As a two-time cookbook author and a passioned home cook, I was excited to finally introduce my daughter to her first solid foods when she turned six months old. Like many moms, I was determined to make my own baby food. We even received a baby food processor to make it easier to chop, blend and whip. It was simple enough to prepare the food for her as babies eat rather simply during their first few months on solids. The only problem? She couldn’t stand it.
After the fifth meal I lovingly prepared found its way firmly on the ground, I knew I had to try something else. That something else was found in a jar with the cutest, plumpest little baby on the label. And you know what? She ate the entire jar.
I’m a firm believer in the “fed is best” motto, one I followed strongly throughout my struggle with breastfeeding. However, as someone who thoroughly reads nutrition labels and cares immensely about what goes into my family’s body, I question whether or not she’s getting the right nutrients and if we’re being responsible by giving her store-bought. So I spoke to several nutritionists to determine if there’s really that much of a difference between the two.
The Arguments for Homemade
Introducing Family Fare
There’s no doubt homemade baby food is good for your baby. Not only that, it can be more economical, especially if you’re using ingredients you already buy for your family. Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC, finds this to be the biggest advantage.
“The biggest pro for homemade food is the simple fact you feed your baby exactly what you want them to eat,” Shapiro tells Parentology. “You know what’s going into the food, portions are what you know they should be so nothing gets wasted and your child can eat the flavors the rest of your family enjoys. Plus, you’re able to get as creative as you would like or as boring as you would like. You can control what foods your child eats and when.”
The control aspect is what allured me to homemade baby food to start. And I wanted to feed my daughter the food we were eating. Isn’t that, after everything, the point of introducing solids?
“For us, commercial baby food never reflected our own family’s food, which was one of our primary goals of introducing solids to begin with,” Amy Chow, Pediatric Registered Dietician and author of Chow Down Nutrition tells Parentology.
The Price of Going Homemade
Just like anything, there are cons to homemade. The biggest being cost, as organic, healthy, fresh produce is far more expensive than buying a few pouches or jars. However, going off the argument above, it doesn’t have to cost any more than what your grocery tally already does.
“Making your own baby food doesn’t have to cost extra if you just cook what you’re making for your family,” Shapiro says. “Simply blend up the food you’re serving the rest of your family and serve it to your child (depending on what stage they are at).”
Shira Levine, RD, says homemade baby food can actually be cheaper. “The most economical choice is making your own baby food in bulk and storing it properly,” Levine tells Parentology. “This way, you make it once, then have easy reheat packs for later. I would also suggest to parents pick one or two types [of food] to make first, then see if the baby even likes it.”
The Argument for Store-Bought
Today’s baby food goes beyond mere gelatinous goo of yesteryear. “The jars and pouches feature less sugar and more textures,” Shapiro says. “Plus, there’s a larger focus to add more unique vegetables and spices found in many other cultures and the use of only organic produce.”
Chow says parents should pay careful attention to the ingredients listed on store-bought products. “The name of the product does not always reflect the ingredients used or the proportion of the ingredients. A lot of commercial baby purees are composed mainly of fruits to improve acceptability, as babies naturally prefer sweet taste.”
To Pouch or Not To Pouch
Since hitting the scene in 2008, food pouches have become a best-selling packaging option for baby food. In a New York Times article, Plum Organics Chief Executive Neil Grimmer states the popularity of pouches is an emergence of the “free-range” parenting angle and the child’s desire and ability to self-feed. Plus, the easy to use screw top makes these pouches a godsend for parents on the go.
There are cons to these convenient pouches. A study researched in a 2018 New York Times article found the easy-to-squeeze pouches could have long-standing negative effects on a child’s eating habits, even leading to obesity and overeating later in life. Many of the pouches have a slightly higher sugar content than homemade food and only come in pureed forms, which can confuse older kids on whether they’re a snack or a meal.
Combatting this is the act of creating a schedule — times when your child can enjoy a pouch as a snack and others as a meal. Buying a variety of sweet and savory pouches also alleviates the confusion.
So what’s better?
There are pros and cons to both homemade and store-bought baby food. If you have the time and means, and your child loves homemade, stick with that. If you’re struggling to afford more ingredients or don’t have time to prepare them, feed your child a healthy pouch. It all comes down to preference.
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC
Amy Chow, Pediatric Registered Dietician and author of Chow Down Nutrition
Shira Levine, RD
New York Times: Putting the Squeeze on a Family Ritual
New York Times: Rethinking Baby Food Pouches
Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD and owner of Balance One Supplements