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BABY FOOD: HOMEMADE OR STORE-BOUGHT???

By lindsay

From BCC’s Resident Mom Expert, Julie Schwartz Heller

A lot of people ask me if it’s “worth it” to make your baby’s food as opposed to buying it at the store, so here’s the lowdown… I enjoy cooking and always thought it would be fun to make baby food, and since my sister was able to do it for my nephew while working full-time, I figured I was up to the task.

My daughter Zoe has a healthy appetite, so when she maxed out at 32 ounces of breastmilk/formula per day (the limit my pediatrician suggested) at around 4 ½ months, my husband and I decided it was time to introduce solid foods. We had little luck with rice cereal and oatmeal, so our pediatrician suggested that we try apples or another fruit or vegetable. I wanted to introduce a vegetable before a sweeter fruit like apples, so I steamed and pureed butternut squash and like magic, Zoe downed her entire serving in just minutes!

I was lucky enough to get a food schedule from my sister that provided a good order for introducing new foods, beginning with yellow and orange ones that are easier to process and working up to greens which can be more difficult to digest. I made everything from simple mashed bananas and avocados to steamed green beans and baked sweet potatoes to pureed peaches and cherries. I also pureed garbanzo beans, essentially creating homemade hummus, and I poached and pureed chicken breasts.

When Zoe grew older, I began making sauces and creating full meals such as homemade macaroni and cheese with broccoli, chicken with apples and sweet potato, butternut squash pasta, and quinoa with broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, with a bit of help from a book titled First Meals by Annabel Karmel. Zoe is now 20 months old and I am proud to say that the majority of her food is still homemade.

I am often asked whether it is more economical to make baby food or to buy it, and the answer is that it depends on the type of food. Certain foods like squash, potatoes and bananas are far cheaper to make yourself, but other foods such as peaches, pears and apples can be cheaper to buy prepared, especially when it comes to the organic variety. I often make simple things for Zoe such as apple cinnamon oatmeal and macaroni & cheese with veggies instead of buying the boxed versions, and I find that these are not only more nutritious, they also make a smaller dent in my grocery bill. For example, I make the oatmeal with Whole Foods 365 Organic Quick Oats, Trader Joe’s Organic Unsweeted Applesauce and a dash of cinnamon. For approximately 15 cents I give her ¼ cup serving of this homemade version, while a leading brand of organic apple cinnamon oatmeal costs 45 cents for the same size portion. While 30 cents may not seem like a huge hit to your bank account, if Zoe eats this meal roughly 4 times a week, that’s a savings of $62 per year, and if I substituted this meal everyday for a leading brand of organic yogurt which costs about 75 cents, we would save $219 per year!

Another consideration is that while you can make most baby food with a food processor and ice cube trays, your existing kitchen supplies may contain BPA and you may therefore end up investing money in new BPA-free items such as the Beaba Babycook which steams, purees and reheats food, and Babycubes in which you can store and freeze food.

I found that Target had the cheapest and widest selection of organic baby food; however I could not always find the exact foods or combinations I wanted to give Zoe. For me, the largest benefit of making my own baby food was that I had complete control over the portion sizes and combinations. There were very few foods Zoe did not care for when she was younger (that all changed once she became an opinionated toddler!), but when I came across a food she did not like, I was successful in mixing it with something she loved, such as bananas and avocado, zucchini and apple, or green beans and sweet potatoes, none of which are available in store brands. I must admit that I greatly preferred the consistency and smell of my homemade food over the jarred equivalents, particularly in the case of combinations containing cereal, pasta or other starches or grains.

A few final thoughts regarding homemade food…1) you know exactly what is in the food you make and likely have less risk of contamination; 2) you don’t have to worry about certain issues such as whether the store bought jars are lined with BPA; 3) certain fresh fruits and vegetables are not available throughout the year, although I found frozen ones to be a good year-round option and often cheaper; 4) while jarred food can be stored and served at room temperature, homemade food generally needs to be refrigerated or frozen within an hour, and thus prior to serving it needs to be thawed and warmed; and finally, 5) it is VERY time-consuming to make baby food, and you run the risk that your child may spit it out! I’ll never forget when my friend told me she spent a couple of hours making her son homemade chicken nuggets to end up with just a few pieces that he quickly tossed on the floor!!!

The bottom line is that if you have the time and enjoy cooking, then why not attempt to make your baby’s food…but if you don’t fall into both of these categories or it just doesn’t sound like fun to you, then you can’t go wrong with store bought food either. Happy feeding!

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