A reader contacted me and asked me if I had any tips about how to feed babies healthy and nutritious meals without breaking the bank. Though many people think that to feed babies you need to purchase expensive jarred baby food, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) homemade baby food, especially jarred food, is quite hard to find locally, and when you find it, it is generally so overpriced that it puts people off. Making homemade baby food is the norm here, and is quite easy as long as you start by getting the right equipment if you don't already have the few necessary tools at home. If you don't have any special tools, that is OK as well! There are so many options and ways to feed your little one and and keep your baby happy and healthy.
I tend to do what is called baby led weaning, which is a term (nothing to do with breastfeeding, despite the weaning in the name) that just means letting your kid learn to eat real food from the start, not any special baby food purees. Instead, you let them explore various textures and taste of grown up foods, which they feed themselves. As long as proper protocols are followed to prevent babies choking, this is probably the easiest way to take care of feeding your babies- no special equipment or foods needed.
Some parents aren't comfortable with baby led weaning, and some babies prefer super fine purees, so if you want to go that route, it also is pretty easy to make your own baby food. However, unlike store bought baby food that is shelf stable, if you want to be able to make your own homemade baby food and have it ready to go, and not need to prepare it each time, you'll want to store your food in the fridge or freezer for later use in small BPA-free containers.
To start, you have to realize that when deciding what ingredients to put in your child's baby food, that for the first year, breast milk or formula are supposed to be the bulk of your child's nutrition. Baby food, while helpful, doesn't need to be a full, well rounded meal containing all the nutritional qualities that adult meals should have- protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, etc.
The purpose of a baby's first food is to teach them how to eat and digest solid foods, as well as for them to explore different tastes and textures. You should aim to give them a variety of different tastes and textures, with a focus on foods that are easier to digest at first and are non allergenic. To keep costs down, feel free to make your baby food with produce that is in season.
You can make baby foods out of any of the following (as well as many other options):
It usually is preferable to start off babies with foods that aren't likely to give a diaper rash, so acidic foods like tomatoes, peppers, and oranges are best avoided until babies stomachs mature a bit.
To make your baby's food, boil, steam, or bake your veggies or fruit if necessary (avocado, bananas, and apples can be made raw instead), and then puree with a blender, food processor, or blender stick until very fine, and then mixing it with water, breast milk, or formula until it is runny. If there are fibrous bits in the baby food, you can try to press it through a mesh strainer to make it easier for the baby to eat it when you are first starting off with baby foods, but as your baby gets more skilled at eating solids, you can start pureeing less finely and leaving little chunks in the food. No salt or spices should be added at first.
When first giving your baby a new food, give them one food at a time (for a few days in a row) so you can make sure that if your baby has any reaction, you know what the source is. Once you know your baby can tolerate that new food, you can mix it together with other foods that you've already made.
Many people say that babies shouldn't be given any spices, but babies from areas where the moms eat spicier food are often used to spicy food from the get go, as the spiciness sometimes even comes through in breast milk. So feel free to add spices to your baby's food, introducing one new spice at a time, the same way you'd be introducing each new food, to gauge a reaction, and then feel free to spice as desired. For health reasons, it is recommended to not put salt in your baby's food until they are a year old.
As the baby becomes more adept at eating solid foods, you can also introduce chicken, lentils, and egg to them, and if they have no reaction, add them to your baby's pureed food. Though I didn't do this for my own children, when I babysat infants, I often made chicken vegetable soup or lentil vegetable soup and pureed it and fed it to the children for their meals, and it went over very well.
Gradually, your babies will be eating more and more chunky foods and then transition to completely solid food, and you can just give them the same frugal and healthy foods you feed your family. Until then, no need to buy expensive baby food- making your own is a cinch.
Do you buy or make your own baby food for your babies? Or do you do baby led weaning? Any special tips to share, about how to do it as healthily and frugally as possible?