Packaged baby food has come a long way, with plenty of organic options and yummy flavors. However, making your own baby food is a fun and easy way to save on packaging and money. Plus, you can get creative, exposing your baby to a wide variety of tastes.
Ready to get started? We’re here to show you the basics.
When to Start Solids
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends looking for several signs when you’re considering introducing your baby to solid foods.
It’s probably time to explore solid foods when your baby:
- is around six months old
- can sit without support and has good head control
- leans forward and open mouth when food is offered
- doesn’t push food out of his mouth (known as the tongue-thrust reflex)
Ultimately, your baby will let you know when he’s ready! If he lurches towards your grilled cheese sandwich and shoves it into his mouth, it might be time to start.
If in doubt, talk to your pediatrician.
Products and Supplies
Making baby food should be simple, easy, and fun! Don’t get distracted with researching top-notch products; often the simplest products will do the job.
Mashing the Food
Your goal is to make soft, pureed foods your baby can easily swallow and digest. You can start right away with a bowl and fork, mashing up soft foods like bananas and avocados.
For making a bunch of baby food, you can use a standard blender, food processor, bullet blender, or immersion blender. Most likely you already own one of these items.
There are specific baby food products out there, such as this hand-operated baby food grinder, or an all-in-one baby food steamer and blender. While they do add some convenience, these products aren’t necessary to churn out high-quality baby food. Consider the cost and also the fact that you may not use them after your baby moves on to regular food. But if they still call to you, consider putting them on your gift registry.
Think about if you want to research recipes online or in a book. If you’re the online type, all you have to do is hit up YouTube and search “baby food” for some quality instructional videos. Even the American Heart Association gets in on the fun.
If you prefer books, our favorite is The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book by Lisa Barrangou, Ph.D. This book has a step-by-step plan to make three months’ worth of baby food in just three hours. One weekend of work means your baby will be well-fed for months to come. This is perfect for busy parents juggling childcare and full-time work.
The general rule is that you can store fresh purees in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to three months.
These silicone freezer trays are perfect for freezer storage, especially since they come with lids. You can then transfer the frozen cubes to a ziplock bag. Make sure to write the date and what’s inside (you might think you can tell the difference between frozen carrots and frozen sweet potatoes, but it’s actually tough).
We suggest investing in little glass jars with labels for thawing out each day’s portion. Glass is easier to clean, whereas plastic containers can quickly stain (especially if storing beets!).
You can also buy reusable pouches for serving baby food on the go.
Watch Out for Common Allergies
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests introducing one food at a time, to make sure there are no allergies or reactions to that particular item. They recommend waiting 3-5 days before moving on to the next food.
The common allergies to watch out for are eggs, milk, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. You can still offer these foods to your baby but talk to your pediatrician if there’s a family history of allergies or reactions to any of these foods (or other foods not on this list).
Also, be aware that honey should be avoided until your child is at least 12 months old. This is because honey can be infected with botulinum-producing bacteria, which can cause botulism in infants.
Use Organic When Possible
We know organic produce can be expensive. However, if there’s ever a time to splurge, we suggest doing it when your kids are little; infants and toddlers are more susceptible to the toxins from pesticides.
More major grocery stores are now offering organic produce at affordable prices. Wait for items to go on sale, buy in bulk, and then freeze the purees. In the end, you’ll probably end up spending less than you would if you purchased pre-packaged baby food.
If you can’t swing organic food (we get it, babies cost a lot!), then at least try to avoid The Dirty Dozen, which is a list of foods that have the highest pesticide content.
Always wash fruits and veggies well before serving.
Making Your Food
It’s really not a complicated process. You wash, peel (if needed), cook (steam, bake, boil), and then blend (adding liquid if necessary). It’s up to you if you serve right away, or freeze for later.
The great thing about making your own baby food is that you can explore all sorts of unique flavor combinations. Storebought baby food is often limited to basic fruits and veggies, with a few proteins added here and there. But if you want turnips and chickpeas with a splash of nutmeg, you have to make it yourself.
Babies often respond best to a bit of sweetness, so adding in some apple puree will go a long way.
Here are some baby-approved choices to get you started:
- Sweet potato: Full of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, sweet potato is a perfect starter food since babies love the creamy texture and natural sweetness. The Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard varieties work best since they are the moistest. Peel, slice, and steam for about 15 minutes. Blend with a bit of water to reach desired consistency. Or follow this easy recipe for baked sweet potato puree.
- Carrot: Contains the antioxidant beta carotene, vitamin A, and a natural sweetness babies love. Carrot puree goes well with most fruits, veggies, and legumes. Peel, slice, and steam for 8-10 minutes. Blend with a bit of water to reach desired consistency.
- Squash: Butternut and pumpkin are some popular choices. They go well with apple puree. Peel, chop into chunks, and then steam until soft (approximately 7-10 minutes for butternut squash and 20 minutes for pumpkin).
- Apple: What baby doesn’t love the delicate sweetness of apples? Peel, cut into chunks, and then steam for 5-7 minutes. Blend with some of the cooking liquid and add a dash of cinnamon.
- Peaches and pears: These are great options if your baby is suffering from constipation (which can be common when first starting solids). Peaches don’t need to be cooked. Pears can be steamed for 5-7 minutes, using the cooking liquid to blend into a perfect puree.
- Sweet peas: You can use frozen or fresh ones. They pair well with orange veggies, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Steam until soft.
- Beans and legumes: Most babies can tolerate beans and legumes (some experts advise waiting until your baby is at least ten months old since beans are gas-inducing, but this is up to you). Either cook up dried beans from scratch or buy canned beans (without added salt). It’s recommended to steam the beans for a few minutes to make them easier to digest. You can have some fun experimenting, such as with this easy lentil and apple recipe.
- Grains: You can cook up whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, or oats (here’s a guide on cooking times for 15 popular grains), blending them with fruit and veggie purees. Or you can make your own baby cereal, grinding up the raw grains and then adding them to warm water. Keep in mind that homemade baby cereal is not fortified with iron, like storebought baby cereal. Try this quinoa ratatouille for something unique and tasty!
- Meat: We don’t suggest pureeing meat, as it usually turns into an unappealing sticky paste. Instead, chop thoroughly cooked meat into super small pieces. Avoid serving processed deli meats—these are high in nitrates, salt, and preservatives.
Try to let your baby enjoy the natural flavor of food, and avoid adding salt or sugar. If you’re making a soup or casserole for the whole family, try to leave out the salt, letting everyone add it on their own. Use other natural flavors instead, like cinnamon, nutmeg, or curry powder.
Consider Baby-Led Weaning
A new movement lets babies feed themselves, skipping purees altogether. The idea is that you serve soft foods (bananas, steamed veggies, sliced avocados) in manageable sizes, letting the baby pick up what she desires, gnawing on it in her own time.
Keep in mind that there can be a risk of choking with this method, so make sure you research it properly. Sarah Remmer, a child and family nutrition expert based in Canada, goes over the five things you need to know before you start baby-led weaning.
Be prepared; this method can get super messy! And although many baby-led weaning enthusiasts believe it’s all-or-nothing, you can do a hybrid approach, such as spoon-feeding your baby yogurt while also offering chunks of soft food for her to chew on.
Introducing your baby to solid foods should be a fun and delightful experience. Hopefully, our tips will help get you started, but there are plenty of resources out there if you get stuck.
And if you run out of time and need to buy packaged baby food, that’s okay too. Don’t feel guilty—the bottom line is that your baby is happy, healthy, and well fed.