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Make your own baby food

It's easy, it's healthy and it's cheap. (But it's not always pretty.)

By Donna_Freedman Mar 5, 2010 1:07PM

When I first made baby food for my daughter, the results were aesthetically delightful: smooth little circles of pale gold, beige, green and bright red (peach, applesauce, peas, beets) frozen so prettily on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper.

As she got older I blended the fruits and veggies more coarsely and sometimes added meat. Peas, carrots and bacon. Chicken, rice and green beans. Beef, potato and peas. Frankly, these gloppy little puddles looked more like something you'd buy at a joke shop and leave on the rug near the cat's bed.

One day I got the idea to stir-fry chicken livers and blend them with rice and carrots. My first reaction was anything but earth-motherish:

"Good grief," I said out loud. "It looks just like Alpo!"

Even if the mixture was gross-looking, I felt happy to know exactly what was going into my child's food. Yet I was equally motivated by cost: I was a single mom, living at that time with my mother and stepfather, and trying hard not to be a financial burden.

It was much cheaper to throw local fruits and veggies (some from our own garden) into a blender than to load the shopping cart with those cute li'l Gerber jars.

Puree your own pasta
Northern Cheapskate blogger Christina saw the same light. As the working mom of one boy, she had often purchased the jarred stuff. Her next pregnancy resulted in twins -- and stay-at-home-mom status.

"Store-bought baby food became an even greater strain on my budget. So I got creative and started making my own," she wrote in a guest post on the SC Johnson Family Economics blog.

To some, this may sound as daunting as making your own furniture. But Christina's article, "Save money and time by making your own baby food," offers soothing tips for newbies:

  • You probably already have most or all of the equipment you need. Particularly useful are a slow cooker, a vegetable steamer and a food processor. (A blender worked fine for me.) Note that these items are often available in thrift stores.
  • Baby foods need not be complicated. "They’re usually just a fruit or vegetable and water," she writes.
  • As the child grows, start mashing up whatever the grownups are eating that night.
Obviously this will save money. I did a quick scan of baby food prices on online grocery shopping sites and was somewhat startled by what I found. Two and a half ounces of "ham and ham gravy" for 99 cents? To paraphrase Dickens, there's probably more gravy than ham about it.

Seven ounces of applesauce for $1: Wonder how much of that is water?

Four ounces of mac 'n' cheese for 55 cents: Surely you could do better by pureeing your own leftover pasta.
Don't forget to label the bags
Does the "save time" part sound unlikely? It isn't. You can do batch cooking for babies the same way you do for adults. That's where a slow cooker is particularly handy, baking sweet potatoes and squash or simmering chicken and vegetables while you're off at work or busy at home.

When the baby is ready for solids, start with very finely pureed foods. As they grow you can start leaving in a little texture; ask your pediatrician when baby is ready. You can freeze the mixtures in ice-cube trays, then pop them out and store in a freezer bag or container. Or just freeze it in very small containers from the start.
A few tips from my own experience:
  • Don't forget to label the bags! ("Is this peach or yam?")
  • When cooking veggies for grownups, save and freeze some of the cooking water in case your baby food needs diluting. (See "chicken livers, rice and carrots" above.)
  • Scoop out a spoon of everything before you put dinner on the table. Otherwise there may not be any leftovers to puree.
  • Your baby's palate is a tabula rasa, so don't sweeten fruits or add salt to veggies. They taste bland to you because you're used to eating apple pie and French fries.
There's one more benefit to a freezer full of food choices: no last-minute trips to the store. Ever stood in a supermarket checkout line with a screaming, teething toddler and a jar of strained peas?

Believe me, you won't want to be there any more than the baby does. To say nothing of the rest of the people in line, who will glare at you as though yours is the first child in the history of the world to melt down at the grocery store. At that point you'll be wishing you'd made your own baby food, even if it did look like Alpo or fake barf.

Related reading:
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