My wife and I had our first child about 8 months ago. His name is Landry and he’s perfect.
But, he’s also expensive – or at least he could be.
According to the baby cost calculator on BabyCenter.com, Landry’s going to end up costing us $133,710 by the time he’s 18. This does NOT include college expenses. However, it’s only that “low” because of the area we live in and our modest income.
The USDA states that a family making around $60,000 – $100,000 in the suburbs will actually spend more like $250,000 (again, that’s without college added in).
Those making six-figure incomes? Over $350,000!
Food is a big part of those costs. For the first few years, you can assume that around 10% of the total expenses will be food related, and the percentage increases as they get older and hungrier.
However, that’s the average family’s expense. You don’t have to be average. There are ways to cut that figure dramatically. The two keys to feeding your bundle of joy frugally are breast milk and homemade baby food. You don’t need my help with the first one. There are LOTS of resources out there that demonstrate the many benefits of nursing your baby.
We’re going to deal with how to create simple, wholesome, inexpensive baby food, because, as I’ve already demonstrated, it can save you an awful lot of money. On average, you can estimate that preparing homemade baby food will at least cut junior’s food budget in half.
So, how do we make homemade baby food without pulling our hair out? Here are a few homemade baby food tips from our vantage point.
What tools do we use?
You’ll need a few items, but most of them are probably already sitting in your kitchen.
Blender or Food Processor – In general, food processors are usually a little more versatile and may do a better job with smaller batches, but we use our blender exclusively and it’s worked great for us thus far. The 6 blades have made a big difference.
Food mills work as well, and we have a really small one that comes with us on trips in case we’re not prepared and need to “mush something up.”
Small Coffee Grinder – Coffee grinders work great for grinding up rice in order to make homemade rice cereal. Other devices could be used too, but you want to make sure it breaks the rice down to a fine powder. Any larger chunks of rice will need to be sifted out as they may not cook fully.
Ice Cube Trays – They work well for freezing the fruits and veggies in small, quick-thaw portions.
Jars For Storage – Somebody gave us some free baby food early on, so we kept the glass baby food jars. You can do the same or you could find some other small jars or storage containers.
Vegetable Peeler – Get rid of any choking hazards.
Fortunately, baby food couldn’t be simpler. Your goal on any of these foods is to achieve an applesauce-like consistency. Remember, this isn’t your dinner – it’s the toothless wonder’s and he likes his food mushy and slightly runny. Yum.
WholesomeBabyFood.com is a fantastic resource for detailed instructions. Bookmark it and come back any time you have a question or want to try a new food.
Fruits and Veggies – Some foods, like bananas and avocado, will only need to be mashed with a fork in its raw form. However, most will need to be peeled, cooked, and pureed. Dispose of any skin that may make it difficult for your baby. Most produce varieties will also need to be cooked in order to soften it and make it easier to puree effectively. As you puree the fruit or veggie, add water or breast milk as needed in order to achieve the right consistency. The water at the bottom of the pot you’re using is good for this. That way you add back some of the nutrients that may have been lost during the cooking process.
Cereals – Grind the rice, oatmeal, millet, etc. into a fine powder, add plenty of water, and cook on the stove top like you would for your oatmeal in the morning. We tend to use a 1/4 cup of rice powder : 1 1/2 cups of water ratio when making our rice cereal, but you’re the chef, so find what works best for you and your child.
Meat – Trisha and I haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t speak with any authority, but the experts say that it simply needs to be baked or cooked in a slow cooker until done and then pureed. Once again, you may need to add some water or breast milk to thin it out a bit. As junior gets older, feel free to combine meats and veggies to create a more complex and exciting flavor.
How we save time while saving money
There’s one drawback to making your own baby food – it takes time. Going to the store and grabbing a bunch of ready-to-eat jars only takes an extra 5 minutes or so. Much like heading to McDonald’s on your way home from work or picking up the phone and ordering a pizza, convenience is usually the enemy of saving money.
So, how do we make it a bit easier (and quicker)?
Baby Food Batching
Baby food is ideal for “batching.” In other words, instead of cooking a serving size of peas each and every time junior starts to fuss, set aside some time to make two or three weeks worth of peas and freeze the leftovers, so that you’re prepared. It’ll help you in 3 valuable areas.
It is far more efficient to make 10 servings of peas at one time than it is to make 10 individual servings throughout the next several weeks. The time that it takes to make one serving isn’t that far off from the time that it takes to make 5 - 10 servings or more.
