Commercial baby food is heated up to very high temperatures to prolong the shelf life, says Ruggiero. That process changes the color and removes some flavor. She advises clients to do the “banana test,” comparing a fresh mashed banana with a jar of banana baby food.
Swapping baby food in a jar for a made-at-home version cuts down on both costs and the piles of empty glass jars in the recycling bin.
This increasingly popular project is also the best way to set infants up for a lifetime of appreciating fresh, healthy foods, says Tina Ruggiero, a dietician and author of the cookbook “The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet.”
Ruggiero also finds that parents who make their own baby food become more aware of their own intake of fruits, vegetables and nutrients.
“When baby eats well, the whole family eats well,” she said.
Commercial baby food is heated up to very high temperatures to prolong the shelf life, says Ruggiero. That process changes the color and removes some flavor. She advises clients to do the “banana test,” comparing a fresh mashed banana with a jar of banana baby food to understand why the processed stuff might not inspire babies to grow up loving fruits and veggies.
Many commercial baby foods also contain starchy fillers, according to Ruggiero, a bad bet for growing bodies that need “energy-rich, nutrient-dense food.” Advocates for made-at-home baby food swear it takes only a few simple steps.
A little Web surfing or a baby-food cookbook can teach you the basics, says Cheryl Tallman, co-founder of Fresh Baby and co-author of the “So Easy Baby Food” cookbook. Most of these books have guidelines for the appropriate age to introduce specific foods like berries, citrus fruit and dairy.
Making baby food at home essentially entails gathering up your choice of fresh produce, cooking it, chopping it up into small pieces and pureeing it using a blender or food processor. Tallman encourages parents to make large batches of food once a week, and freeze them in ice cube trays, each cube approximating a portion.
Start by removing any skin or seeds. Tallman suggests steaming fruits and vegetables to soften them; boiling releases too many of the nutrients into the water. Steam food in a Pyrex dish in the microwave, or with a stovetop steamer insert. Save some of the steamer water and use it to puree. Baking is a good alternative for sweet potatoes and squash, she says.
For pureeing, Tallman personally prefers the food processor, though Ruggiero relies mostly on the blender.
Tallman, who lives in Michigan, likes to puree seasonal favorites like cherries or asparagus, even though they’re seldom seen in baby food formulas because they’re too expensive to mass-produce.
“Why not buy what’s seasonal and fresh?” she said.
Did you know?
- Several companies offer machines that will steam and blend baby food from start to finish. They cost about $150.
- Wandering the baby food aisle at the grocery store and checking out the flavors available is a great way to get ideas for what to make at home.