Who ever thought paying $0.85 per serving of baby food was a good idea? I know it wasn't the parents! If you have or have had kids you know that those baby food jars add up insanely fast, especially if you have a big eater in your house. When our daughter was getting ready for that stage I learned about homemade baby food and figured we'd be trying that first, over the overpriced jars at the store. I know you can make the cereal from scratch too, but I found a store here where I could get that (even organic/all natural ones) for $0.99/box so I just did that.
I found that making baby food is really quite simple and a way to cut a huge expense from your family grocery budget. Due to the seasons my kids were born I was able to get most of my produce for them at farmer's markets or out of our garden, but that doesn't have to be the case. You'll still save a large amount of money even using organic fruits and vegetables from your local grocery stores & even more if you chose to skip the organic ones.
This is what I did. I went to the store and got several things that I wanted to make for baby food. I'd chose things that gave a good variety of nutrition, color and tastes. So my basket usually had the following items in it: a bundle of spinach, a large bag of green beans, a bag of peas, a broccoli, a cauliflower, a butternut squash, a few sweet potatoes, a few avocados and then some fruit like pears, apples, peaches, mangoes, and maybe bananas. Usually I'd spend between $15-25 for all that produce, depending on sales and amounts. I was the "mean" mom that made my kids eat their greens first. So I started with all the bitter greens for my kids. I've heard that avocado is actually an excellent first food nutritionally and it happens to be one of the easiest to make. My reasoning behind the greens first was that if I gave them the things that had a stronger taste first then they'd enjoy the rest as they got sweeter, but would've already been used to the bitter ones and not turned them down every time they were on their plate. I don't know if it really works, there really is no science to it, but neither of my kids have been picky eaters, so maybe it did help.
*To make avocado: peel it, cut it up, put it in a food processor or blender and it's done. If your baby is able to have a few chunks in their food, you could mash it with a fork even. No cooking required! :)
Once we were home I'd get to cooking. Again, this is something you want to allow a decent amount of time for because it's easiest to do a lot of it at once to avoid having to keep getting all your equipment back out. Although, if it works better for you to do a little at a time then that works just as well.
First, I wash, peel, and chop what needs it. Once I have one of the veggies prepped I start steaming it. I've read that steaming is the best method of cooking to maintain nutrients compared to other methods, so that's why I went with that option. While the first batch was steaming, I'd be prepping the next veggie. After the first one was done steaming I'd dump it all into my food processor (you could use a blender too, but the consistency may not be as smooth), add a little bit of purified water and let it do it's thing. Once it was smooth, I'd pour the prepared vegetable into ice cube trays, cover it, label it and put it in the freezer. That was the process I'd use for the next remaining fruit and vegetables until I had either run out of time, produce or ice cube trays.
The following day I'd remove my "veggie cubes" and put them into freezer zip lock bags labeled with the contents and date and store until I was ready to use them. Then I'd finish the rest of what I needed to make. There were times that I'd make it all in one day and store it in sealed containers in the fridge until my ice cube trays were ready and just fill them the next day. Having them frozen in that individual size made meals so easy because I'd take out the number my kids were eating per meal and warm it up, add cereal and it's done. It's also pretty easy to take places because I'd put a few frozen cubes in a sealed bowl and by the time I'd need it it would be thawed or I'd ask for hot water to add to it to make it warm enough for them to eat.
By the way, that one trip to the store would usually get me through 6-8 months of baby food. Of course, I'd occasionally supplement with more bananas or avocados (which I never froze, but probably could have) or adding berries, melons and other items as they were old enough to handle them. You will get A LOT of butternut squash out of one and same with the sweet potatoes, it doesn't take very much. The spinach cooks down the most and will not be a large supply.
A few things to keep in mind. It's important that you wash your food processor between each vegetable because of possible allergens that you may not know about yet. It's also not a bad idea to rinse the water and start fresh in the steamer, though I never got that specific about it.
I did keep some jars on hand for the times that we just needed the convenience of the jar, but I'd found a place here (the same one that sells the cereal for $0.99) that had jars for $0.10/jar and then they went up to $0.35/jar, but still very cheap compared to the regular price at the store.
For me the benefits out weighed the time it took on one or two days to make the food. For starters, I knew what my kids were getting. Everything was fresh produce that had never had any sugars, salts, seasonings or additives added to it. It was only steamed fruit and vegetables. The price was also a huge plus as I mentioned above, the savings are easy to see. Finally, I don't really feel like we lost most of the convenient factor either since the individual frozen cubes were easy to use.
So if you have a baby or have a friend who has a baby ready to embark down the road of food, give them the heads up--making baby food is a great alternative to Gerber!