Wait just a minute. Before you say “definitely not for me”… consider the following:
- Making SOME of your baby’s food does not mean you have to make ALL of it.
- In some cases, making your own is actually more convenient. Ever mashed your own banana? 😉
- In almost all cases, making your own is much more economical.
- With a little effort, homemade baby food can have more variety and nutrition and taste better than the jarred stuff.
- Making homemade baby food can be very satisfying and fulfilling. It can also be fun!
- I think baby food companies try hard to make you think feeding your baby is a delicate science best left to professionals. Not so. It’s a lot more forgiving than you’d think!
That being said, I believe that as a parent, you have to pick your battles and prioritize. Making homemade baby food isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be a source of guilt if you pass on it.
And now for some details…
Part 1: Andrea Lays Down the Law
They are a great reference for when to introduce which foods and give suggestions in each category of food for each age range.
Andrea highly recommends that website for recipes, tips, and guidelines for preparing all sorts of baby food.
As she says, if you get a few rules straight, the rest is a lot more flexible and forgiving than you probably imagine:
- Start solids between 4-6 months of age (pediatricians vary, but are leaning towards 6 months)
- Start with simple, soft, and smooth.
- Avoid introducing highly allergenic foods until later (especially if you have history of food allergy in your family)
- Be conscious of texture and temperature. You don’t want to give chunks until your baby has the hang of it and is not likely to choke or gag on them. You also want to make sure nothing you give is too hot, because babies have sensitive gums.
Part 2: Find Your Groove
Andrea and I have very different approaches:
As she describes it, she sets aside a few hours at a time and prepares lots of different foods at once. She uses her food processor to blend up steamed vegetables, in batches. She then uses a spatula to transfer the veggies straight into ice cube trays. After a few hours in the freezer, she pops the cubes out into a ziploc bag and labels them with a date and the type of food. These will last several months in the freezer, but Andrea ends up with about a month’s worth at a time, I believe.
On a day-to-day basis, she looks in the freezer and tries to choose one color veggie (or veggie mix) for breakfast, and a different color fruit for lunch. Her baby is 8 months old and usually eats 2-3 cubes. She just microwaves the cubes and they are ready to eat!
Andrea mentioned that she really enjoys experimenting and finding ways to cook new foods for her baby. Again, she uses the website for suggestions on how to cook things. One of her favorites? Baked peaches.
She does purchase baby cereal, rather than make her own, but I didn’t get the impression that she feeds her son cereal frequently. Her best tip for finger foods: Dredge tofu and other slimy things in cheerio dust to make them easier to pick up.
She mentioned that her son tends to try things several times before deciding that he likes them. So don’t give up!
(I’ve found my daughter likes everything I’ve given her, as long as the texture and temperature are right. Too cold or too thick and she’ll be less enthusiastic.)
I’m not that organized. I basically wing it and find myself making food several times a week, based on what we’re eating.
Examples from this week:
- As I was making a spicy chili for Scott and I, I cooked up some potatoes and white beans. So I set some aside to give Mackenzie as finger food.
- I was low on veggies for her at one point, so I cooked a yam in the microwave, ate the peel and mashed up the inside of it for her. That’ll give her three dinners this week.
- We sliced up an avocado for sandwiches twice this week, and Mackenzie loves avocado, so that’s what she had for lunch those days.
- Scott was eating cantaloupe last night and Mackenzie was eying it. He gave her a few small pieces and she loved it, so she had some cantaloupe with breakfast this morning, and a few pieces with dinner.
- I sat Mackenzie down for breakfast one morning and realized I had no food made up for her, so I stirred fresh ground flaxseeds into unsweetened applesauce from a jar and gave her that.
Examples from last week:
- After a farmer’s market run, we had sauteed up bell pepper, onion, yellow squash and zucchini. I picked out some yellow squash and zucchini and ran it through my baby food grinder. I made three servings for Mackenzie. We also had sweet corn that I cut off the cob and ran through the grinder.
- I was eating a peach and realized Mackenzie needed some more food, so I cooked up some mixed cereal on the stove with mashed up, peeled peach cooked in it. I also added some cinnamon. It made enough for four days of breakfasts for Mackenzie. I used ground up brown rice and pinhead steel cut oats in the cereal, and I stir in ground flaxseeds before I feed it to her. So even though she’s eating the same thing four mornings in a row, I feel ok about it variety-wise because it’s got 4 different things in there.
See what I mean about winging it? I think Andrea is amazing for being on-the-ball and preparing things in advance, but even if you aren’t as organized, you can still make it work. Although her method requires some pre-planning, I’m sure she spends less time in the long-run because she isn’t scrambling at the last minute!
Part 3: In Mackenzie’s Belly
I didn’t go into this too much at the meeting, but I’ll add it here in case it helps someone. This is a list of food my daughter has eaten in the last ~2 1/2 months. We started her on solids at 5 1/2 months and sh’s nearly 8 months old now. These aren’t necessarily the best foods, they are just ones I’ve happened to have fed my daughter so far. 🙂
I know at one point I looked on some baby food websites (gerber, etc) to see what foods they sell and it made me feel a bit better. I felt I was in a “rut” and not giving Mackenzie enough variety, but we stacked up pretty well after all.
