Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Homemade Baby Food?

When Griffin was 5 months old, it was clear that he was ready (and I mean READY) to begin eating solid foods. When I switched prenatal care to my midwife, Lisa, a little over halfway through my pregnancy, she really stressed and held me accountable for making sure I was feeding my baby and my body the best possible foods, supplements, etc. She taught me to really examine what I put in my baby's body and encouraged me to take the time to read up on the benefits of breastfeeding. I must say, Lisa did a great job at equipping me to not just accept the status quo of society, but to put in the time and energy to research what would truly be best for Griffin. When Griffin was born, I constantly had to put that information in front of me in order to persevere through several really rough months of breastfeeding; I was so glad I did, because breastfeeding got much, much easier around the 3 month mark. When Griffin reached 5 months, I knew it was time for solid foods, and it was just as important to me to feed Griffin the best I possibly could in the solid food world as it was for me to feed him the best I possibly could in the womb as well as via breastfeeding outside the womb. After doing quite a bit of research, I was convinced that homemade baby food would be the way to go (healthwise and financially). So, I set out into the wide world of baby food making, and Griffin set out into the wide world of eating it.

Fast forward a couple months... Oliver and I had been very stretched financially, and we got Griffin and I signed up for WIC (Women with Infants and Children), a government program that provides low income mothers and children with food vouchers. Griffin's vouchers were for commercial, jarred baby foods (single fruits and vegetables) and commercial cereals. We went up north to visit my side of the family for a few weeks, and I began to feed him solely the commercial baby food for the convenience of not having to make his food while away from home. It was definitely difficult to get him to eat the jarred food...the whole time. He did not like it. During the entire 3 weeks we were gone and 2 additional weeks after we had returned home, Griffin was extremely fussy all day long and all night long. It was very common during that time for him to whine/cry the majority of the day, take 20 min. naps, and wake up every 2-3 hours through the night. He was also clearly constipated during that time. I wasn't sure if the fussiness was directly related to the constipation, but I knew something had to be done. It didn't occur to me until a couple weeks after we had gotten home that the fussiness began shortly after I began feeding him predominately commercial baby food! I switched him completely over to homemade baby food to see if that would help (I was honestly at my whit's end, people. I mean, I really felt like I had a fussy newborn again!). Within a few days, the fussiness, the nightwaking, the whining, the short naps, the constipation was GONE. GONE! ...And it has not returned. I had been convinced that homemade baby food would be best for long-term, but, I must say, I had no clue that commercial vs. homemade baby food could make such a difference in the day-to-day. After this happened, I did more research and found that there are many reasons why it is a fantastic idea to make your own baby food:

-CHEAPER! - (much) If you consider how much fresh fruits and veggies are per pound and how much processed baby food is by the pound. In many cases, it's something like 3 times more expensive.

-Easy! - (I promise) I recommend Ruth Yaron's amazing book, Super Baby Food. It tells you literally EVERYthing you need to know about preparing, storing, choosing, etc. baby food. I would say it takes about 1-2 hours TOTAL per week. I try to do a "batch session," where I prepare several fruits and vegetables and some cereal at once, which takes about an hour (not counting steaming time...which takes absolutely no attention/energy from you). The other hour is mashing up/pureeing this or that here and there and preparing each meal (2-3 minutes prep. time for each meal).

-Ingredients - You know exactly what is in your baby's food. You know that it was made from fresh, ripe, high quality fruits and veggies, and whole grains. You know it doesn't have any fillers, preservatives, added sugar or salt, or anything else.

-Preparation - You know exactly how your baby's food was prepared. You know it wasn't processed or heated too hot to kill bacteria (which winds up zapping a bunch of the vitamin/nutrient content).

-Richer Taste & Greater Texture - If you've ever popped open a jar of baby food, it is super smooth and watery and doesn't typically taste anything like the fruit or vegetable they are made from. This was always puzzling to me until I found out the intense process that takes place between the fresh fruit/veggie and the jar...the jar that can last for years on the store shelves. Wowsers. Homemade food tastes so much richer and has more varied texture than jarred food (trust me...I've tasted them side-by-side). This exposes babies to the actual flavors and textures of food, which is an important process in becoming a healthy eater down the road.

-Balanced Diet - You can create a healthy, balanced diet for your baby that includes all the right amounts of all the food groups for healthy growth and development.

-More Nutritious - You can control how you cook the food (steaming instead of boiling, etc.), and you can focus on preparing the food to retain the most nutrients. Also, because you aren't preparing food intended to be kept at room temperature on a store shelf for a year, less nutrient-zapping measures need to be taken. Yes, homemade baby food is more perishable than commercial baby food, but this is a GOOD thing. Less processing=healthier/more nutrient dense.

-VARIETY! - If you've ever grazed through the available options in the baby food aisle of any grocery store, you will see very quickly that there isn't a whole lot of variety there (even counting the "dessert" options that no pediatrician would probably recommend as part of a baby's diet). I can list what is typically available: pureed chicken, pureed turkey, sweet potato, squash, green beans, peas, carrots, corn, mangos, bananas, apples, pears, maybe prunes, endless mixtures of the aformentioned fruits/veggies [aka. no further variety], and refined, instant oatmeal, whole wheat, and rice cereals. If you were to try to just figure out a balanced diet from these items, you would not be able to! Now, when you make your own baby food, you can expose your baby to so much more variety than this. ALL fruits and veggies, ALL legumes, nuts, seeds, ALL whole grains, etc. At 9 months old (waiting 4-7 days before introducing each new food), Griffin has had (and regularly eats): avocado, banana, sweet potato, brown rice, barley, millet, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and cereal, yogurt, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, mango, papaya, butternut squash, acorn squash, yellow squash, zucchini, egg yolk, carrots, green beans, peas, apples, tahini, flaxseed, wheat germ, cantaloupe, watermelon, and kiwi. Here is Griffin's lunch one day (bread, watermelon, butternut squash, peas, and kiwi):

After my experience with Griffin's noticeable change once I switched him to jarred food, I just really began to see the huge benefits of whole, unprocessed foods in the day-to-day health and well-being of my child. It was such a night-and-day kind of change that it really brought my attention to what a difference food makes. What kind of food that is is important. I don't write this with the intention of making commercial baby food users feel guilty or anything even close to that. The intention of this post is to tell Griffin's story and to highlight the benefits of making baby food at home and the difference that has made in his life.  Don't get me wrong, I keep some commercial baby food on hand to supplement if I run out of something or if I don't have time to prepare a meal to go.  I just have experienced that it is easy, cheaper, and fulfilling as a mother and tastier, fresher, more nutritious, more balanced, and more variety for Griffin.


  1. i am so glad that you post about stuff like this! so good. you're such a good mama.

  2. how do you store the baby food? do you use ice cube trays?