I’ve spent thirty-some years thinking about feeding myself, almost a decade thinking about feeding one growing boy (hubs), and now am starting a journey of thinking about feeding another small human! It is super fun for me, but I recognize not everyone thinks so.
There are so many decisions to be made when feeding baby, the first of which is breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination. There is no wrong answer here, fed is best! Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to. These are all valid reasons. We ended up doing a combo, with mostly breastfeeding and supplementation with formula, and it worked for us.
Of course, the next step is solids!
And this changes everything. Not to get too graphic, but the daily presents in the diaper change drastically. It can also change baby’s sleeping patterns, and if you are breastfeeding it tips off another round of emotional and hormonal readjustment for mom.
But boy is it fun!
Now baby can eat at the table or high chair, just like you. Well, sort of. Baby needs to start slow before they gnaw on their first ribeye or caesar salad. They start out with very well cooked and finely mashed or pureed foods. Typically, rice cereal or oatmeal.
“How do you know if your child is ready for foods other than breast milk or infant formula? You can look for these signs that your child is developmentally ready:
- Your child can sit with little or no support.
- Your child has good head control.
- Your child opens his or her mouth and leans forward when food is offered.” (CDC.gov)
But the good news is, that doesn’t have to be baby’s first food, or only food. Babies can eat almost everything we can! It just needs to be the proper texture based on their age and ability. Sometime between 4 months and 6 months of age, you can start down the food-splatter-lined road of solids.
*Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. Please talk to your pediatrician about what, how, and when to feed your baby.*
The first thing you feed your baby can be pretty much anything, as long as it is well cooked, and pureed. If you want to also strain it, to remove any chunks, you can do so. We did not, I think we went with cooked brown rice that was put through a blender. But we quickly moved on to sweet potatoes, black beans, broccoli, and more.
Basically, whatever I was cooking for dinner or for the week, I kept a little extra aside and cooked it a little longer. For example, steamed sweet potatoes, I’d let an extra one boil just a bit longer, or remove our broccoli when still a little crisp but leave a few florets to steam. Then I’d toss the extra-soft stuff in the food processor, or use my immersion blender if it was cooked in the instant pot/crockpot.
I had gotten some used silicone ice cube molds which turned out to be perfect for the occasion, but any ice cube tray would do. You could even use old egg cartons if you’re feeling ridiculously thrifty!
I started doing this around 2 months of age, and then put the food cubes into labelled baggies in the freezer. That way, by the time he was about 4 1/2 months, we had quite a variety of foods in stock. And I just continue to do this, adding to my stash here and there as I find sales or notice a particular food type/color is running low.
I try to make sure he gets at least 1 green veggie (zucchini and broccoli are favorites), at least 1 orange veggie like carrots or pumpkin, at least 1 protein (beef, chicken, beans), and some rice cereal for the iron. He usually gets some kind of fruit for dessert, banana, pears, applesauce, blueberries…
As he was first trying new foods, I gave him one cube, once a day, for 3 days in a row. This is to make sure if he has a reaction, we know what it is he is allergic to. Once foods were given with no reaction, then I could start mixing them.
His appetite also started picking up, where by month 5 he ate 2-3 cubes twice a day, and by 6 months at least 3 cubes 3 x a day, usually more like 4 plus a little bit of whatever I was eating.
Sweet potatoes and squashes are a steal year round, but around the holidays they go even lower, so he has had sweet potatoes or pumpkin almost every day. We were given a big bag of pureed pumpkin by a neighbor, so that huge volume will last a long time and was free for us!
Bag of frozen berries, 8.99 for 10 cups. 1/2 cup made 12 cubes, so each cube = 0.037 or roughly 4 cents. And berries are among the more expensive things he eats. Broccoli is usually on sale 0.99/lb, and one pound of florets makes 20 or so cubes, so about 5 cents. But I can also use frozen broccoli, which is even cheaper per pound and has the same amount of nutrients.
And now that he has tried many foods with no problems, I can mix them together as well. For example, I mixed a cup of frozen cherries, a can of sliced beets, and spinach together into a sweet, bright red puree. He LOVES it! And gets a crazy amount of nutrition from one ounce of food.
