Thursday, June 4, 2009

Save on Baby Food


Gerber, Beechnut, Earth's Best and others would love for you to think that only they are capable of producing food your baby will want to eat. Jarred foods definitely have their place, especially while traveling. However, there are plenty of easy ways to save money without compromising taste or nutrition.... and without spending hours in the kitchen.

The easiest way to save money is to delay introducing solids. This is known as baby-led weaning, and involves skipping purees and starting babies with soft finger foods. I haven't tried this, but some people swear by it.

Fruit is an easy place to make cuts to your baby food budget. Gerber first foods applesauce will cost you about $.50 per 2.5 oz. serving. The same serving from a jar of store brand applesauce will cost about $.11. Even if you buy the single-serve cups of applesauce it'll be cheaper. The key here is to buy "natural" applesauce. Believe it or not, the others contain added sugar or even high fructose corn syrup.

Do yourself a favor and avoid buying berry flavors of baby food as well. Typically these have a very small amount of berries and the rest is a filler like pear or apple. Buy fresh or frozen berries and cook them with a small quantity of water until they're soft. Then puree and freeze the cubes. One 1 oz cube of berries will strongly flavor applesauce, yogurt, or any other fruit. Once you've used real fruit, you'll be amazed at how darkly colored (and strongly flavored) it is compared to commercial baby food. There are some caveats regarding berries because uncooked strawberries are not recommended for infants. However, blueberries and cranberries are fair game.

Another excellent cost saving measure is mashing your own bananas. Mash and serve as needed, or mix with an equal amount of mashed avocado. (That's mashed avocado on my son's face in the picture above. Note that avocado also freezes well but will brown unless a small amount of lemon or breastmilk is added to it.) You won't find avocado in a jar, and it's a great way to add healthy fats to your child's diet. Bananas freeze well, and if you keep the skin around the uneaten portion they will stay fresh on the counter for a day. Once your baby reaches finger food stage, cut the bananas on the diagonal, then the other diagonal, so each piece is a rough triangle. These are easier to pick up.

At around nine months, you can introduce yogurt. A carton of plain whole milk yogurt is far more cost effective than Yo-Baby (especially if purchased at Target, where it is generally $1 cheaper). You can flavor it with any pureed fruit and it has no added sugar. You can also use it instead of milk or buttermilk in baked goods such as pancakes and muffins.

Vegetables are also a snap to make yourself. For sweet potatoes and butternut squash, split in half, remove the seeds, then roast in the oven until soft (30-60 minutes). Scoop out the flesh and puree with a little water. You can also puree small quantities of the vegetables you've already cooked for your own dinner. Broccoli is a good candidate (although it gives some babies gas). Green beans and peas need to be pureed a lot and some babies won't eat them unless they're strained.

There are a lot of great resources out there for making your own baby food. The book Super Baby Food is a good resource, as is the Web site Wholesome Baby Food.

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