If there was ever a time to consider making your own baby food, it might be right now.
On Thursday, February 4, Congress released an investigation that showed four leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold baby food that contained high levels of toxic heavy metals. The chemicals found included arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, which are in the World Health Organization’s top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children.
The investigators found internal communications at the companies — Gerber; Beech-Nut Nutrition Company; Nurture, Inc., which sells Happy Baby products; and Hain Celestial Group, Inc., which sells Earth’s Best Organic — that revealed the companies’ own internal testing showed levels of heavy metals far above limits set for bottled water by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They continued to sell the products regardless.
This scary news might have some parents — perhaps even you — wondering what you can do to feed your children safer food. The answer is right in your own kitchen. Making your own homemade baby food is ridiculously easy. By making baby food yourself, you will know exactly what your baby is eating.
The primary steps are simple. First, gather your ingredients.
For the youngest eaters, you’ll only need fruits and vegetables. As eaters grow, you may want to introduce more substance to their food by way of cereals like rice and barley and some simple spices. Eventually, you may introduce simple meats and beans into the mix as well.
There are seemingly endless combinations of ingredients for baby food. The blog Eating Bird Food recommends combinations like sweet potato-apple, peach-pear, apple- asparagus and pineapple-mango. Healthline suggests a number of food combinations for babies based on their age, like pea puree and brown rice cereal for babies 4 to 6 months ( the American Academy of Pediatrics says that solid food should be introduced “around six months,” but notes that some parents may start as early as four months); spinach with yams and beets and blueberries for 7 to 9 months; and more complex recipes like white fish, carrot and leek puree and baby-friendly beef stew as your baby heads towards one-year-old.
In a similar vein, the blog Baby Foode recommends combinations like red pepper and potato, carrot and nutmeg or even a simple chicken puree for babies between the ages of 4 and 6 months, and more complex combinations like pumpkin chicken, strawberry salmon and spiced pear oat babies six months or older. You can experiment to figure out your baby’s preferences.
Once you decide what to make, prepare your ingredients. Some fruits and vegetables should be steamed until soft — think sweet potatoes, apples, pears and crunchy vegetables like asparagus — before peeling and dicing. Other, softer produce, like bananas and avocados, simply need to be mashed for eating immediately or cut into chunks for pureeing with other foods..
Finally, add the ingredients to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. You may want to add water, formula or breast milk to the mix for consistency — smaller babies will do better with thinner food — and a boost of nutrients.
Once you have prepared your baby food, you can use it right away, or store it for later use. For long-term storage, baby food is best kept in the freezer, where it can be stored for about three months. Four-ounce glass mason jars are great for portioning, but you can also use ice cube trays to freeze the slurry into smaller portions and then pop them out into a freezer-safe bag. Another option is to freeze single ingredient purees in ice cube trays and mix and match them when defrosting.
To thaw, you can move to the refrigerator that night before you plan to use it, or melt the frozen food on the stovetop in a saucepan or in the microwave.
Once you get the hang of it, making your own baby food can be cost-effective and reduce your waste, as you reuse jars for storage instead of throwing them away. Plus, it will bring back your peace of mind about baby’s health while giving you more control over their diet.