Make Your Own Baby Food

The jarred stuff came in handy on occasion, but making your own baby food can save money and put your mind at ease about what your infant is eating.

The jarred stuff was handy on occasion, but I made all 3 of my kids homemade baby food until they transitioned to table food. Doing this saved me money (those 50-cent jars add up!) and put my mind at ease because I knew exactly what they were eating. If you're curious to try, here are some tips and starter recipes.

When to Start

Babies are ready for solid food at 4 to 6 months. Some signs to look for are: They can sit up with little support, they’re showing interest in your food and their appetite isn’t satisfied with just formula or breast milk. At this age, a baby’s tongue should be able to swallow food and not just push their tongues against the spoon. And as the old saying goes, "practice makes perfect" — it’ll take time for your little one to learn the proper skills to eat.

What to Start With

An iron-fortified, single-grain cereal (like rice cereal) is a common first food, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, no research or evidence suggests a specific order to introducing fruits, veggies or single-grain cereals. I got my kids started with Gerber’s rice cereal mixed with breast milk. One thing is certain -- introduce only one new food at a time (usually every 5 to 7 days) to make sure you catch any potential food allergies. Some good low-allergy first foods include peas, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apricots, bananas, string beans, apples and pears. Wait on tropical fruits (mango, papaya) and berries until around 9 to 12 months.

Another warning: Try different colored fruits and veggies. Infants who are introduced only orange foods (i.e. apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes) may turn orange due to an overdose in beta-carotene (it happened to my sister-in-law!). Don't worry -- it goes away once you cut back on the orange foods.

How to Make It

This is the simple part. There’s no need to add salt, herbs, spices or anything else. Infants have many more taste buds than adults (you lose your taste buds as you age), so they’re very sensitive to strong flavors. First foods should only include the fruit or veggie and water; you might also try breast milk or formula in place of water.

Here’s an example on how to make pears:

1) Wash 3 to 4 pears and slice in quarters (leave the peel on).

2) Place pears in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water (1 inch over the fruit).

3) Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until pears are fork-soft.

4) Let the pears cool 15 minutes.

5) Place pears with half the water into a blender and puree until smooth. Keep adding water until the mixture has reached a thin consistency (you want it as thin as the jarred stuff).

Make sure you end up with a thin paste -- if you don't add enough water, your child might become constipated. When I made mine, I used a hand blender, which travels well and cleans easily.

Stepping It Up

Once you introduced several foods, you can start to mix and match to create new flavors. You might try combinations like carrots and peas, sweet potatoes and pears, or apples and pears -- just follow the same steps as making the pears above.

Once your infant reaches 7 to 8 months, try introducing meats and poultry. One of the first meats for my kids was veal because it has a pretty mild flavor. I’d bring home a beautiful veal chop from the butcher and my husband would be disappointed to learn it was for the baby (I’d find it hilarious!). When cooking up the veal chop, I’d mix in some fruits or veggies that I had already introduced like sweet potatoes, peas and carrots. Just fill the pot with water so it goes 1 inch above the veal, add in the chopped veggies and boil for about 45 minutes until the veal is cooked-through and softened. One extra tip: Keep the bone in the pot while cooking your “veal stew” so the minerals get absorbed into the water (remove it before pureeing).

    Here are some more of my favorite baby food combos:
  • Veal chop, potato and pears
  • Veal chop, string beans, sweet potato, zucchini and a handful of peas
  • Chicken breast, peas and carrots
  • White or brown rice, string beans and apples
Storage Tips

Keep fresh baby food in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days or store it in the freezer for up to a month. Ice cube trays are a good way to dish out portions. Baby stores also sell single-serving freezer containers. You might try cleaning and sanitizing old store-bought baby jars to reuse -- just be sure the cap fits back on properly.

For other ideas and recipes, Food Network's Tyler Florence dedicated an entire chapter in his book Dinner At My Place to making baby food.

TELL US: Have you ever made your own baby food? Any tips or tricks to try?
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