Store-bought baby food isn’t poison, but these tips will prove making your own isn’t rocket science, either. Find the balance that works for you.
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Is jarred baby food basically the worst thing ever? Some recent headlines might have you nodding your head yes — and then feeling like the worst parent ever for not always having time to concoct homemade purées for your baby.
The vast majority of packaged baby foods and snacks contain one or more heavy metals like arsenic or lead — with rice-based snacks and infant cereals, teething biscuits, fruit juice, and jarred carrots and sweet potatoes being the worst offenders, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures.
Which, of course, sounds terrifying. But does it really mean that you can never, ever, give your baby store-bought food again?
The answer is no, experts say. “The metal content of baby food really isn’t any more elevated than all the other food adults and older children consume every day. Parents should not be overly alarmed by this piece of news,” says Samantha Radford, PhD, a public health expert and chemist and owner of Evidence-Based Mommy.
Heavy metals are naturally present in soil, and crops like rice and vegetables that grow underground tend to take those metals up. That’s true for rice, carrots, or sweet potatoes that are used to make packaged baby food or the ingredients that you buy whole at the store, including organic ones — though rice tends to have more metals than veggies like carrots or sweet potatoes.
Still, it’s certainly worth taking steps to minimize your family’s exposure by going the homemade route when you can. “I would advise cutting back on rice-based snacks and jarred purées that contain rice,” says Nicole Avena, PhD, author of “What To Feed Your Baby and Toddler.”
Plus, Avena says, “When you opt to make purées at home, you have more control over what goes in them.”
Doing the DIY thing doesn’t have to be crazy complicated or time-consuming, either. Here, some smart tips that’ll streamline the process so making your own baby food doesn’t make you insane.
A fancy baby food maker is nice if you happen to have one. But special appliances definitely aren’t a must. All you really need to make yummy food for your little one is the following:
- Steamer basket or colander for steaming. Place a pot lid over your steamer basket for faster steaming. Try OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Steamer with Extendable Handle.
- Blender or food processor to purée ingredients. Try the Ninja Mega Kitchen System Blender/Food Processor.
- Potato masher. Use it as a low-tech alternative to a blender or food processor, or save it to make chunkier purées when your baby gets a little older. Try the KitchenAid Gourmet Stainless Steel Wire Masher.
- Ice cube trays. They’re the best for freezing individual servings of purées. Buy a bunch so you can freeze several batches of food at once. Try the OMorc Silicone Ice Cube Trays 4-Pack.
- Large baking sheet. This is useful for freezing finger foods on a flat surface so they don’t stick together in the freezer if they’re stacked up in a bag or container. Try Nordic Ware’s Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker’s Half Sheet.
- Parchment paper keeps finger foods from sticking to your baking sheets in the freezer.
- Plastic zip-top baggies can be used for storing frozen purée cubes or finger foods in the freezer.
- A permanent marker is key for labeling, so you know what’s actually in those baggies.
Sure, those mini mac and cheese cups or turkey meatloaf muffins you saw on Instagram look fun. But you don’t have to expend that kind of effort to feed your baby fresh, homemade food — especially early on.
As your little one is getting the hang of solids, focus on making basic fruit and veggie purées with single ingredients. Over time, you can start combining purées — think peas and carrots, or apple and pear — for more interesting flavor combos.
Remember the world of easy-to-prep finger foods too:
- quartered hard-boiled eggs
- sliced banana
- avocado, lightly mashed
- sliced berries
- lightly mashed chickpeas or black beans
- cubes of baked tofu or cheese
- shredded roast chicken or turkey
- cooked ground beef
- mini muffins or pancakes
- whole-grain toast strips topped with hummus, ricotta, or a thin layer of nut butter.
Your time is too precious to spend it washing and de-stemming bunches of spinach or peeling and chopping whole butternut squash. Instead, opt for frozen veggies or fruits that you can quickly microwave and pop straight into the blender or food processor with your preferred seasonings.
Save the steaming just for foods that you can’t usually find frozen — like apples, pears, or beets.
As a new parent, you’ve probably gotten pretty efficient at prepping (relatively) healthy meals and snacks for yourself. So apply the same idea for your baby’s food.
Once a week or so, dedicate an hour to prepping big batches of purées or finger foods. Nap time or after your little one has gone to bed is great for this, so you won’t be distracted or interrupted 30 times.
But if you’d rather use your baby’s snooze time to get some extra rest yourself, have your partner or another caregiver take your baby for an hour when they’re awake so you can cook in peace.
Scoop tablespoons of purées into ice cube trays and freeze them, then pop the cubes out and store them in plastic baggies for quick, easy meals.
Making finger foods like muffins or pancakes? Lay them flat on a baking sheet so they don’t get stuck together while they freeze, then bag them up.
And be sure to label each bag so you know exactly what’s inside. Within a few weeks, you’ll have built up a decent freezer stash of food options for your little one. And chances are, without labels you won’t be able to tell those peas from the green beans.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and parenting writer, former KIWI magazine editor, and mom to Eli. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.