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The pros and cons of making your own baby food

The Baby Food Debate Continues

The pros and cons of making your own baby food

Choosing whether to make your own baby food, or going "jarred," is a tough call.  Here, a Hudson Valley parent shares her experiences, and writer, Jill DiGiovanni, provides "food" for thought.

Sandi Shipley, mother of one-year-old Austin, says it all. “I want to provide the best, healthiest foods for my son. I like to know exactly what is going into his food and that there are no preservatives or additives.” Sandi is not alone. Every day, Hudson Valley parents strive to make sure their babies are eating right and getting proper nutrition.

Choosing those all important first-foods is the first great opportunity to build a strong foundation for good eating habits? With so much varied information out there, it’s a challenge for parents to determine when and how to start, what foods are healthy and safe, whether to make from scratch or buy in the jar, and where to find reliable information and advice. Lots of good questions.

READ MORE: Dr. Padma Garvey says, "Don't outsource baby food!"

When and how  to start feeding solids?

Most leading child health organizations agree that it’s best to begin introducing solid foods after 6 months of age. Starting solids should be a fun experience, not a stressful one. It’s more about educating your baby about food and allowing them to try new flavors and textures at their own pace, as they get all of the nutrients they need from the breast milk or formula. 

Sarah Daubman, Poughkeepsie-based registered dietitian who teaches Infant Nutrition classes tells parents, “Good nutrition means to provide and nurture, not to deny or restrict.” Ellyn Satter, a children’s nutritional expert and author of Child of Mine, shares Daubman’s philosophy, “The key to a healthy feeding relationship is the appropriate division of responsibility. Parents decide what to feed the baby, and the baby decides whether and how much.” Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t always eat what you offer. Look at this phase as a taste-testing period meant to develop their palate.

READ MORE: Tools for making your own baby food

What are the healthiest first foods?

Before we get into the pros and cons of homemade versus store-bought, let’s review some first food recommendations from leading organizations. While they vary in their recommendations on what is the best first-food, i.e. cereal, fruits/vegetables, or protein, parents should decide based on their own research and discussions with their pediatrician. As for specifics, start by checking reliable sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and websites like wholesomebabyfood.com which provides great starter recipes.  

Starter foods include:

  • Cereals & Grains: rice, barley, oat

  • Fruits: avocado, apricots, apples, bananas, mangos, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, pumpkin

  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, acorn/butternut squash, carrots, green beans, peas, yellow squash/zucchini, parsnips

  • Protein: chicken, turkey, tofu
If you plan to feed your child a vegetarian diet, the ADA and the AAP agree, “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan-eating patterns are healthy for infants.” Just make sure the child is getting the following nutrients through food and supplementation—B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, protein and fiber. And, before making any changes in your baby’s diet, consult your pediatrician.

Homemade or store-bought 

More and more parents are now choosing to make their own baby food, which can be a fun, rewarding, cost-effective choice. Shipley says, “I love making my son’s baby food. It couldn’t be easier, just steam and puree. And, after preparing the food, I put the rest in ice cube trays and have enough for up to 10 more meals.  It’s a great savings!” To make the activity easy, there are fancy all-in-one food processors that steam and food-process, and there are simple food mills (a food prepping device that mashes and sieves soft foods) that cost less but require a little more work. If you’re unsure of your commitment, then start simple. 

READ MORE: Does introducing solid foods cause allergies?

Benefits of making baby food

  • Parents have control over what’s going into the food

  • Greater variety. You can make all different combinations

  • Reduced costs and less waste. You can make smaller portions

  • Sense of satisfaction
If you plan to make your baby food, Daubman suggests buying seasonal, local fruits and vegetables as they have the most nutrients. She says, “The more time and distance food travels to get to your plate, the more nutrients it loses along the way.” With so many fresh fruits and vegetables in season here in the Hudson Valley, the options are endless; you can make a great variety of delicious, healthy baby food.

Conversely, making baby food can be time consuming and leave some parents concerned about food safety. Daubman, who made most of her son’s food, believes there are pros and cons for both making baby food and buying jarred. Store-bought is convenient, portable, saves time, and still offers a variety of textures and food combinations. Either choice is healthy and nutritious and, ultimately, parents should choose what best fits their family, schedule, and wallet.

First step: check with your pediatrician
You can start by asking your pediatrician, or a Registered Dietitian who can assess specific nutrient and caloric needs, will work with families on meal planning, and offer detailed information regarding food safety.  Daubman points out, “But be careful, in the State of New York anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. For reliable nutrition advice, be sure to look for the RD credentials, which are backed by a scientific, evidenced-based, education.”