It’s been a while since I’ve actually made baby food (my youngest is almost three!), but a co-worker of my husband’s was asking about this. I was just going to send him an email, but then I thought I might get around to it more quickly if I did a blog post about it.
Just so you know, in this post I’m not offering any advice about when you should start solid foods, when your baby is ready for particular kinds of solid foods, or any advice of that sort. I’m only sharing some ideas for avoiding the high cost of prepared baby food.
Generally speaking, I think purchased baby food is a very bad deal. The little containers might not seem that expensive (they were $.75-$1 when my kids were babies), but they contain very little food. So, the price per pound is outrageous when you compare it with regular food. For instance, you can buy an entire pound of bananas for $.50-$.60 in my area, and you’d have to hit a sale to buy even one little container of baby food bananas for that price. Similarly, you can buy a very large container of unsweetened applesauce for a few dollars, but the same amount of baby food applesauce would be far more expensive.
Probably my best advice is to look past the foods and beverages that are marketed specifically for babies, and try to find suitable alternatives that are meant for the general population. Here are some ways that I did just that.
Fruits and Vegetables
Back when I had my first baby, I put a fair amount of effort into making baby food…I froze cubes of food and came up with all sorts of exotic combinations for him. But with the advent of babies number 2, 3, and 4, I had to streamline things a bit. So, instead of making up batches of special baby food, I tried to look for regular foods that could be used for babies. For instance, bananas can be easily mashed up on demand, using a food processor, a baby food grinder, or a fork, depending on how smooth your baby’s bananas need to be.
Ripe avocados can be mashed just like bananas, and they’re a great early food to feed to your baby.
Also (thanks to my aunt for this suggestion!), plain unsweetened applesauce can be fed to most babies straight from the jar. The only difference between baby food applesauce and regular applesauce is that the baby food may be a little more finely processed. If this difference bothers you or your baby, you can just run the regular applesauce through your food processor.
With my first baby, I peeled, cooked, and processed raw fruits for him, but I found that this was actually just about as expensive as buying baby food. A cheaper and much easier alternative is to buy canned fruit. I drained and rinsed the fruit and ran it through my food processor until it reach the desired consistency. I know this seems like a less healthy option than the first, but honestly, by the time you peel and cook the raw fruit, it’s just as processed as the canned fruit is (and you’ve spent an awful lot of time and made a lot of mess!). The same process works with vegetables, although you’ll want to make sure you buy the kind without any salt.
If you have the time or inclination, you can pour the fruit or vegetable puree into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then remove the cubes to a Ziploc bag. Then the cubes can be defrosted as needed.
Baby cereal is, of course, more expensive than it needs to be. I didn’t actually end up feeding all that much cereal to my babies, but if I had, I’d have looked into making my own. This site has a good set of instructions on how to do just that.
Regular rice and oatmeal are very inexpensive foods, especially compared to the baby variety. For instance, a large canister of oatmeal can be had for about the same price of a small box of baby oatmeal.
Once your baby is ready to eat mixed foods (like the chicken dinners that are sold in jars), you can simply puree or mash whatever baby-appropriate food that you are cooking for yourself (obviously, you’re not going to want to mill up hot wings.). A mini food processor can be used, or you can use the old fashioned hand grinder.
There are all sorts of baby snack foods available now, and like most baby food, you don’t get much for your money. A very small box of baby crackers costs as much(or more than) a large box of normal crackers. And honestly, they’re really not all that different. Save yourself some money and feed your baby Cheerios or regular crackers instead.
I’m of the opinion that juice isn’t really a nutritional necessity, so I’ve mostly saved money on baby juice by having my kids drink water once they’re weaned (before they were weaned, they didn’t really drink anything but breastmilk.) Water is nigh onto free, and getting your child into the habit of drinking water is such a great idea.
Kids love juice, though, so I did let my toddlers drink some. I always diluted it by 50%, though, and I didn’t buy baby juice. Plain, unsweetened, dye-free juice works every bit as well as baby juice and it’s way cheaper.
There are other sorts of specialized baby foods that I haven’t mentioned here (baby yogurt, for example, which is no better for your baby than plain yogurt), but you probably get the basic idea:
Most baby food is fancied-up regular food, and if you buy the regular food instead, you can save lots of money.