There are some foods that seem to be sadly neglected in the preparation of baby food. Beets (also known as beetroot) tend to be one of those foods – yet they have a lovely, velvety texture and are full of important nutrients!
And that’s not all… beets taste fantastic! Yes, really!
Many people base their dislike of beets on childhood memories of processed beets, often pickled or canned, with an unappealing, soggy texture!
But this is a shame, because careful preparation brings out the true flavour of beets, which is deliciously sweet and pleasantly earthy.
So let’s look at some great ways to cook beets for baby…
Recommendations for the introduction of beetroot/beets do vary around the world – and whilst it’s often included in babies’ diets from 6 months of age in countries like the UK, some sources in the US tend to suggest waiting until your baby is at least 8 months old.
This is because beets contain naturally occuring nitrates, which can lead to a condition called methemoglobinemia or ‘blue-baby syndrome’.
However, in this article the American Academy of Pediatrics states that
“…home-prepared infant foods from vegetables (eg, spinach, beets, green beans, squash, carrots) should be avoided until infants are 3 months or older, although there is no nutritional indication to add complementary foods to the diet of the healthy term infant before 4 to 6 months of age.”
By 6 months of age (the age at which most medical professionals agree babies are ready for solid foods) their bodies are far better equipped to deal with the nitrates that occur in certain foods.
As an added precaution, it is often recommended that the cooking water from boiling beetroot be discarded rather than incorporated back into your baby’s food. This is because nitrates may leach into the water during the cooking process.
Although any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in a sensitive individual, allergy to beetroot is quite rare. As always, though, you should consult your doctor before introducing beets to your baby.
Beets contain lots of vitamin C, plus potassium, magnesium and folate. They are credited with an impressive array of health benefits, including cancer prevention (due to their anti-oxidant content), the ability to boost the immune system AND the potential to reduce blood pressure in later life.
Beets can have a mildly laxative effect and are, therefore, best avoided if your baby has diarrhea. On the other hand, it might be worth stirring some pureed beets into your little one’s food if he is experiencing a bout of constipation!
Furthermore, beets are known to soothe a troubled digestive system and are sometimes used as a remedy for heartburn. If your baby suffers from infant reflux or GERD, then – with your doctor’s consent – you might like to try carefully introducing beetroot to see if it is successful in reducing his symptoms.
If your baby is feeling a little grouchy, then beets might just perk him up – they contain a substance called betaine which some sources suggest may relax the mind and improve the mood! If it doesn’t work for baby, you can always try eating it yourself!
And we find that a nice, soothing beet soup (recipe below) helps relieve congestion – making it a good food to try if your baby is suffering from a cold.
WARNING: Beetroot stains EVERYTHING – and this includes your baby’s pee and poo! Do not be alarmed if the contents of his diaper are a beautiful shade of pink following a meal containing beets – this is perfectly normal and often happens to us grown-ups, too!
Look for nice, firm beets with unbroken, unblemished skin. If they still have their leaves attached, make sure they look fresh and green.
Beets are usually deep purple in colour, although it is possible to find golden – and even white – beetroot. The colour in beets comes from pigments called betalains, the combinations of which can vary. And this variation in combinations accounts for the variation in colour!
Small and medium sized beets have the best flavour – large beets can be very woody in the middle and should be avoided!
Firstly, remove the green tops (if they are still attached). In most cases, you should avoid ‘topping and tailing’ the beets – just scrub them, leaving the skin and stalk intact.
Because removing the skin (or even puncturing it) causes a loss of nutrients, colour and flavour during the cooking process.
Instead, remove the skin AFTER the beets are cooked. Not only is this easier – it’s also a good way to tell if the beets are ‘done’ – the skins will slide off very easily when they are!
Beets may be steamed or boiled, but baking them is probably the easiest method! Just scrub the skins, wrap them in foil and cook them at 360 deg F (180 deg C) for around an hour, until done. Don’t be tempted to raise the temperature to cook them more quickly, as it is far better to allow their flavour to develop slowly.
NOTE: Many people like to wear gloves when preparing beets to avoid staining the skin. If you DO happen to turn your fingers purple, rubbing them with a lemon wedge can help!
There is no escaping the fact that baby food made with beets is going to be messy!
Use a good, protective bib (or no clothes at all!) and be sure to protect your carpets/flooring, too! If you are fussy about your little one’s feeding equipment, then set a bowl and spoon aside JUST for baby food containing beets.