Making your own baby food is easy, efficient, and economical. Instead of spending money on prepackaged baby food, you can use fresh produce, grains, and meat that you have on hand. Best of all, you’ll know exactly what you’re feeding your baby.
Going the do-it-yourself route also gets your baby used to eating the same food the rest of the family does, a strategy that may pay off during the picky toddler years.
Choosing the right equipment
You’ll need a tool to grind or puree the food. Some possibilities, all of which you can buy at stores or online:
A hand-turned food mill with different blades for various textures of food. Many parents say this portable, non-electric gadget is their favorite tool. (Search online for “food mill.”)
A baby food grinder, a very inexpensive and simple way to break down chunks of food for your baby, non-electric and portable, but you don’t have a choice of textures. Read the reviews online before ordering. The grinders don’t always work as well as they promise, but some parents swear by them. (Search for “baby food grinder.”)
A hand blender, a useful electric gadget that purees food like a blender does, but works in the opposite way: You place it into the food rather than vice versa. (Search for “hand blender.”)
A regular kitchen blender or food processor. You probably already have at least one of these at home. A blender or food processor might work well for you, though you might find it less than ideal for small jobs.
A good old-fashioned fork. This simple piece of kitchen equipment found in every kitchen does a great job with easily mashed foods such as sweet potatoes, avocados, and bananas.
Other useful supplies:
Storage containers and ice cube trays (or similar trays made just for baby food) for refrigerating and freezing extra portions.
Buying the best produce
Choose the freshest fruits and vegetables, and try to use what you buy in a day or two. When fresh isn’t available, frozen is a fine option. (If you prefer organic produce, find out how to buy organic food for less.)
Good fruits to start with include apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, mangoes, peaches, pears, plums, and prunes. Vegetables to try include asparagus tips, avocados, carrots, peas, potatoes, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, and winter squash.
Minimizing nitrate exposure
Nitrates are a chemical found in water and soil, and they’re a concern when it comes to feeding your baby. Babies who ingest too much can develop a type of anemia called methemoglobinemia.
Preparing formula with well water that’s high in nitrates is the usual cause of the illness, but some vegetables can also contain nitrates. The most likely sources are beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, and squash.
To be on the safe side, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents not to feed these vegetables to babies under 3 months old. (Actually, the AAP doesn’t recommend feeding babies any solid food at all until 4 to 6 months, but if you do decide to offer your infant vegetables before 3 months, you’ll want to avoid these in particular.)
There are a few things you can do to make sure your baby isn’t exposed to high levels of nitrates:
If you have well water, have it tested. It should contain less than 10 ppm of nitrates.
Nitrates increase with storage time unless frozen. When using fresh vegetables for homemade baby food, prepare the food as soon as possible after purchase and freeze extra servings right away.
Consider using frozen vegetables instead of fresh for the foods highest in nitrates.
Baby food companies test their products for nitrates. So store-bought baby food – including dishes containing beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, or squash – should be free of these chemicals.
Preparing the food
After washing, cook vegetables – and fruits like apples and prunes that need to be softened – before pureeing or grinding. Bake, boil, or steam the produce until it’s soft. If you boil the food, use as little liquid as possible and add some of the leftover liquid when mashing the food (or add it to your family’s soup stock).
Peel and pit the produce if necessary and strain out any seeds. Some fruits and vegetables don’t require any liquid – simply mash, add a seasoning or two, and serve. For others, you may want to add a little liquid (breast milk, formula, or water) as you puree or grind to get the consistency you want. As your baby adapts to solid foods, you can add less liquid.
Grains like quinoa or millet can also be pureed or ground in a food mill. Cook them first according to package directions. For older babies, whole grains make fabulous finger food.
To prepare meat and poultry, remove the skin and trim the fat before cooking. Then puree the cooked meat in a blender or grind it up in a food mill with a little liquid. For older babies, simply chop the meat into very small pieces.
If this all sounds like a lot of trouble, keep in mind that “homemade baby food” can be the very same food you feed the rest of your family. It’s an old-fashioned idea that deserves to be resurrected. Simply use your food mill or other tool to puree, blend, or mash some of the same food that your family is having for dinner.
Soups and stews, for example, can be processed and fed to your baby. The same goes for most healthy foods your family might eat. Pack empty baby food jars with extra so you’ll have a meal for the next day.
Serve the food no warmer than body temperature.
Use caution if you heat meals in the microwave. Microwaves heat unevenly and can create “hot spots” – areas of the food that are much hotter than others – so be sure to stir microwaved food well and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
Only dish out the amount of food you think your baby will eat at that feeding. You’ll need to toss what’s left over because your baby’s saliva will get into the mixture and make it easy for bacteria to grow in the food.
Don’t sweeten your baby’s food. Babies don’t need any extra sugar. And never use honey or corn syrup, which can cause botulism – a potentially fatal form of food poisoning – in babies.
Use seasonings. Despite the tradition of feeding babies bland food, they can tolerate and enjoy different flavors.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and use them up within a couple of days. You can also freeze leftovers in ice cube trays or similar devices. After the cubes are frozen solid, remove them and store in plastic freezer bags. Fruits and vegetables frozen this way will last six to eight months. Meat (including poultry) and fish will last one to two months.