Homemade Baby Food

When my son was 4 months old, he was diagnosed with a serious milk-protein allergy. I was faced with a decision: Do I make his baby food or buy prepared food from the store? For me, the answer was to make all his food, as it was my neurotic way of ensuring that not a drop of milk made it to his tummy. For you, the answer may be the same, but for different reasons.

As I spent the next eight months making his food, I discovered a host of advantages that far outweighed the extra work. Judy Dodd, a nutrition education consultant with the University of Pittsburgh, says the main advantage is clearly peace of mind.

“You are able to use food and ingredients you can trust, with minimal processing for better nutrient value,” notes Dodd. “It’s also a good way to introduce foods not found in the usual baby food choices, but still appropriate.”
Once a child is ready for more advanced meals, you’re able to use the same foods you are feeding the rest of the family, saving time and money. Dodd also points out, “You can prepare any amount and not be limited to opening a standard-size serving, determined by a baby food company.”
Lisa Simone Sharda, a clinical pediatric dietitian at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Ill., notes that homemade food provides more fiber, has no preservatives and, in general, has a higher nutrient composition than jarred food, because there is less processing involved.
Heidi DeCosmo, a sous chef for the Miraval Life in Balance Resort in Arizona, offers an expert opinion on taste. “I would not feed my baby anything that I wouldn’t eat. I don’t know if you have tasted jarred baby foods, but they don’t taste good,” she says.

There’s also an emotional component to food that is hard to deny. Preparing a meal for your little one can be a fulfilling experience for even the busiest mom. It’s also a wonderful example to older siblings, who have discovered sugar-coated breakfast cereals, as they see you make a fuss over a perfectly blended yam.

The obvious drawback is time. Clearly, it is faster to grab a few jars while you’re at the store. Cathie Squatrito, the director of medical marketing for Gerber Products, notes other potential drawbacks. “The main risks involved in making your own baby food are food-safety issues, like making sure you wash your hands and the fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Make sure that meats and poultry are fully cooked before pureeing or cutting them into small pieces, and that the texture you use is appropriate for your child’s age,” says Squatrito.

With these cautions in mind, let’s look at the uncomplicated process of making baby food.

The Steps to Making Baby Food

1. Get the stuff. Fancy equipment is not required. Just gather a steamer, blender and some ice cube trays. You’ll also need the freshest, best-looking fruits and vegetables you can find.

2. Add common sense. “The most crucial step is to make sure your hands, utensils and storage containers are properly cleaned. Wash them in hot soapy water and rinse well,” suggests Sharda. “Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and discard anything that looks questionable.”

It is always better to use fresh foods, with the skin, pits, seeds and peels removed. Some ripe fruits can be served raw once they are peeled and mashed. If you are going to use canned foods, “Be sure to wash the lid of the can in hot soapy water, and rinse thoroughly as cans may collect contaminants during shipping and storage,” advises Sharda. Also, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations on which foods to introduce first and at what age.

3. Steam, Spin, Serve and Store. Steam the fruits or vegetables (to reduce vitamin loss) to the desired softness. Then “spin” in the blender to the target consistency. Sharda suggests adding two tablespoons of water (or cooking liquid) to each half cup of vegetables or fruit. She also recommends you never add salt, pepper, butter or other seasonings, “since babies enjoy the natural flavor of foods.” For meats, trim them thoroughly, cook until tender and blend with a touch of water to the desired consistency.
Put enough of the fresh baby food in the refrigerator to serve as meals for one to two days, and immediately store the rest in the freezer. A great storage technique is to fill ice cube trays with the puree. Once frozen, just pop the squares into freezer bags for long-term storage (not more than a month to avoid a loss in nutritional value). Be sure to note the contents and date on each bag. As needed, you can quickly prepare a meal by defrosting a cube or two.

What’s Best for You?

The best advice may be to try out some homemade food, and have the store-bought kind on hand when it’s simply more convenient. Squatrito emphasizes the important thing is to introduce children to a variety of healthy foods during the first two years.

“Research has shown that a child’s food preferences do not change significantly between the ages of 2 to 3 and age 8, making it very important that children be introduced to a variety of healthy foods when they are under the age of 2.” Combining store-bought with homemade offers a tremendous variety to your little one.
There’s an incredibly small window in which we can care for our children in this way. Soon enough, the world will push cheeseburgers and food that is unnaturally blue on them at every occasion. The foundation of a house can only be poured once, but if you do it right, once is enough. And so it is with nutrition. As parents we can only lay the foundation, keep the sides from falling in as the house ages, and then hope it can withstand what the weather, or life, has to offer.

Linda Kastiel Kozlowski is a freelance writer from Glen Ellyn, Ill.