Since having my first baby, Molly, eight years ago, I have learned so much about making my own baby food. I wish I knew then what I know now about how much money---and sanity---I would have saved with a little bit of know-how in regards to homemade baby food. Here are six tips when you need a little nudge to go homemade for baby food!
1. Save Money
With our first child, we bought baby food in bulk at Sam’s Club. We felt good knowing that we were (theoretically) saving money by buying in bulk. The problem? She got tired of the variety pack of Gerber foods, and I had a hard time knowing how and when to substitute the spendier store-bought brands. On several occasions I found myself splurging on expensive brands of fancy baby food, to make up for the lack of variety in her diet.
A very wise friend of ours saw a baby food cookbook and freezer cups for single-serving baby food on my Amazon wishlist, and put those in the mail to me with a cute bib. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have used that cookbook and those little silicone cups. That gift still stands out in my mind as the best “new baby” present we have ever, ever gotten!
For example, this baby food storage tray is a one-time payment of $9.99. For the price of two sweet potatoes and the pretty minimal time to steam and puree them, you’ll fill the entire tray. To buy baby food at the store, each container costs between $1-$1.50 each. You will definitely save money if you make it yourself!
2. Seek Out Variety and Embrace Creativity
One of the best ways to save money when you are talking about baby food is to make some, and perhaps buy some of baby’s favorites that you might have trouble making yourself. When Molly was a baby, I remember freezing cups (or bags) of soft foods, such as steamed spinach pureed in a food processor, or cooked fruit such as apples, pears, or peaches. That way, when the applesauce is getting old (literally as well as figuratively), you have more options for him or her.
As everyone knows, bananas and applesauce are perennial kid faves. But even a die-hard fan can get tired of the same old thing, and babies are no exception. But there’s no need to bust your budget on Cherry Berry Beet Ginger for something like $4 a pop, when there are so many other options for providing homemade variety! Provide a range of options, such as some tender canned peaches or pears cut into tiny pieces, or a diverse array of well-steamed vegetables ground up in a blender. When they are a bit older, try soft banana bread or add pureed butternut squash to some mac and cheese or muffin batter.
There’s no need to go overboard, but remember, this type of variety can do wonders for their appetite! When you start to suspect that another round of plain Gerber oatmeal just isn’t really going to cut it, try something new. I’ve made some very soft boiled chicken and ground it up into oatmeal or applesauce many times to make sure my babies were getting enough protein.
To me, variety is a more sustainable habit, and it will teach your kids to be less picky. Creativity in the kitchen is one of the most fun things about having a new baby around. Don’t miss out on it because you’re tied up with worry about what they’re eating.
3. Anticipate Transitions
Unfortunately, I didn’t know that offering her the little Gerber cups was going out of style, in more ways than one, before we were even close to using them all up. Now that I’m expecting my fifth, I can already anticipate how quickly the baby food stages go by. More often than not, it feels like by the time you start rice cereal at 5 months, before you know it the time has flown, and they are ready for veggies. A week or maybe a month goes by, and they’re so over the jar of green beans! Maybe a little bit of fruit, or mixed berry baby food, mixed into baby oatmeal will do the trick.
And then, before you know it, you’re giving them bites of soft table food: real peas, steamed broccoli pieces, and applesauce muffins! By 9 or 10 months old, your child might be completely ready for most table foods (and have the teeth to prove it!)
Remember: while a five month old baby may be able to gnaw on a Cheerio until it is soft, any kind of frozen veggies (like the mixed veggies that come in a bag from Walmart) might not be soft enough for them to eat until they have their molars - around 9 months to a year, usually.
4. Recognize your finiteness and your limitations
When we lived in D.C., I had a friend who ordered freeze-dried liver and spinach flakes from a catalogue for her toddler. She never offered her anything that didn’t come from a pricey health food store or catalogue. Her snacks were rice crackers out of a $4.99 bag. It made my head spin: 45% of the budget--or more--devoted solely to baby food was not going to work for our family! I could not put that kind of pressure on myself financially and emotionally, even if I wanted to. And imagine that poor child and the problems with picky eating they might develop with a taste only for organics or catalogue food! If you can’t afford it, it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.
If you’re in a rut, those recipe magazines might be good for picky eaters just for the sake of variety, if not also for getting proper nutrition. However, if you are on a tight income, shop smart, know your options, and don’t feel tied down to that diet as a matter of taste (of course, food allergies are different from shopping preferences). A little of the fancy stuff goes a long way! Don’t obsess about your kids’ diet, or it will simply become a source of guilt for you and them!
5. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
And this should go without saying, right?! I remember worrying so much when I was transitioning my first from breastfeeding to solids, not only about my baby’s needs, but also--when I was so starving from nursing--that I would contemplate leaving important things that I needed for outings behind. I knew that the prospect of going back up the stairs of our apartment would burn calories, and leave me utterly exhausted, thus making me even more hungry and tired! You do not know hungry until you’ve nursed a baby!
Often, I didn’t have the energy that I needed, so I was, in turn, not able to give her my best self, either. I would head out of the house dehydrated and without my water bottle, and end up spending all morning feeling terribly, because I didn’t want to have to stop somewhere to buy myself a snack or a bottle of water. I was shooting myself in the foot on multiple levels. Stop and eat a carrot or a granola bar, and drink that extra cup of water- not a sugary vanilla latte.
Take care of yourself, Mama. Transitioning into parenthood can be hard, so make sure you are doing your best to give your body the food and rest that it needs and that you deserve. Then and only then will you be able to give your child the food and rest that he or she needs. Do your best, and know your options, so that you can do the job of motherhood really, really well. And enjoy the process of homemade baby food without the pressure or the guilt.