How To Make All Your Own Baby Food On A Budget

With healthy ingredients and a little kitchen time, you can feed your baby superior food and save money doing it.

March 28, 2017
baby food on baby spoons
Image Source/getty

Strained and pureed commercial baby food and baby food pouches are a reasonably recent invention, and—as far as I’m concerned—one of the first mass-marketing boondoggles (along with disposable diapers) to ride into mainstream market acceptance on the wave of the baby boom generation. Before that, babies nursed or drank cow’s or goat’s milk for their first several months, and then slowly started eating homemade baby food made from tiny bits of soft, mashed adult food.

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That’s still a good plan. The U.S. Surgeon General and other authorities recommend that babies be fed breast milk only for the first 6 months of life. (And if you need to use formula instead, just make sure you’re using a clean one: here are the 5 most alarming ingredients found in baby formula) After that, there are other options besides store-bought baby food.

Preparing your own baby food from scratch is super-easy, saves you money, and keeps those foil pouches and tiny glass jars from being created, shipped around, and put into the recycling stream, all of which will cut down on pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Perhaps most important, by making your own organic baby food, you can keep pesticides and other toxic food additives out of their diet. Babies are far more sensitive to these chemicals than adults are—due both to their size and the rate at which they are building their brains and bodies. There are more organic, pesticide-free baby-food brands available than ever, which is great. But it's still just as easy, and much cheaper, to make your own homemade organic baby food at home. (Plus, at home, you can make sure that your baby gets a taste of the ingredients that can stave off food allergies and make them an adventurous eater—see 5 science-backed tips for feeding your baby)

You and your baby’s doctor will decide when it is time to start introducing solid food into your little treasure’s diet, and which foods to start with, but generally babies are ready by 6 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing one new food to your baby at a time, and watching for allergy, rash, or other reactions for a few days before adding another. The order you introduce them in doesn’t seem to matter, they say, but eventually your baby should be eating a variety of foods every day. (Also: Never feed honey to children under 12 months of age; spores found in honey can cause botulism in infants.)

Your doctor can also advise you on how to make sure your child gets the nutrition he or she needs. But when the time comes, here are some suggestions:

baby food
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Homemade Basic Baby Cereal

You can buy instant, organic baby cereal, but it is much less expensive and almost as easy to do it yourself.

Whir uncooked quick-cooking organic rolled oats (the type that cooks in about 5 minutes, such as these ones from Bob’s Red Mill), barley flakes, or brown rice in a blender or food processor until it’s at the desired texture (floury for beginning eaters, then more like cornmeal, then a little larger, and so forth, until your toddler is ready for the same grind you eat). Combine 1 part ground-up cereal and 3 to 4 parts water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Thin more as desired. Cook enough for a week or two and freeze individual portions to save time and cleanup.

mashes avocado
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Cheap And Easy Organic Baby Snacks

A fork and a ripe piece of produce are baby’s best friends. (Just be sure to grab organic produce when you can—here are the types of most pesticide contaminated produce to avoid when feeding your baby.) Banana or avocado can be peeled, mashed with a fork, and served raw. The yolk of a hard-boiled egg can be mashed quickly with a little added liquid for a smooth protein-rich meal. A scrambled egg mashed until it’s fine is a quick option, too, especially if you’re already cooking breakfast for yourself or the rest of the family.

For days when you’re in too much of a rush to whip up a homemade baby meal, regular store-bought applesauce (organic, unsweetened, in jars) and organic pumpkin puree are easy to find and keep in the pantry. Serve as is, or whir in a blender to make it smoother.

Organic whole-milk yogurt, preferably from grass-fed cows, is great for babies, so keep some on hand. Stick to lightly sweetened or unsweetened kinds.

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baby food pouches
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Homemade Baby Food Purees And DIY Baby Food Pouches

Cook and prep your baby food in glass or stainless steel kitchenware, to help reduce baby’s exposure to chemicals that might leech out of plastic containers or nonstick coatings. (Here are 4 safe alternatives to nonstick Teflon cookware)

Wash, peel, dice, and steam fresh or frozen organic fruits or vegetables until soft, and whir in the blender or food processor until they are as smooth as you want (smooth for beginners, chunkier for more experienced eaters). You can make a big batch all at once and freeze individual portions.

Cook organic or sustainably produced meat or fish and cut it into small chunks, whir in a blender or food processor with a little liquid. Remember, babies need good fats for their developing brains and bodies, so cuts of meat that contain some fat, such as the dark meat of poultry, are a good choice for babies, as is liver.

Keep ingredients simple: no salt, sugar, or sweeteners are needed.

To make it easy to bring prepared meals along when you take your baby on the road, scoop your baby food into reusable baby food pouches, such as the BPA-free, freezer- and dishwasher-safe Nature’s Little Squeeze reusable food pouches. (Be sure to pack them in a cooler.)

eating with baby
Noel Hendrickson/getty
Feed Baby Whatever The Rest Of The Family Is Having

All of that said, my kids mostly ate what everyone else at the table was eating, prepared with a little hand-cranked device. (Mine was called the Happy Baby Food Mill—it’s very similar to the Munchkin Baby Food Grinder, but the latter has more favorable reviews).   No electricity or carbon emissions needed: You just fill the dishwasher-safe tube with soft-cooked food, press down, turn the crank and out comes strained and ready-to-eat baby mush. Set aside baby’s portions first, before adding any seasonings, especially for very young eaters.

If you don’t mind spending a little bit more, a mini food processor is very useful to have—you can quickly blitz a cup of whatever the rest of the family is having for dinner with a little liquid, and voila! There’s baby food. Opt for a decent one, like the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus, which can also be used to pulverize nuts for pesto or to dice onions when it isn’t making baby food. 

freezing pureed carrots
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Get More Out Of Homemade Baby Food By Storing It Right

Refrigerate or freeze extra food for future meals in single portions. Reusable 4- ounce jelly jars work well.

For handy storage of larger batches, freeze dollops of food on a silicone cookie sheet or in BPA-free ice cube trays, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag for quick meals later. (Also, see how to freeze food without using plastic), and place the frozen chunks in a zip bag or other airtight freezer container. Thaw only as many chunks as needed for a meal.