Saturday, September 23, 2006

Feeding Baby - Make it or Buy it?

Okay, baby food doesn't look overly expensive, but like everything else it adds up. Gerber recommends five fruits and vegetables a day, which is about $3, not counting cereal. The very best price I can get on commercial baby food is $1 for two 2 oz containers (and that's Stage 1, which he's outgrowing rapidly). I know I can pinch that penny harder!

For baby's very first foods I decided to buy commercial baby foods. I made some of Kiddo's baby food and getting purees fine and thin enough for a baby just learning to eat is tough. Oh, WIC provides us with single grain cereals, so I didn't need to worry about that. But once Baby was handling baby food well I decided to see if I could make my own cheaper.

I did have to make a small investment: a food mill. They aren't terribly expensive and I can use it for a long time. It'll be really handy when Baby can just eat mushed table food; I can pop in some of what ever we're eating and he's good to go. The model I got is very inexpensive and probably wasn't designed to last more than a couple of years Why don't I use my canning food mill? The thing is huge, it holds 5 quarts! I also didn't have it when I bought the baby food mill. This baby food mill is designed to come to the table with you if you like.

For infant foods the food mill needs a little help. I run the veggies through the mill and then I throw them in the blender. I knew from Kiddo that just throwing food in the blender doesn't work well, it leaves chunks of food. But using the mill then the blender makes a nice puree. Add water, formula or breast milk to get the desired consistency. I use the cooking water from the veggies, since formula and breast milk can go bad quickly. If you keep a sink full of hot soapy water ready while you're making baby food the clean up is really easy. Don't let baby food dry on your blender. You'll hate yourself if you do!

By the way, I'm told that a food processor works well for baby food (which makes sense), but on my budget a $12 food mill and my old blender was more practical. When I can finally get a food processor I'm not going to cut any corners, it'll be able to do everything but wash itself. And maybe even that.

When picking produce for baby food I prefer to use frozen veggies and fruits. I can get about five 1/4 cup servings from a small bag of frozen veggies, bringing us below 25 cents a serving if I catch the right sales. They've been processed in such a way to minimize bacteria and maximize freshness. Be sure to get no-salt varieties. Some fresh food seems especially suited to making baby food, like squash. But according to the feeding guidelines our pediatrician gave us, you should not make your own carrots, spinach and beets, as they can contain high levels of nitrates. Commercial baby food has been tested for nitrates.

I avoid canned vegetables and fruits, although they would probably be easier to process to a pulp. Canned veggies usually have salt added and canned fruit is almost always packed in syrup. Baby doesn't need salt and sugar issues at 6 months!

Something I'm about to try is this neato fresh food feeder. We got one for Kiddo a little late, but he enjoyed it while he used it. You insert a slice of apple or banana or other easily gnawed produce onto the base, screw the netted end over, and let baby go to town. Its great practice for self-feeding and can be helpful if Baby is teething. The net half is a pain to wash by hand; fortunately I have a dishwasher.

Starting solid foods has Baby, well, a little plugged up. Not to a distressing degree, fortunately, but you want to act before baby keeps you up all night screaming from constipation. Our pediatrician says that carrots, green beans, and prunes all help keep things moving. Turns out I can't really make any of those from scratch: Carrots are on the nitrate list, my green beans just don't seem to puree fine enough, and it's actually cheaper to buy commercial baby prunes than to buy prunes and make my own. Most feeding plans also recommend starting baby on a sippy cup of water about now. Baby won't guzzle it down; they have to learn to sip instead of suck. If they do get the hang of it fast, make sure your baby isn't filing up on water so they get proper nutrition.

I have bottles and a breast pump left from Kiddo, by Avent. I love the Avent system because they've designed it to grow with you. Their Magic Cup sippy cup spouts and handles also fit on their non-disposable bottle system - everything is interchangeable! While I haven't used bottles with Baby, I got enough sippy spouts and handles to convert some bottles at about a third the cost of getting all new infant cups.

I guess I'm a little obsessive about the whole nutrition thing. The first two years of a baby's development are absolutely critical when it comes to brain and nervous system development, not to mention the huge number of other issues you can avoid with good nutrition. Habits and tastes they develop now are shown to stick for their whole lives. For great information on infant nutrition, visit the USDA's Food and Nutrition Information Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

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