When it comes time to for your infant to start eating solid food, is preparing it yourself any better or worse than choosing pre-made, packaged baby food?
“Both types of food have pros and cons,” says pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD.
Baby food in the jar is convenient and portable, but some parents worry about:
- Cost: It can be more expensive to buy baby food than to cook and mash fresh food yourself.
- Preservatives: The only preservative recommended in jarred foods is vitamin D. But if you blend your own, you know exactly what’s in it and don’t have to worry about navigating ingredient labels.
- Processing: Excessive heat used to kill bacteria during food processing may also dull nutrients.
- Packaging: Disposable packaging isn’t as earth-friendly as reusable dishes.
- Contaminants: Some reports have claimed that jarred baby food contains small amounts of heavy metals.
For these and other reasons, some parents opt to take the homemade route. This can be less expensive, but it also has its downsides:
- Time: Chopping, steaming and blending foods for baby can mean extra time spent in the kitchen.
- Storage: Homemade food doesn’t keep as easily as jarred food. Be sure to refrigerate or freeze cooked baby food within two hours to avoid bacteria growth.
- Texture: How lumpy is too lumpy? Food that isn’t mashed enough could be a choking hazard. And picky eaters may prefer the consistency of smoother processed food.
- Safety: Homemade food doesn’t go through the safety and quality checks that jarred food does.
So which is better?
It’s up to you. According to Schnee, the concerns aren’t dire enough to rule out either type of food. Ideally, she recommends a combination — making homemade food when you’re having dinner at home and buying jars for when you’re dining out.
“The quality of processed baby food is no longer an issue — there are high-quality, natural baby foods on store shelves now, and most well-known brands have good safety records,” she says. “But if parents want to make homemade food, it’s fine as long as they do it safely.”
Do’s and don’ts for making homemade baby food
If you choose to make baby food yourself, follow these guidelines:
- Do steam or microwave fruits and vegetables (instead of boiling them) to retain most nutrients.
- Don’t add salt, sugar or any other ingredient. Each baby food item should have only one ingredient so that it’s easier to identify any potential allergic reaction.
- Do mash or puree cooked food with small amounts of water, formula or breast milk until smooth.
- Do transfer food into ice cube trays, cover the tray with plastic wrap or a lid and freeze. Then store frozen cubes in baggies. You can thin purees before or after freezing. Each cube is equal to about 1 ounce of food.
- Don’t freeze food for more than one month. Be sure to label the bag with the date of preparation as well as the type of food.
- Do rewarm food to room temperature when it’s time to eat — but not before.
Healthy snacks for babies (and moms) on the go
No time for homemade? Busy parents can still feed their babies fresh foods that don’t come in a jar. Take one of these along on your next outing:
- Banana: Bring a little dish and a fork or spoon and mash it up.
- Avocado: Mash it up like a banana.
- Yogurt: But be sure to tote it with an ice pack.
- Diced fruit: Peaches, pears and melons are great for babies with new teeth.
- Tiny cubes of cheese: Opt for pasteurized cheeses, like mozzarella or mild cheddar, because they are less likely to contain illness-causing bacteria.