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Baby Food: To Buy or To Make?

Compare the nutritional facts of store-bought and homemade baby foods, and learn helpful storage tips.

Baby Food: To Buy or To Make?

Homemade or store-bought? For some parents, the decision is easy: stock up on small jars of pureed fruits, vegetables, and meats. Others opt to do it themselves, preparing baby food at home. Even though time is spent in planning and preparation, homemade baby food cuts costs. But homemade foods for baby aren't necessarily nutritionally superior. For example, all ready-to-eat baby fruits in jars are fortified with vitamin C; there is little produce suitable for babies that can boast similar levels in its natural state.

No matter which route you take, you must purchase the iron-fortified infant cereal that is an integral part of your baby's diet.

Make-It-Yourself Baby Food: The Basics

  • Thoroughly wash fresh produce, and remove peels, cores, and seeds. Follow strict food safety rules for preparing and storing homemade baby foods. (For more on food safety, see Food Safety for the Entire Family.)

  • Bake, broil, or stew meats. Remove the skin before serving meat and trim all visible fat. Puree in blender to desired consistency with a small amount of fluid. For older infants, chop meat and poultry into very small pieces.
  • Whenever possible, use fresh fruits and vegetables, and cook with very little water to best preserve nutrition. Don't leave produce lying around in the refrigerator for too long, either. Cook within a few days for maximum nutrition.
  • Avoid using canned fruits and vegetables with added salt or sugar.
  • Have on hand a food processor or food mill for the purpose of pureeing or mashing foods.
  • Never add honey to an infant's food. Honey can cause botulism, a food-borne illness that's dangerous for babies.
  • Serve plain foods. Reserve a portion of food for your infant and then add salt, pepper, and other seasonings you desire for the rest of the family to eat.
  • Use homemade refrigerated food within forty-eight hours after preparing.
  • When preparing pureed food in batches, freeze some in ice cube trays and cover well for later use. Label and date all containers. Always thaw the desired amount in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen countertop.
  • Never feed your baby homemade pureed beets, turnips, collard greens, or spinach. They contain naturally occurring nitrates that can result in anemia. Ready-to-eat baby food versions of these vegetables are safe because food manufacturers test for nitrates.
  • Avoid adding raw or cooked egg whites to baby's food. Egg whites may cause an allergic reaction in children under the age of one, and raw egg whites are a food-borne illness risk.
Commercial Baby Food: Best Buys

Store-bought baby foods are ready to eat, plentiful, and relatively fuss free—a plus for busy parents on the go. Choices abound in the baby food aisle, the biggest one being whether to go with organic brands. Organic food has grown in popularity with adults, many of whom desire the same for their babies. Organic baby foods such as Gerber's Organic Harvest and Earth's Best are costlier than their mainstream counterparts, largely because the organic foods industry is not as cost-efficient.

In making a decision about using organic foods, it helps to know what the certified organic label means. Put simply, organic baby foods contain plant foods grown without synthetic chemicals. The animal products used in organic baby foods have been produced without antibiotics or added hormones. Organic ingredients are free of preservatives, dyes, and waxes, too.

Whether purchasing organic baby food or the mainstream variety, always steer clear of products with added salt or sugar, including corn syrup and modified starch, as they tend to be needless fillers.

Storing Baby Food: What to Keep, When to Pitch

Label baby foods to ensure their safety. No date on your child's food? When in doubt, throw It out. Otherwise, follow this advice from the USDA about how long you may safely keep baby foods on hand.

Opened or  Freshly Made Lasts in the Refrigerator For Lasts in the Freezer For

Strained fruits and vegetables 2-3 days 6-8 months
Strained meats and eggs 1 day 1-2 months
Meat/vegetable combinations 1-2 days 1-2 months

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