Make Your Own Convenience Foods for Your Baby

baby eating with fingersThis is the last in a four-part series on Feeding Babies Frugally.

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Feeding Babies Frugally Series:

Part I: The Early Months

Part II: Starting Solids: When and Why

Part III: Starting Solids the Easy Way

Part IV: Make Your Own Convenience Foods for Your Baby

Parents these days are busier than ever, and the labels on those costly jars and boxes of baby food promise wonderful things. However, babies don’t eat a lot and for a few minutes in the kitchen, you can provide your baby with fresh, “whole,” and inexpensive foods. Gradually more of baby’s food will be cooked with your own. Save even more time by letting your baby eat by herself while you are in the room.

As your baby grows the expense of purchased foods will grow too. Exposing your baby to your taste in food, and developing smart cooking techniques, are long-term investments.

My guiding principle is that babies, by the time they are six or seven months old, can eat just about anything adults can. There are some restrictions, especially if there are allergies in the family, but the risk is relatively small and you should use your own judgment.

Before giving finger foods, baby should be used to swallowing textured foods from a spoon. Strap baby in the chair and always stay nearby. Babies don’t make noise when they are choking.

Here are some easy foods I served my babies when they were small:

  • Bananas. They are ready to eat when brown spots appear on the peel and after.  Mash with a fork and feed with a spoon at first. After a week or two give the baby pieces big enough to pick up with his fingers. At a lecture on childhood safety I heard a recommendation to slice through the banana lengthwise. Babies love very ripe bananas, but if you have too many you can keep them in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Sweet potatoes. I prefer to pierce them and cook them in the microwave as they hold their shape better than when cooked in a pot. Scrub well, poke with a fork, and set on high for 3-8 minutes depending on size. Check after half the time and turn over if necessary. You can bake or cook them too. I used to cut them in half and bring them to the park, feeding the baby with a spoon while the older kids played. At home you can cut them in cubes.
  • Frozen peas. Babies love to pick these up with their fingers. There’s no need to heat them up, just let them defrost slightly on the counter.
  • Oatmeal. One of the most nutritious foods out there. Cook whole oatmeal with water in the microwave, leaving it very thick so baby can pick it up with his fingers. Give him a spoon too, although in the beginning he will use his fingers. Be prepared to give baby a bath but he will soon get the hang of things.
  • Soups. When making soup, leave meat and vegetables in chunks for finger food. Feed the broth to baby with a spoon or put a very small amount in a bowl for baby to eat with a spoon or his fingers. Or give him a small amount in a cup with or without a straw. Or soak a slice of bread partially into the broth and let him eat it that way.
  • Beans and legumes. Babies love cooked dried beans, but some canned varieties are loaded with salt. Make a large batch and freeze in small portions, or flatten them out in a zippered plastic bag so you can break off as much as you need.
  • Fruits. Melons, avocados, pears, peaches, plums, apricots can all be peeled and cut into chunks. Grate apples or cook slices in the microwave for thirty seconds. Older babies can handle a raw slice of apple. Many recommend 12 months as a starting age for tropical and citrus fruits because of allergies.
  • Crackers, breads and spreads. Purchased bread and crackers, including from the bakery, often contain trans-fats, preservatives, and sugar. Choose carefully or make your own.  Spread with raw tahini (sesame paste), chumus (chickpea spread), bean dip, or ripe avocado. I used to use raw peanut butter but that is no longer recommended for babies at least in the US. If you are avoiding citrus because of allergy concerns, keep in mind that some spreads like chumus contain lemon juice.
  • Vegetables. Serve whatever you are cooking for the family, just avoid allergens and add salt later. Cooked vegetables for baby could include potatoes, carrots, zucchini, leafy greens, broccoli, peas, onions, garlic, squash, beans, beets, turnips, and more. Some recommend waiting longer with tomatoes.
  • Spices. Don’t be afraid to give babies spicy or strongly seasoned foods. Breastfed babies are already used to the mother’s taste in food. Do keep track, though, in case the baby develops an allergy.
  • Meat. Meats are high in iron and calories and suitable for an early solid food. Scrape beef so that the baby won’t get the tough fibers. Soft chunks of chicken don’t need special treatment.
  • Drinks. Give baby a small amount of water in a cup. A sippy cup delays the day when the baby will drink from a regular cup. Babies don’t need juice. Even natural juice fills up their stomach and leaves less room for real food.

Serving:

One thing that makes food convenient is packaging. So collect baby-food jars from friends, or buy small plastic containers for when you are on the go. They will need to be refrigerated or kept cold with ice, but that’s because they have no chemical preservatives.

Once you decide not to rely on processed baby foods you will find techniques that work for you.

Conclusion

Serving home-made food to your baby is the best way to get her used to the family’s menu, and to get yourself used to cooking for a family instead of just adults. As your family grows you will gradually increase the quantities, techniques, recipes and cooking equipment. If you are used to feeding your children different foods from what you eat the switch will be harder and you may find yourself cooking separate meals until your children are 18.

Several of my children have various degrees of food aversion, and one is especially particular. Some of it is just who he is, but I also believe it was my attitude had an impact.

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

Part I: The Early Months

Part II: Starting Solids: When and Why

Part III: Starting Solids the Easy Way

My Mother’s Homemade Baking Mix

School Lunch Ideas

Image: janetmck

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Comments

  1. just a note – commercial baby food jars don’t generally have preservatives. Some of the fruits have sugar so check the label, but they stay safe to eat because they’re vacuum-sealed. They’re not bad for your baby, just terrible for your wallet.

    Plus, in Israel, the variety is awful – the only veggies I can find are peas and broccoli, and only in the smallest size, and almost all the fruits are apple-based and over half have added sugar.

    You can’t use them as your primary way of feeding your baby, but they’re not terrible as a backup or for traveling.

  2. That’s true, but the cookies, biscuits and possibly the cereals do have them.

  3. There are different kinds of sippy cups. In the last 10 years or so it seems most of them have the no-spill feature, which means the baby has to suck. I never bought these; I preferred the kind where there is simply an opening in the spout, so it is more like regular drinking. My kids all learned to drink from regular cups at fairly early ages, but I liked the covers for when they felt like wandering around with their cups.

  4. I like the no-spill sippy cups because my daughter likes to turn the house into her own personal swimming pool and spill water on her brother. Different parents have different needs.

    I agree, btw, that it makes much more sense, for example, to mash up some carrot, kolrabi, and chicken from the soup for my son than to give him a jar of food when the family’s eating together, but when I have a day of train rides, taxis, and medical treatment beginning at 6:43 am (first train) planned, it’s easier to throw 2 gerbers and a spoon into my bag the night before than to worry about things being properly chilled and going bad over the course of the day.

    I’m also a big believer in the yellow box cheerios. They’re the perfect size for learning to grasp objects, have very little added sugar, and melt pretty well in a child’s mouth so they pose almost no choking hazard. I keep a small tupperware of those in my diaper bag for easy distraction. If I can avoid eating them for breakfast myself, then a box lasts about 3 weeks with two kids who seem to really like them (and a dog who sometimes grabs the leftovers), so this isn’t deadly on the budget.

    I think there’s a matter of knowing which resources to use when.

  5. “I think there’s a matter of knowing which resources to use when.”
    Of course! No one said it has to be all or nothing. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

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