- Sweet potatoes -Mackenzie’s first food. Baked or microwaved, thinned with water or breastmilk and mashed with a fork.
- Avocado, mashed
- Banana, mashed (mix with avocado, yum!)
- Green peas or green beans -salt-free, frozen. Microwave/steamed and then ground up in a mill.
- Prunes -Covered in boiling water, then food processed with lots of water until they are the right consistency. I recommend mixing in with cereal rather than giving straight prunes. That tip may just save you a blowout. You’re welcome. 🙂
- Apples, nectarines, peaches, cherries – Fresh, peeled, then cooked in her cereal on the stove.
- Blueberries – frozen, mashed and cooked in her cereal on the stove.
- Brown rice -ground into flour, then cooked up with water on the stove. Or, when she’s better with texture, cooked as brown rice then ground up (from tomato and brown rice soup).
- Oats -rolled oats tossed in a blender will grind up nicely and cook up in to a great first cereal on the stove. I now give her pinhead steelcut oats just fine.
- Flaxseed- ground up and stirred into applesauce or cereal
- Applesauce, unsweetened from a jar
- Cantaloupe, tiny chunks
- “Cheerios” – We actually found an O’s cereal made by Private Selection that was the same price and had brown rice as the second ingredient, rather than modified food starch. That’s a win in my book.
- Sweet corn – microwaved, cut off the cob, and ground up.
- Tomato and brown rice soup – We skimmed mostly chunks and ground it up. It had some onion, thyme, marjoram, etc. and Mackenzie seemed to like it just fine.
- Zucchini and crookneck squash – sauteed and ground up
- A bite of chocolate chip cookie, courtesy of Daddy.
- Quinoa – part of a pineapple cashew stirfry. She loved it!
- Hummus -plain, store-bought.
Part 4: Closing Thoughts
From our discussion, a few concerns people had:
What about the supplements commercial baby food contains?
My answer? I believe God designed our bodies to thrive on real food. So I don’t worry too much about any extras that baby food companies add. Mackenzie is still getting plenty of breastmilk, and it covers everything she’ll need (except vitamin D, which she gets from sunshine).
Is making your own baby food healthier?
Not necessarily. It depends what it is! I will say that the blueberry oatmeal I give Mackenzie probably has a lot more of nutrient-packed blueberries than the blueberry oatmeal Gerber sells. The reason is simple: blueberries are expensive and colorful so a whole jar might just have half a blueberry! (Purely conjecture, but the point is they are running a business and you can’t always tell what’s in the jar.) Instant baby cereal has already been steamed, ground up, and dehydrated so that it’s shelf-stable for years. I grind my grains fresh. The difference is probably small, but again, homemade will win the day.
Does homemade food taste better?
For me, frozen green peas taste 1000x better than canned green peas. The reason is simple: When you can something, you have to cook it at high temperatures for an extended period of time in order to kill any potential anaerobic bacteria. When you cook your own baby food, it retains a “fresh” flavor. Also, you’re only putting yummy food into it. I can’t vouch for all the ingredients in the pureed mac and cheese or “chicken dinner” they sell in jars, but I certainly wouldn’t want to eat them! (Don’t even get me started on why we’re making white pasta and cheese into a pudding-like consistency and giving it to poor, unsuspecting infants. C’mon, really?) When I grind up mixed foods for Mackenzie, they taste great even if the texture isn’t ideal for me personally.
Any other crazy theories you want to get off your chest?
Ok nobody actually asked that, but don’t worry, I won’t let that stop me. 😉
– I think you’ll have generally less picky eaters if you make your own food. Your babies will get used to the foods you eat in your house and (gradually) the spices you cook with. It won’t be this sudden jolt from gerber to table food (which, they actually try to ease by making the equivalent of toddler t.v. dinners now.)
– I really have nothing against jarred baby food. Really. I think I’m just frustrated that the marketing makes homemade baby food seem so intimidating. I felt like I was embarking on an uphill battle and even my (fantastic) pediatrician raised an eyebrow when I mentioned my quest. “Really? That’s ambitious,” he commented. Since when is feeding my child food I prepared myself ambitious? At the time, I gulped and nodded, hoping I could stick it out and learn enough to keep feeding future kids on my own. Now? It’s a breeze and I can’t believe I almost shied away from the “challenge”.
– I’ve only had the one baby but I can tell you that “knowing your baby” comes very easily. I was worried I wouldn’t know when she was ready for mixed foods, or chunkier foods, or finger foods, but she lets me know. Worse case scenario? I jump the gun and back off for another few weeks.
-I spend less than five minutes a day, on average, preparing food for Mackenzie. Some days it’s 10 minutes (cooking cereal on the stove, or microwaving yams) and many days it’s 0 minutes (pull something out of the fridge and heat it for 10 seconds and stir).
NEXT MEETING: Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Weight. The discussion will be given by a close, personal friend of mine who has lost over 100 pounds and kept it off for more than 5 years. Some of you may know him better as “Anne’s incredible husband.” 🙂