long as food safety principles are not compromised, it’s safe to freeze purees. This can save a lot of time, too.

Always use good quality ingredients to prepare the purees. Then, freeze them in food-safe containers as soon as they’re made. Don’t forget to label and date the containers. The purees can be frozen up to one month.

How do I reheat chilled or frozen baby food safely?

Dr Bhaskaran If you don’t wish to use a microwave to thaw the frozen food cubes, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Ensure that the cubes remain in a closed container and not in an uncovered bowl. Frozen cubes take between eight and 12 hours to thaw in most refrigerators.

Note down the time when you’ve removed the food from the freezer. It is recommended that it should be used up within 24 hours if it contains meat, poultry or fish – or within 48 hours for other types of ingredients.

To heat baby food in a microwave, always transfer the amount to a microwave-safe glass container – not plastic, preferably. Heat the food in 15 second increments and stir after each heating. When the food has reached your desired temperature, give it one final stir to ensure there are no hot pockets left to burn your baby’s tongue.

When heating baby food on the stove top, choose a smaller saucepan and use a low setting to ensure that you don’t burn the food. You can also try a food maker that allows for baby’s food to be reheated.

Never refreeze thawed meals, as this poses a risk of food poisoning to your baby. And do not store leftover food from a container that your baby has been eating from. Saliva will contaminate the food and storing leftovers may cause food poisoning. 

Grandma forbids tropical fruit like pineapple, watermelonand durian because they are either too heaty or cooling for Baby.

Dr Bhaskaran The guidelines for introducing solids don’t list any forbidden food groups in the first year. Still, many experts encourage parents to proceed with caution when giving citrus and other acidic fruits to younger babies.

The citric acid in pineapple may irritate babies’ stomach (especially if they have reflux) or lead to diaper rash. You may want to delay offering pineapple until your little one is closer to one year old.

As for durian, you can offer it when she’s around nine months old or even later around one year. As it is a strongly flavoured fruit, some babies may not be able to accept it when it is introduced for the first time. Some scifientic researches do suggest that the sulphur-containing compounds present in durian are associated with heatiness.

Pauline Watermelon is perfect for a seven- to nine-month-old baby as it is naturally sweet and has high water content. You can even freeze it in chunks as finger food for your teething baby. Sucking on the cold fruit might just offer some relief from sore gums.

Are barley water and chrysanthemum tea safe?

Dr Bhaskaran Babies aged four to six months old should receive only breast milk or infant formula. Homemade barley water that is unsweetened can be introduced to babies from six months old.

The use of other dietary botanical products and herbal teas in children and infants is not well studied. These may cause drug interactions or contain heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, and other contaminants. Infants may be more at risk for adverse effects based on differences in their physiology, metabolism and dose per body weight.