Cracking open a jar of baby food, I wrinkled my nose. The ingredients seemed fine – nothing unhealthy, certainly nothing unsafe – but the smell wasn’t exactly appetizing. I was definitely glad that I wasn’t eating it. I was also really grateful that jarred baby food was a back-up plan for us for the most part.
That’s because for both of our kids, we prepared homemade baby food ourselves. Here’s what we learned in the process.
1. How you cook the homemade baby food matters.
As per the smell of the stuff in cans, baby food manufacturers seem to think that it doesn’t matter how the food tastes, as long as it’s healthy. It seems like most babies will eat it or they won’t, regardless of taste. After all, they don’t know any better!
But what fruits and vegetables babies eat sets them up for a lifetime of eating. I really believe eating vegetables that are cooked correctly makes them more likely to enjoy the taste of produce later in life, especially during the challenging toddler years. Both of my kids eat a variety of vegetables now and I think having a positive introduction really helped. Rather than boiling vegetables – which is bad for almost everything except corn and potatoes – try sautéing, grilling, roasting, or blanching them.
2. A food processor is your best friend.
Baby food needs to be soft. Both of my kids had very few teeth when we started them on solids around six months old. But soft doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to make the food the same way every time.
Instead, after you cook down your ingredients, throw them in the food processor and voilia! Instant baby food. If you need to cool the food down or thin it out, just toss in some ice cubes.
There are specialty baby food making processors, but I would invest in a good regular one. They have better motors and blades, making it less likely they’ll break on you. You’ll also be able to use them long after the baby moves on from purees to make sauces, chop vegetables, and create dips like hummus. As the resident dishwasher in my household, I would recommend getting one with an insert so you don’t need to wash the big bowl every time.
3. Because you control the ingredients, you can choose really good ones.
The first solid food besides cereal we fed Sprout was from our garden – sweet potatoes. While most of our kids’ food isn’t nearly that local, we do try to eat as many local, seasonal, fresh, and organic fruits and vegetables as possible. Besides the health benefits, getting produce in season is the key to it tasting good. His enthusiastic reception to cherry tomatoes is in large part because he gets to eat them from our garden or only a few days after they’ve been picked on the farm.
4. You can’t add salt to homemade baby food.
According to experts, babies’ kidneys aren’t developed enough to process salt. This was a killer for my husband, who does all of our cooking. As a former professional cook (aren’t I lucky?), salting properly is a religion. Nonetheless, he was good and refrained from adding any to the babies’ food when they were under a year old.
5. Kids like a bigger variety of food than you might expect.
Making your own food means that you can feed your kid some off-beat things. Sprout loved bison and parsnips. On the other hand, quinoa and halibut were not popular.
But at least we had the chance to introduce him to these foods. That would have been a lot harder with pre-made options. He also likes things that I don’t. He’ll readily eat fruit mixed in plain yogurt, while I need some extra sugar in there to make it palatable.
6. Not everything needs to be cooked.
Making two separate meals seems overwhelming, but a lot of our kids’ meals were really simple. The aforementioned yogurt and fruit was an extremely common lunch, as were different types of fruit mixed together (applesauce and bananas, bananas and strawberries, etc.). Both kids also love canned pinto beans, which you can just heat up and combine with vegetables.
There are also a much larger variety of precut frozen vegetables than we realized. Besides the standard green beans and carrots, we also bought frozen butternut squash, edamame, peas, and sweet potatoes. Because they’re precooked, you can just heat them up in the microwave. In the dead of winter, when the farmers’ market was nothing but potatoes, we used these a lot.
7. Don’t be ashamed of “cheating.”
Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or energy to make the baby food. Or you’re on the go and remembered at the last minute that you needed to bring something for the baby to eat. Or the morning is too busy to specially prepare oatmeal.
We totally fell back on prepared foods in these situations. From the powered cereal that you add water to the squeezy packs for dinner, we weren’t religious about avoiding prepared food. And some nights, when we simply didn’t have anything in the fridge, we ordered pizza for us and gave him a package.
8. It’s so much cheaper and more sustainable.
On the occasion that we did use the pre-made stuff, I always had a bit of sticker shock. How much are these per package? Of course, afterwards you had to throw out or recycle the package. In contrast, if you make your own food, you can just use the same beginning ingredients as you have for everyone else. While there’s additional dishwashing, there’s also so much less waste.
9. You can be creative with finger foods.
Just because adults eat a specific food with a fork or spoon shouldn’t exclude it from finger food territory. While we do use organic knock-off Cheerios, we also gave our kids hunks of bread, peas, corn, blueberries, beans, and bits of cheese as finger food. The “deconstructed sandwich” sounds very avant garde but has made an appearance on our kids’ plates many a time. While we’ve never done it, a friend of mine used to cook off slabs of sweet potato and squash for their kid to gnaw on.
10. Sometimes your kid just doesn’t want to eat; don’t take it personally.
While Sprout is generally a good, enthusiastic eater, some days he inexplicably doesn’t want to. Often, he eagerly opens his mouth and then once the food is there, pushes it out with his tongue. While I sometimes get frustrated, I’m learning to accept when he’s done and just move on. If it’s something actually tasty and not drool-ridden, I’ll often just eat the rest of it myself.
Making homemade baby food has set our kids up to be pretty adventurous eaters for their age. Check out my tips for bringing kids to ethnic and other restaurants without kids’ menus and our experience visiting an Ethiopian restaurant with a two-year-old. For more, be sure to follow us on Facebook!