By making homemade baby food, you introduce your child into the textures and tastes of fresh, nutritious food at an early age.
More parents from all walks of life are starting to turn toward the practice of making baby food to help their children "eat clean.” They’re finding homemade baby food is healthier than store-bought baby food as well as inexpensive, fulfilling and easy to make from your own garden produce. In fact, some nutrition experts, including doctors with Center for Science in the Public Interest, claim that homemade baby food gives your child the healthiest start in life, opening up the door to a lifetime of healthy food choices.
Once you get over the misconception that making baby food will be an elaborate, time-consuming chore that will overtake your life and leave you chained to a hot stove, you will realize the joy and simplicity of this process. Why make your own baby food? Here are some top reasons.
1. It ensures quality control.
By making your own baby food, you get to micromanage every single ingredient included in your baby’s meal. You are in control. Many prepackaged baby foods contain fillers, reducing their nutritional value. According to reports from Center for Science in the Public Interest, commercially prepared baby-food brands often use refined flours, tapioca, water and chemically modified starches.
"Not only are those products a monetary rip-off, they are also nutritionally inferior to similar products made without fillers,” states a CSPI report "Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food” by Daryth D. Stallone, Ph.D., and Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D. "Bananas with tapioca, for example, contain less than half of the levels of nutrients found in [the same brands’] plain, first-stage bananas.”
2. You have all the equipment.
The idea of creating homemade baby food might seem intimidating, and if you check online or visit baby-supply stores, it appears you will need an insane amount of products to start. This is absolutely not true. In fact, you most likely have every single item you will need to make baby food right now in your kitchen.
The main baby-food tool is a good blender or food processor. Sure, you can purchase an item manufactured specifically for making baby food, but you don’t need to. A general household blender or food processor works just fine, especially if you like to make large batches and freeze them for later consumption.
Other must-have items for making baby food include ice cube trays or small containers for freezing single servings of baby food, freezer bags to store the food once frozen, a steamer basket or other tool for steaming fruits and vegetables, and a rubber spatula for scooping the purées out of the blender.
3. It saves money.
One large, organic banana costs about $0.29 and will yield nearly 8 ounces of puréed goodness. A jar of commercially prepared organic banana baby food with added ingredients costs approximately $0.89 for 4 ounces. One sweet potato costing $1.50 or so at the store will produce 20 ounces of baby food. That same amount costs $4.50 in commercially prepared baby food. One organic apple yields about 5 ounces of baby food. That’s $0.50 versus $3 for the store-bought kind.
4. It really is easy.
It takes a few minutes to clean, steam and purée the fruits and vegetables that will yield many ounces of baby food. Cooking baby food in batches and freezing for later consumption enables you to prepare a week’s worth of meals in possibly less than an hour. As your baby gets older, he or she can partake in more food options. Preparing baby food for your child becomes a matter of puréeing whatever the family eats.
5. It introduces variety.
By feeding your child homemade baby food, you can introduce your baby to a rainbow of flavors, colors and textures. "Variety is a really strong instinct,” Tallmadge says. "People have a natural need for variety [in taste, texture, shape, color and flavor]. That’s hard to get with prepackaged baby food.”
Choosing in-season foods is economical and a smart way to expose your baby to many food items not readily available as commercial baby food. Who ever heard of a jarred food containing blueberries, heirloom pears and peaches? It’s an easy meal for you to make right at home.
6. Fresh food is healthier.
We all know that fresh is best; why shouldn’t that apply to what we feed our babies?
Even jars of baby food that are labeled organic and additive-free have a ridiculously long shelf-life. Some baby foods can last in your cupboard for three years. How is that possible? They’ve been highly processed through an extreme heating procedure that kills bacteria. They are safe to sit on a shelf, but are they still nutritious? Not all vitamins and minerals can survive the heat, compromising overall nutrition, experts say, including Karen Ansel, spokeswoman for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
7. It makes your baby smarter … well, possibly.
In a 2012 study of 7,000 children, researchers from University of Adelaide in Adelaide, South Australia, found that children who were breast-fed at 6 months and ate a healthy diet that included legumes, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months had an IQ of up to two points higher by the age of 8. This might not appear earth-shattering, but most parents realize that we should do anything we can to help our kids excel intellectually.
8. It gives you peace of mind.
This might be one of the most important reasons why many parents create homemade baby food. Knowing that you give your infant or toddler the most wholesome, chemical-free, nutrient-dense baby food is priceless. As parents, we cannot control many aspects of our children’s lives, but we can provide proper nutrition.
9. Fresh food sets the bar for a lifetime of healthy choices.
Allowing your baby to experience fruits and vegetables in their natural state—and later, lean meats and dairy—puts all of the pieces in place for a life-long love affair with real food designed to nourish the body. This variety of fresh, wholesome foods trains your baby’s palate better than a diet of salty chips, sweet drinks, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese.
About the Author: Kyra Kirkwood discovered the joy of making her own baby food when she had her first child. When she's not writing books (Move Over, Rover, Clarkson Potter); teaching journalism; reporting; blogging; or playing with her dogs, kids and husband, Kyra likes to figure out new recipes for her family.
Excerpt from Natural Baby, part of the Popular Kitchen Series, with permission from its publisher, BowTie, Inc. Purchase Natural Baby here.