Let’s say homemade baby food ranges from 0.01 – 0.10 per cube, with an average of 4 cents.
Month 4 = 1 cube per day x 30 days = $1.20
Month 5 = 5 cubes per day x 30 days = $6.00
Month 6 = 10 cubes per day x 30 days = $12.00
So, three months worth of baby food for only $19.20! That’s not a bad deal at all.
Now, this is as far as we’ve gotten, but I assume his appetite will only increase. However, he can now eat finger foods, and more chunky textures. So I will no longer need to puree and freeze things, merely set his portion of dinner aside before adding any salt or sugar (spices are totally fine).
Let’s assume he adds just about ten bucks per month to our usual grocery budget, at least for a year or two. By then all babies are eating regular food (hopefully) and no longer needing the jarred variety. And I’m sure the food costs are just exponential from there, if his love of bouncing is any indicator of how active he will be!
In contrast, the baby food at the grocery store near me has a range of prices, based on brand, volume, and whether or not it is organic. But the lowest priced baby jar I saw was 0.99 for about an ounce.
So let’s say baby eats one per day Month 4, two per day Month 5, and 3-4 per day Month 6, plus the occasional puff, squeeze pouch, or cheerios. Those add another $5 per week.
Month 4 = 0.99 x 30 =$29.70
Month 5 = 0.99 x2 x 30 = $59.40
Month 6 = 0.99 x 3 x 30 + (5×4) = $109.10
In just three months you have spent $198.20 on baby food!
Not to mention the dozens of glass and plastic pouches, containers, squeezes, lids, labels etc.
By making our own baby food, we saved approximately $179 in the first three months of solids!
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with store bought. I am not out to shame anyone. There is a huge convenience factor here. When you need to feed baby on the go, you need a container. And sometimes you just don’t want to cook. Or you want baby to try something new. These are all fine reasons to go for the gerber.
We have some pouches and containers at the ready in the pantry, because sometimes baby wants food NOW and he cannot possibly wait the 33 seconds for the cubes to be heated up. Or I want to add juuuust a little something more, so a splash of pear sauce will round out the meal. Or I just want to keep him quiet for a second with store brand cheerios. THAT IS OKAY TOO.
But, it is not just about the money.
I also care deeply about what we put into our bodies and how it impacts lifelong health. A large part of why I wanted to make my own baby’s food is that I try to also make all the adult’s food too, and make it the healthiest possible option.
Baby food is something I would trust more than adult food in general, as we usually care more for infant health (sad but true). And most baby foods are carefully regulated to not contain many of the dyes, pesticides, chemicals, etc that can be found in “regular” processed foods like sauces, pizzas, bread, cereal, and more.
But even on one-ingredient baby foods, I find myself wondering how it was processed, was there high heat and pressure? Did they deplete nutrients? Where did the carrots come from originally?
When I make it myself I no longer have to wonder.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has an interactive timeline on reported feeding habits of babies in their first year. Unfortunately it reports some discouraging trends, like a drop off around 7-9 months in fruits and vegetable consumption as non-nutritive finger foods are introduced (puffs, rice snacks, crackers, etc) and an increase in TV watching/ mobile device exposure.
“The recent Institute of Medicine Report Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies highlights what pediatricians know and have been struggling to address. The obesity epidemic is reaching our nation’s youngest children.
- Almost 10 percent of infants and toddlers have high weights for length.
- Slightly over 20 percent of children aged 2 to 5 are overweight or obese.
- Approximately one in five children is already carrying excess weight as he or she enters kindergarten.
- Children who are obese at age six have been found to have a greater than 50% chance of being obese as adults, regardless of parental obesity status.
So, whether you feed baby homemade foods or not, you should try to err on the side of variety. Make sure your baby (and you!) has a wide variety of colors throughout the day and the week. Every food has a different palette of vitamins and minerals, and you need balance over time to make sure you get them all.
Aim for 4-5 different fruits and vegetables every day, and as many as you can handle! No upper limit. And try to fit some movement into your day, whether that is doing “baby-ups” to work your arms and entertain baby, sit ups to play peek a boo, or a relaxing walk with the stroller or baby carrier. You will both feel great!