Baby Food: Buy it or Make it Yourself?

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

When it's time for your baby to start solids, you may find yourself wondering whether to feed him store-bought baby foods or to make them at home.

Homemade baby food is often perceived as more nutritious and of higher quality, but is it worth it to make every one of baby's meals? As with most decisions, there are pros and cons for both feeding options.

Store-Bought Baby Food: What to Consider

Store-bought baby food is convenient and healthy, and, like infant formula, packaged baby food is produced following strict safety requirements.

When choosing baby's food, check the ingredients label to avoid products with added sugars and added salt. Don't be concerned if the Nutrient Facts panel registers some sodium or sugars, however. Pureed fruits and vegetables contain natural sodium and carbohydrates, including sugars, and every food, including pureed meat, naturally contains some sodium.

You may prefer store-bought organic baby food because it's environmentally friendly and because it reduces a child's exposure to fertilizers and pesticides. Animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and milk, come from livestock that is fed only organic grain and never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic foods are not genetically engineered and they are not subjected to irradiation, a way of making foods safer by killing germs.

Packaged baby food is easier than ever to understand, and to tote. Most baby food companies take the guesswork out of infant feeding by providing information on the label about the age-appropriateness of their foods. And, store-bought baby food is available in pouches that are easier to take with you than the traditional glass jars.

What You Need to Know About Homemade Baby Food

Making baby's food is not as daunting as it sounds and it offers lots of benefits. For example, parents have more control over a child's diet.

With some exceptions, your baby eats what the rest of the family eats and that may help him to become accustomed to the foods your family typically eats. And, home cooks are able to put together flavor combinations that help broaden a child's palate from early on which could help him be more accepting of new foods as he gets older.

Many parents cite a sense of satisfaction as one of the main reasons for making their baby's food. Even better, homemade baby food is less expensive.

Safety is Key

It's fine to make your own pureed vegetables, fruits, and meats for baby. But there's no suitable homemade or store-bought substitute for iron-fortified cereal. No matter what you serve your child, include iron-fortified cereal.

Before you begin baby food production in your kitchen, take a moment to review the how-to's of keeping your child safe and healthy at the March of Dimes web site, or in this book, co-authored by a registered dietitian: The Baby and Toddler Cookbook: Fresh, Homemade Foods for a Healthy Start.

Baby Food: The Bottom Line

Make your own baby food or buy it? You can do one or the other or both! Your decision should fit your lifestyle and your family's needs. No matter what method you choose, or even if you choose both, as long as your baby eats a safe, balanced diet, he will thrive and develop to the best of his ability.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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