You don’t have to be a chef when you start introducing your baby to solid foods, but it doesn’t hurt.
Eight-month-old Jackson Critchley might not be scarfing down fettucine in a spicy crab ragout — one of the popular pasta dishes his dad, John Critchley, serves as executive chef at Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Dupont Circle — but he’s on his way. Dad and Mom are warming up their son’s palate in baby steps.
Accustomed to preparing dishes with complex flavor pairings, Critchley has gone minimalistic in his own kitchen, steaming, pureeing or mashing bananas, potatoes, English peas, lentils and melons. He shops at his local farmers market in Alexandria to get the freshest produce of the season. After enjoying watermelon and peaches all summer, Jackson is now sampling more autumnal fare such as acorn squash and pears.
Although Critchley mixes a little bit of a familiar flavor into a new one — e.g., peaches with sweet potato — to entice Jackson, he doesn’t add any seasonings.
“These are all fresh vegetables from the farmers market, so they’re all at the height of their season. The flavor is there. We don’t need to add salt or pepper to it,” says the Culinary Institute of America grad.
Jackson gets the same new food every day for an entire week. “We’re trying not to develop that ‘I don’t like that flavor,’ picky eater part,” Critchley says.
It’s also a smart strategy, according to Ivor Horn, a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center, to watch for allergic reactions such as rashes, diarrhea or vomiting. She suggests waiting three days between introductions and completely avoiding potential common allergens such as honey, nut products, eggs, fish and wheat until the baby’s first birthday.
“I think the big common mistake is starting solids too soon because they feel like their child is still hungry or they’re not getting enough with the formula [or breast milk], but the child’s oral motor skills are not ready for the introduction of solid foods,” she says. Babies should be at least 4 months old and preferably 6 months before they get their first spoonful of food.
Making your own baby food like Critchley does isn’t necessary, Horn says. And even the chef says prepared foods such as puffs and Cheerios are in Jackson’s near future.
“Every family is different; every kid is different. You’ve just got to see what fits into your schedule,” he says. After all, even he doesn’t always feel like cooking.
John Critchley uses the Beaba Babycook to prepare baby food. Here’s a how-to:
Step 1: Find fresh, in-season local fruit or vegetable (1 lb.).
Step 2: Steam ingredient until soft (about 15 minutes, depending on veggie or fruit).
Step 3: Puree ingredient.
Step 4: Separate puree into 2-oz. portions.
Step 5: After feeding, refrigerate any unused portions.