6 Reasons to Make Your Own Baby Food

Why Homemade Baby FoodI post a lot of baby food recipes, so I assume most of the folks who visit Gen Y Mommy are already sold on the whole make-your-own-baby-food thing. But maybe you’re not. Maybe it sounds like a nice idea, but it’s just not high on your list of things you want to do. After all, with all those fancy organic baby foods on the market with interesting flavors mixing together exotic flavors like lentils and mint, what’s the point?

Well, there are a lot of good reasons to make your own baby food. Here are the handful that swayed me.

{NOTE} There’s a reason this post isn’t titled “6 Reasons Why You Should Make Your Own Baby Food.” This isn’t a post about shoulds, mommy guilt, or overachieving moms. There are so many reasons why moms can’t or don’t want to DIY baby food, which I totally respect.

It’s cheaper

All those fancy organic pouches can really take you to the cleaners, especially once your little one starts to really get after eating solids. When it was a one-to-two-pouch-a-day a habit, it was no big deal to spend $1.80 for 3-4 ounces of food. Now that your little Monster is packing it away at two pouches per meal, wherein meal times are akin to that of hobbits (elevensies, anyone?), your grocery bill has gone sky high.

Now, there’s been some push back on whether or not it’s actually cheaper. After all, you’re buying organic. And then you sprung for that fancy baby food maker. Oh, and the storage system. Not to mention those cool pouches, which you have to buy replacement pouches for. Then you saw that food mill at the grocery store… I guess there’s a little truth in that. But you don’t have to buy all that stuff.

I repeat: You don’t have to buy all that stuff. First, you can register for a lot of it. Sure, it’s 6 months (give or take) after birth, so it’s not a critical registry item, but if you’re one of those who has umpteen showers with 20+ guests at each one, throw it all on there, girl.

But let’s say you’re past the registry stage. It really doesn’t take a whole bunch of expensive gear to make baby food. You probably have most of it – your usual pots and pans, a steam basket (runs about $5 at the grocery store) if you don’t already have one, a food processor or blender, and an ice cube tray. Even if you spring for a fancy baby food cube tray with a lid, like this one from OXO Tot, it’s only going to set you back $5. So you just spent $10. Not too shabby.

There aren’t any recalls in your kitchen

Nothing makes me cringe like a baby food recall, especially when I hear the reasons. While I was halfway through writing this post, Plum Organics posted a recall of their popular organic baby food pouches due to a defect in the packaging that caused bloating (bloating is the result of bacteria growing in the food – gross!). Lo and behold, I’d fed one of them to my own baby just the day before the recall and he’d come down with a fever (perhaps a coincidence, but still). The company sent me about 14 free coupons, but every time I looked at one of them my stomach turned. I gave them away.

Here’s another incident of organic pouches that were recalled in late 2010/early 2011 for bacterial contamination. These were sold at grocery stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts, places I think of as being safer than the run-of-the-mill grocery store. The grocery stores include the chain in my own geographical region, which drives home that it can happen everywhere. In 2009, Plum Organics recalled some of its pouches due to bacteria that causes botulism.

How about when there’s not a recall? Like when Consumer Reports conducted an independent review of various rice products, including rice cereal, and found “worrisome” levels of arsenic (a carcinogenic toxin) in them. And nothing changed. Baby rice cereal. Organic, brown rice baby cereal. The kind that you would feel oh-so-good about feeding to your baby as their very first meal.

The closest this homemade baby food gets to a conveyor belt is lining up for a photo opp.

The closest this homemade baby food gets to a conveyor belt is lining up for a photo opp.

Making your own baby food allows you to reduce exposure to harmful bacteria that are introduced in the manufacturing process. And yes, there are recalls on fruits and vegetables. But as long as you are following safe food handling measures, you can minimize potential risks to your baby.

The point is this: No matter how benevolent and caring a baby food brand may strive to be, no company or corporation cares as much about your baby and what he or she eats than you do.

You control the ingredients

Have you ever read the ingredient labels on baby food? I can sum it like this: apples, other stuff, apples, apples, pears, other stuff, bananas, apples. The way ingredient labels work is that the ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance, meaning the first ingredient is the most prevalent in the product. So when you see that wholesome looking pouch of zucchini banana amaranth, flip it over and read the ingredients. The first one listed is apples. You’ll see this in most baby foods. It makes me feel cheated. I thought I bought zucchini, bananas and amaranth (it’s a grain, in case you were wondering). What I mostly bought was apples.

There is also very little variety in flavors. Sure, it’s getting better. There are all kinds of neat combinations of fruits, vegetables, and new gluten-free grains like quinoa and millet. But I’m still not seeing asparagus or pineapple anywhere.

Juicy black plums become plum banana oats baby food in my kitchen... If they make it that far.

Juicy black plums become plum banana oats baby food in my kitchen… If they make it that far.

By cooking your own baby food, baby learns to eat what you eat, which I assume is a good thing. It’s going to happen eventually anyway. You can feed your baby kale purees all day long; they aren’t going to touch the stuff once they get bigger if you aren’t eating it too. Also you can teach your baby to eat seasonally, which I personally believe is the tastiest way to eat. (Check out this easy guide to eating produce seasonally here.)

No citric acid or other unnecessary additives

No additives here! Just delicious fresh fruit and veggies.

No additives here! Just delicious fresh fruit and veggies.

While you’re still looking at that ingredient label, check out the last or next-to-last ingredient. It’s most likely citric acid or lemon juice. Have you noticed that tart or slightly-off taste most baby foods have? It’s the citric acid. Baby food companies put it into purees to preserve the original color of the produce; essentially it’s there to make the color more attractive to you. Apparently, the fact that applesauce turns brown reminds you that your applesauce is not actually fresh.

But there’s a reason there isn’t any citrus baby food purees – it’s too acidic. Citrus can cause severe diaper rashes and even rashes around the mouth. So it never made sense to me to give every single food my baby tries with a dash of citrus juice, especially not in the name of cosmetics.

There are more nutrients in homemade baby food

Baby food is made shelf-stable (i.e., no refrigeration is necessary) by cooking food at high temperatures, killing bacteria but also most of the nutrients and taste in the process. Even when cooking your homemade baby food, most recipes will recommend steaming vegetables and fruits (versus boiling or microwaving them) until just soft enough for your baby to eat. I don’t really want to know what’s left in yogurt after it’s been made shelf-stable. I do know that there aren’t any live and active cultures, which is what all those good probiotics are that make yogurt a desirable baby/toddler food in the first place.

It’s fun!

Look at that happy baby yogurt mustache! I made that!

Look at that happy baby yogurt mustache! I made that!

I absolutely love making my baby’s food! I get to experiment and make up all kinds of cool combinations of fruits, veggies, grains and dairy. When I talk to my mom friends who make their own baby food, without hesitation they all say they actually enjoy making it. I was seriously bummed when the Monster outgrew pureed foods (but now he loves yogurt pouches!). There is this bizarre feeling of satisfaction I get when I look into my freezer and see nice rows of wholesome, colorful pouches and cubes of baby foods. I like seeing what I make go into the nourishment of my child’s body, and (hopefully) become a piece of who he is as he grows (someone who loves good food!).

Check out some of my baby food recipes here.

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