Should I Warm My Baby's Food Before a Feeding?

Father feeding his baby

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Parents often wonder if they need to warm up baby food, which is typically first introduced around 4 to 6 months of age. Some worry that it must be heated before serving to make it is easier to digest or more palatable. Others believe that heating is necessary to kill any lurking organisms in the food that could make your baby sick. However, medically speaking, none of these concerned are warranted. Whether you heat your baby's food or serve it cold is not so much a matter of health as it is one of preference.

Food Safety

Modern food safety standards for commercial foods, including baby food, ensure that it's perfectly safe to take packaged baby food straight from the grocery shelf and feed it to your baby. The same applies to any prepared food you make so long as it has been thoroughly cooked and properly stored. You'll simply want to follow the same rules you use for any food you serve, including refrigerating perishable items, wrapping food properly, avoiding cross-contamination, cooking meats thoroughly, and discarding unused items when no longer fresh.

If you follow these guidelines, your baby's food should be safe to eat, regardless of whether you choose to serve it cold, at room temperature, or warm.

Try a Variety of Food Temperatures

Offering your baby food at a variety of temperatures can help them become more flexible eaters who enjoy a range of meals at differing temperatures. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's especially crucial to introduce variety into a baby's diet early as life-long food preferences tend to form by around 9 months of age. Serving cool or room temperature meals can also make feeding your child much more convenient, cut down on preparation time, and streamline the serving of on-the-go meals.

Many babies won't be bothered by eating cooler foods—but some will protest. These babies may have developed a strong preference for warmed food due to a feeling of comfort with the warm milk (either from the breast or a bottle) that they are used to drinking. However, most babies will eventually do fine eating their food at colder temperatures.

To acclimate them to cooler food, try exposing it to them gradually. It can take trying the same food 12 or more times over several weeks for some babies to grow to like certain foods or meal temperatures. While it may be a challenge at first, if you persist, your child will usually soon tolerate, or even enjoy, eating food at a variety of temperatures.

You won’t always able to warm foods while on outings and it can make life much simpler to have the option of feeding your baby food right out of the fridge or straight from a baby food jar.

Sometimes, cold can be a good thing. For instance, when your baby is teething, chilled food can provide relief. A cold spoonful of applesauce or yogurt may help overcome some of the pain.

Knowing When to Warm Food

It's perfectly fine to decide to routinely serve certain foods warm. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference. But it’s worth considering that some foods may taste better warm than cold (and vice versa). While this tends to be less of a problem with commercially jarred foods, it may be a concern with certain home-prepared foods.

These include starchy purees, like potatoes or rice-based foods, which can have an unpleasant grittiness or mealiness when served chilled. Gravy-based foods also tend to get gluey when refrigerated and can benefit from a bit of warming to make them more palatable.

If ever in doubt as to whether you should warm baby food or not, use your own food tastes and customs as a guideline. If you typically serve green beans warm, by all means, serve them to your baby warm. If your family prefers ham as cold cuts rather than baked, do the same for your baby. Again, these choices are up to you as you introduce your child to a world of cuisine options.

Heating Tips

Serving food cool or at room temperature has the added benefit of eliminating the risk of burning your baby's mouth. Since babies can’t test the temperature of their food before eating it, you'll need to do it for them.

Be aware that heated food may not be consistent in temperature and can contain hotspots. This is particularly common with microwaved food or food heated on the stovetop. People often forget that food nearer to the heating source will be hotter than the food further away from the heat.

For instance, when heating a jar of baby food in a pot of hot water, the ambient heat from the bottom of the pan can create a hotspot. The best way to test this is by plunging a metal spoon to the bottom of a jar, holding it there for three seconds, and placing the spoon on your lower lip. If it’s uncomfortable for you, it’s too hot for the baby.

Also, pay extra attention when using a microwave. Microwaves can cook food unevenly and create hot spots that are often extreme. Placing the jar or dish in the middle of the microwave may sometimes help, but not always. Always be sure to stir food thoroughly after microwaving and test the temperature before serving. If unsure or it seems a bit too warm, let the food sit out for a minute or two. Then, test the heat again until it reaches a palatable heat.

Tips for Serving and Storage

If you've ever fed your baby straight from the jar and put the leftover meal back into the fridge, you may have noticed that it can sometimes become watery and thin after a day or two. This is because the food has been contaminated with your baby’s saliva. Saliva, whether baby or adult, contains enzymes that can break down food and enable bacterial growth.

As such, it is best to feed your baby from a jar only if you think they will finish it. Instead, dish out what you need into a bowl and put the closed jar away in the refrigerator until the next feeding.

Remember, too, that commercially prepared jarred foods are safe so long as the vacuum seal is intact. Before opening a jar, always check that the vacuum seal has not been popped and listen for the slight whoosh of air entering as you open the lid. Once opened, any leftovers should be refrigerated for no more than two to three days. After that period, discard any uneaten food left in the jar. This same rule also goes for homemade baby food you've prepared.

Most importantly, never serve any leftover baby food that has changed in consistency, smell, and/or color. These changes could indicate the food has passed its prime and could make your baby sick.

A Word From Verywell

The key to deciding the right temperature at which to serve baby food is to listen to your gut. Convenience, culture, and personal preference all come into play but know that, aside from following basic food safety guidelines, no other rules really matter except what makes the most sense to you.

Enjoy this time when you get to choose how and what to feed your baby. Soon enough, they'll tell you exactly what they like and don't like—and may already be doing so by gobbling or sitting out certain foods. But for now, at least, you really know best.

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