Homemade vs. Store-Bought

To make from scratch or buy is the question on every mother’s lips when it comes to baby food.

I am no stranger to questioning my mothering skills when I have opted for store-bought varieties. Like the baby food police will catch wind of the fact that I haven’t been slaving away, steaming and blending every single meal from organic sources, and will be named and shamed publicly for my sins.

As a working mommy, I get it. There just isn’t time to have lovingly prepared every single meal for my baby, made from home-grown produce from the vegetable patch in my garden. For those who can go to these lengths, that’s great (although a little annoying for the rest of us mere mortals). For the rest of us it’s about finding which option suits you (and a particular occasion) best.

These are the pros and cons to both options:

HOMEMADE BABY FOOD

It has been proven that homemade baby food is nutritionally superior to store-bought varieties. Even though many store-bought options available don’t include the harmful stuff like preservatives, pesticides or colourants, the extreme heating processes that are used to minimise bacteria and maximise shelf-life result in some of the precious nutrients being stripped away (as per a recent study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry by  Dr Nazanin Zand).

A study published in 2013 on the Nutritional Content of Commercial Weaning Food in the UK, which examined the nutritional content of 479 baby food products in the UK market (some of which line the shelves of SA retailers) found that the energy content provided from store-bought baby foods was similar to that of breast milk (which is not ideal when your baby hits the 4 month mark and has increased energy requirements). It was found that comparable homemade foods were nutritionally superior. Store-bought food was also found to be significantly smoother and sweeter tasting than homemade food, which means less variety for your little one.

Homemade baby food means knowing exactly what is going into your child’s food and, most importantly, that you are exposing your child to different tastes, textures and consistencies as they sample new foods and flavours. As your baby graduates past the initial first tastes, when finely pureed consistencies are the most palatable, they should be exposed to as many different foods and textures as possible before their first birthday. Textures form a fundamental role in your child’s sensory experiences around food. Remember that the more textures you expose your baba to, from the time they begin solids, the less likely they are to become fussy little eaters in the long-term.

Homemade food allows you to make food differently every day, from soup-like consistencies to chunky combinations. If your baby didn’t respond well to the chunky stew you gave to him yesterday, you have the option to try a smoother consistency the following day before going back to the chunkier consistency once more. Likewise, if you want to avoid a particular fruit or vegetable (potatoes and bananas are the most common culprits found in the majority of store-bought foods) you have the option to tailor your recipe accordingly.

Preparing baby food also means cooking with healthy produce that will benefit the entire household. As you experiment with different fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins in your baby’s diet, you have the opportunity to cook healthy dishes that everyone in the family can enjoy together (and potentially even con your other half into trying).

Another plus is that it is a much more cost effective option than ready-made food, which is especially true for many of the imported options on the market.

Believe it or not, preparing your own food and freezing ahead for the week means that you may be better prepared, as you’ll have access to a variety of wholesome combinations without having to run out to the shops.

STORE-BOUGHT BABY FOOD

Store-bought food on the other hand is generally a super smooth consistency which doesn’t really allow your child to become used to sampling different textures. Having said that, many store-bought options today are preservative-free and packed with nutritious produce including herbs and spices for variety. There are also a number or organic options on the market that go the extra mile in ensuring your little one is not being exposed to any pesticides or chemicals.

The up-side to store bought is undoubtedly the convenience factor. The majority of them come in easy-to-feed containers, tubs and tubes that make feeding on-the-go a pleasure. Store-bought options are fantastic for busy mommies who simply don’t have the time to concoct different food combinations from home. They are also ideal to store in the pantry for when a quick meal is needed that doesn’t require any thawing or additional preparation.

Leading retailers (‘a la Woolworths) have created their own ready-made line (found in the refrigerator section with the other ready-to-eat foods) that is similar to homemade baby food.  They come in little pots so that the food can be heated and fed to your baby directly from the packaging. These also have a lumpier consistency than the other jar and pouch options and are fantastic to freeze.

THE VERDICT

A combination.

When you have the time, lovingly  prepare homemade dishes that make use of a variety of flavours and ingredients, and can be frozen in individual servings. As a working mom, I use Sunday afternoon as my day to prepare my son’s food. Making sure all my steaming, blending, pureeing and freezing is taken care of for the week ahead.

For convenience, find the most nutritionally beneficial store-bought options (paying careful attention to buy options that have no salt, sugar, pesticides or preservatives of any kind added to them). Keep these on-hand in your pantry (or freezer for the fresh varieties)  and use them when you are going on an outing or simply don’t have the time.

In situations where you have the opportunity to do so, rather combine smooth store-bought foods with something chunky and homemade –chicken pieces, mince, tuna, cottage cheese, grated cheese or even some cut up fruit pieces will work  –  to ensure your little person is getting the best of both worlds.

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