If you’ve ever taken a stroll down the baby food isle in a supermarket, you’ll have seen the huge variety of foods and products on offer. It can seem like a minefield! Parents often ask us which is better, homemade or shop-bought baby foods? In this blog we’ll be exploring how you can make simple nutritious homemade recipes for your baby, at the fraction of the cost and packed full of flavour. We’ll be exploring the benefits of offering homemade foods and reviewing how they compare to shop- bought baby foods.
Introducing First Foods:
The type of foods you introduce to your baby is very important. Between the ages of 6-12 months, your little one can be encouraged to try a wide variety of foods, tastes and textures. This will help them to eat and enjoy healthy family foods in their second year, and beyond. The introduction of solid foods can start with single vegetables that aren’t so sweet (this will help your baby get
used to a range of flavours). Gradually increase the amount and variety of food eaten offering a range of foods from the different food groups. Babies don’t need salt or sugar added to their food (or cooking water) – salty food isn’t good for their kidneys and sugar can cause tooth decay. First foods for babies over the age of 6 months can include a wide range of unprocessed foods, including:
Such as avocado, broccoli, butternut squash, carrot, cauliflower, courgette, peas, swede
- Good first tastes for your baby
- Try vegetables one at a time to start with so your baby becomes familiar with individual tastes. You can then try different combinations.
- Choose a variety of colours
- Use vegetables in season as this is more cost- effective.
Such as rice, porridge, pearl barley, potato, sweet potato, semolina
- A range can be offered as first foods
- Cook and mash rice and buy regular porridge and cereals, rather than buy expensive baby versions
- Cereals can be mixed with your babies normal milk (breastmilk or infant formula) or full- fat cows milk if your baby is over 6 months old.
Such as apple, banana, canned peach, kiwi, mango, melon, pineapple, watermelon
- Once your baby has accepted other savoury tastes, fruit can be introduced. Fruit is often more readily accepted than vegetables due to it’s sweet taste
- Cook fruit to soften them or mash soft fruit
- Any type of fruit can be used, including fresh, frozen and tinned. Tinned fruit should always be in juice and not syrup.
Such as egg, chicken, lamb, salmon, cod, lentils, tofu.
- These foods are a good source of important nutrients for your baby, including iron and zinc
- Offer your baby a good variety of protein foods
- Meat and fish can be given as first foods. Make sure they are cooked thoroughly and be careful of any bones or gristle.
Such as plain full- fat milk yoghurt, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, plain soya yoghurt and plain coconut yoghurt
- These foods are naturally smooth so can be mixed with other tastes and textures
- Choose unsweetened full- fat yoghurt and milk alternative products
- Avoid buying baby yoghurt and fromage frais as they are usually sweetened with sugar. Try plain or Greek yoghurt and add your own fruit!
A note on texture
When babies are introduced to solid foods, some will happily eat finger foods and mashed foods and progress quickly to a range of tastes and textures. Other babies, for example those being offered foods before 6 months or those born pre term*, may progress more slowly and start off on smooth foods given on a spoon, alongside foods they can hold themselves. The aim is to move your baby onto mashed foods and other textures as they become more confident eaters. Start to offer your baby a range of increasingly lumpy textures when they are 6 to 7 months old. For more information on suitable textures to offer your baby, check out our blog here.
Benefits of offering your baby home foods
- The taste and colour of the foods you prepare for your baby at home will be realistic so they will start to learn the sensory properties of different foods (E.g. smell, colour, taste)
- The foods you make for your baby at home will be more nutritious than shop bought foods
- Your baby can start to eat and enjoy the same foods as the rest of the family and you can enjoy mealtimes together
- You can control the texture of food and ensure it’s suitable for your baby’s needs
- Homemade foods are much cheaper than shop-brought baby foods
Free Weaning Webinar/E-guide
For lots of top tips on introducing solid foods you can book on one of our free monthly weaning webinars. Register here today! If you are not able to make one of our webinars you can also get all the information in one handy e-guide (For free access use the coupon code: earlystartnutrition). Click here to access our Feeding your Baby in the First Year e-guide
How do shop-bought foods compare?
- Shop-bought foods can be convenient to offer baby when out and about
- If you’re travelling away from home and your unsure if the food on offer is suitable for babies then shop- bought baby foods may be your preferred option
- You can draw recipe inspiration from shop-bought baby foods and make your own versions at home
Baby Foods – Key considerations if buying shop-bought baby foods
Let’s take a look at baby foods and the key things to consider if choosing home-made or shop-bought options:
Age Food Marketed From
Some baby food products state they are suitable ‘from 4 months’ despite advice to introduce solid foods from around 6 months.
Tip: Follow your own babies signs of readiness for solid foods. There are 3 clear signs, which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show that your baby is ready for their first solid foods, alongside breast milk or first infant formula. They will be able to:
- stay in a sitting position, holding their head steady
- coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth
- swallow food (rather than spit it back out)
Smooth or Lumpy
Many shop-bought foods on sale for babies in their first year are smooth or smooth with soft lumps. Your baby is likely to manage faster progression to mashed and chopped food than these products encourage.
Tip: Offer homemade foods as much as possible so you can control the food texture. If offering shop- bought foods try to offer your own soft finger foods alongside your baby’s mealtime so they can continue to develop their biting and chewing skills.
The majority of baby foods on the market are sweet. This can encourage your baby to develop a liking, and often a preference, to very sweet tastes and could means they’re less likely to accept other tastes and flavours. Baby food which appears to be savoury often has fruit added to it to make it sweeter. There is no evidence to suggest that mixing sweet flavours with vegetables helps babies to accept vegetable flavours. When fruits and vegetables are combined, the name of the product does not always reflect the main ingredient, and many of these products have a high proportion of pureed fruit, even if it is not highlighted in the name!
Tip: Always check the ingredients list of any baby food that you buy. Try to opt for dishes which contain more vegetables than fruit so that your baby is exposed to savoury tastes and flavours.
The water content of many commercial baby foods is greater than is likely to be present in home-made food, and this means that the energy density of the food is likely to be lower. It is also worth considering that shop- brought baby foods are less nutritious than the foods you can make at home. This is because the high temperatures used during the processing of baby foods can result in low levels of important micronutrients.
Tip: try to offer your baby homemade meals as often as possible. When offering shop- bought baby foods try to offer home prepared nutritious soft finger foods alongside your baby’s meals.
Explore free simple recipes via:
Baby foods are mainly sold in jars and pouches. There are concerns that babies will eat directly from the pouch. Sucking directly from the pouch should be avoided because it:
- Can have a negative impact on babies oral health
- Does not allow babies to see the food they’re eating and become familiar with it’s appearance
- Does not help you to see how much your baby has eaten
- Changes eating from a chewing to sucking experience.
Tip: always offer jar and pouched food from a spoon and avoid letting baby suck directly from the pouch.
Baby food costs significantly more than the cost of preparing foods at home yourself. For example, if you mash your own carrots, 70g would cost your 14p, while 70g of a leading baby food company would cost you 90p (and even then it’s only 82% carrots in the product).
Tip: take recipe inspiration from baby food brands and make cheaper healthier versions yourself at home.
We’ve chosen 3 of the most popular baby food dishes and created simple homemade versions. Below we outline the ingredients, cost and look of each dish. Lets take a look…
Broccoli, pears and peas
Click here to watch our recipe video
Click here to watch our recipe video
Sweet and sour chicken
Click here to watch our recipe video
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