As your baby transitions from breast or bottle feeding to solids, it can be a bit overwhelming. You may have questions like how I should introduce solids to my baby or the what are the best first solid foods?
Then there is all the well-intentioned advice from family and friends on how and when you should introduce solids to your baby. They may even share stories of how their baby would not eat solids. No wonder it can be overwhelming.
Transitioning to solid food is an important milestone in your little one's life. Instilling good eating habits and teaching sound nutrition early on is essential.
Once you decide to start introducing solids to your baby, the question is whether you go for store-bought jars and pouches of infant cereals, rice-based food, fruit and vegetables or whether you should prepare meals at home.
Store-Bought vs Homemade?
The reality is that both store-bought and homemade food can provide your baby with the essential nutrients they require; it all comes down to what you are feeding them. For instance, if you give your baby homemade chocolate cookies, this will not provide them with the nutrients they need even though the item is homemade.
Nowadays, many readymade baby foods are consciously made from only natural and organic veggies and fruit. In addition, many brands ensure that there are no preservatives added.
Homemade meals are prepared by steaming, then pureeing fruit and veggies and mincing meats. These meals can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer.
Making your baby food has advantages. Along with the assurance of fresh and organic veggies and fruits, you can experiment with different foods and flavours when preparing meals for your baby.
Store-Bought Baby Food
Both store-bought and homemade food have their pros and cons. Let's have a look at the pros and cons of each below.
- Time constraints
Making baby food requires preparation time. Food must be cut, prepared, steamed, pureed, cooled and then stored in portion sizes in suitable containers in the freezer. Then the food needs to be correctly thawed and heated before serving. As many parents have a hectic schedule, it is not always possible to find the time to prepare homemade food. Adding healthy baby food to your shopping cart during the weekly shop, is oh so quick.
- Store-bought food caters for different stages
It can be challenging to know what to feed your baby and in what quantities, particularly if it is your first child. Store-bought baby food generally comes in pre-made stages with guidelines on serving amounts.
As your baby gets used to solid food, they will move through the different stages which cater for different age groups. The food in each stage is age-appropriate starting with the most finely pureed in Stage 1 and then adding texture and tastes through to Stage 3
Commercial baby food jars and packages have a longer shelf life of approximately a year when stored unopened. Of course, this varies by product. But in most cases, you will be able to keep store-bought products longer than homemade food.
- No need to invest in a food processor
Although it's unnecessary to have a fancy food processor to prepare your baby’s food, steaming and preparing it is easier with the right tools. You may also need to invest in storage containers for storing prepared foods in the freezer.
Store-bought jars and pouches are easy to put into your nappy bag or handbag; all you require is a spoon.
Store-bought baby food jars and pouches are costlier than homemade food. It adds up when you find a considerable portion of baby food is wasted or spilled here and there while feeding the baby.
- Mixed flavours
One of the significant downsides to store-bought food is that they often contain more than one fruit or veggie in a serving. These mixed jars and pouches mean that your little one does not taste each food individually which can cause challenges later when they move away from jarred food.
Unfortunately, with store-bought foods there can be unlisted preservatives added to the products to increase their shelf life.
- Not environmentally friendly
Although many jars and pouches are recyclable, many end up in landfills, which is harmful to the environment.
Now that we have discussed the benefits and drawbacks of store-bought baby food, let's evaluate whether homemade baby food is better or not?
Homemade Baby Food
- More nutritional
During the processing stage of store-bought baby food, some of the nutrients are lost. Less of these essential nutrients are lost steaming fruit and vegetables at home.
- No hidden preservatives
Although packaged baby food lists most of its ingredients, there may be unlisted preservatives added to the product. This will not be the case with the fresh vegetables and fruits that go into homemade food.
- Tastes better
One of the significant pros of homemade baby food is the ability to be able to experiment with different flavours and tastes. You can add natural spices and seasoning – this also helps introduce your baby to the kinds of foods you would usually cook at home.
- Variety in texture and consistency
All store-bought products generally have the same (standard) consistency and texture in each stage. While making your baby food, you can play with the right texture, blending more or less. You can make puree less thick initially and change over time to thicker by adding less water.
- Healthy eating habits
Homemade baby food introduces the aroma of fresh homemade food to your infant. Food in pouches and jars does not allow your baby the opportunity to see food in its natural form. The smell, the taste, and the look of homemade food will help develop healthy eating habits in your little one.
- Easier transition to eating what the family eats
Preparing your food allows you to introduce your baby to cultural foods and the types of food you cook for the family. Introducing these foods early on will make the transition from baby solids to proper meals easier as they will be used to eating the same foods you eat as a family but in a different texture. This makes sense in the long run when your food habits cultivate a love for family food and attachment within the family.
- Saves money
Homemade food is cheaper than store-bought food. Therefore, there are significant savings in making your baby's food at home.
In this fast-evolving world, everyone is busy with their daily schedule, and therefore you may not have time to cook your baby's meal from scratch. You can resolve this somewhat by cooking in bulk and storing it in portion sizes in the freezer. Then each day defrost and heat the required amount.
- It can be stressful
Although you can be confident that you are feeding your baby healthy food, you still need to ensure that you cater to their nutritional needs by providing a balanced diet incorporating the different food groups. Ensuring you are meeting all these needs does require some planning in terms of the kinds of meals you will prepare for your baby. Some parents are also concerned about storing and thawing food safely.
- Shelf life
You can store home-cooked food for a shorter period than store-bought food, which, when unopened can be stored for up to one year.
As discussed, store-bought baby food does provide your baby with their nutritional needs, and there is an increasing number of brands that only use organic ingredients. Store-bought food is also very convenient and easy to use on the go.
By comparison, homemade baby food ensures that your child has quality fresh food and develops a habit of healthy eating. Your child will get to eat a wide variety of foods, see food in its natural state and can be introduced to the kinds of foods that you already cook at home.
So, whilst making your baby's food is more time-consuming, it has more pros than store-bought food. Store-bought baby food can however form part of your baby's overall diet, especially when you are out and about and looking for convenience.