- Time it takes us to make 1 serving of peas and clean up after ourselves (beginning to end)…about 25 minutes
- Time it takes us to make 10 servings of peas and clean up after ourselves (beginning to end)…about 45 minutes
- Pretty much all of the extra time is due how the time it takes to boil a larger amount of water, as well as a longer cooking and cooling time. Much of that time is not active anyway, so go check Pinterest while you’re waiting
2. Clean Up
You make a mess once and clean it up once. Once everything is made, your only baby related dishes for the next couple weeks are the dish/jar you serve it in and a teeny-tiny spoon. Feels good, right? The time allotted to clean up hardly budges from 1 serving to 10 servings.
Batching helps you be prepared and plan effectively. All you have to do is take the single-serving container out of the freezer before feeding time to let it thaw. That’s it. Go to the freezer, grab the baby food in question, and sit it on the counter to let it thaw.
- Level of stress realizing that you need to hurry up and make some baby food for your crabby little munchkin…HIGH
- Level of stress knowing that you have plenty of baby food in the freezer and it just needs to be warmed up…LOW
Baby Food Batching, Step-By-Step
1. Stock up when there’s a sale or you can price match
That’s another benefit of batching. You have enough to last you until the next sale. You can be pickier on the price when you’re not desperate for sweet potatoes.
2. Set aside time to cook 10 – 20 servings
It’s the best time saver and it will help you stock up your freezer.
3. Focus on one food at a time
If you have plenty of time and want to spend all afternoon cooking your heart out, go for it. However, focusing on one item at a time, like carrots, is the most efficient way of batching. Cleaning up your utensils to tackle a new variety of produce and using different cooking methods will just slow you down. Frozen baby food is best when used within 3 months, so even making 30 servings at a time should be no problem.
4. Start peeling and cooking
We tend to prefer steaming in order to keep as many of the nutrients as possible. Boiling in large amounts of water can sap nutrients. Baking in an oven is a possibility too.
5. Start pureeing
Especially if the blender’s going to be pretty full, make sure you let it cool a little before sticking the food into a blender, closing the lid, and pushing “go.” You don’t want this to happen to you.
Add water or breast milk as necessary. Don’t be afraid to add liquid. It usually takes quite a bit more than a couple spoonfuls to reach the consistency of store-bought baby food – not that you have to go that far if your child can handle it.
6. Start freezing
Pour the concoction into ice cube trays or the container of your choice. We place wax paper over the ice cube trays to keep any foreign freezer particles off Landry’s food. Once the puree is frozen, we transplant them into freezer bags and label them accordingly.
Ice cube trays come in handy because their small size allows you to easily mix different foods for a more diverse meal. Instead of feeding junior a jar of nothing but carrots, you could take 1 carrot cube, 1 pea cube, and 1 rice cube and thaw each of them for a more diverse dinner. Depending on the size of your cubes, it usually takes 2 – 3 cubes to fill a 4 oz. baby food jar.
Another option is to simply freeze the food right in glass baby food jars. But, if that’s what you choose to do, make sure they’re full. The less air space the better, to avoid freezer burn.
Here’s a quick guide to what freezes well and what doesn’t. Just remember that it’s just a guide – just because it’s a little more “watery” when thawed, doesn’t mean that you should avoid freezing that particular food. Try it for yourself before you decide.
A Few More Homemade Baby Food Tips
- Don’t go TOO crazy your first time. Trying to prepare a month’s worth of apples, carrots, squash, broccoli, and chicken at the same time will drive you straight toward the shelves of your local grocery store. Start slow and work your way into it.
- Label and organize. Organization is the key. As you’re planning on what to make next, you want to have a good idea of what’s left in the freezer and how long it’s been in there.
- Some foods lend themselves to the batching process better than others. Bananas and avocados, for example, are great one or two serving foods since all you have to do is mash them up, maybe add a little water, and serve. Rice cereal is another one that we don’t freeze very often. We’ll just make enough servings to stick in the fridge for the next few days instead. It tends to get a little rubbery when frozen and it’s fairly easy to prepare as long as you have the rice already ground up and standing by. It just takes about 8 – 10 minutes on the stove top, just like you would make quick oats.
Whether it’s savings you’re after, or you just want a little more control over the ingredients in your child’s food, homemade baby food is a fairly simple solution. Yes, there’s some extra time involved. Anything homemade is going to take a little time, but, in my opinion, it’s worth it. Give it a shot and see what you think.
P.S. If you’re already making your own baby food, do you have any tips for me and the other readers?