Baby Food Homemade or Store Bought? from A Dash of Science.com

Baby food: homemade or store bought?

Today I made my first batch of homemade baby food. We’ve been buying Gerber’s Supported Sitter products for a little over a month with no mishaps so I thought I’d introduce my son to homemade food. Gerber baby food seems fairly simple. All of their Supported Sitter products have only two ingredients: the produce and water. How hard could it be to replicate at home?

A lot of parents make their own baby food. So it is feasible and a good option for some families. A quick internet search generated plenty of tutorials to choose from. I looked over several and sort of followed them all. Since the process is important to the rest of this discussion, I’ve listed how I made carrot baby food.

How to Make Baby Food

  1. wash the carrots
  2. peel the carrots
  3. chop the carrots into small pieces
  4. just for good luck, I rinsed the carrots again
  5. steam the carrots until soft
  6. puree the carrots, adding water for the desired consistency
  7. portion and freeze

Since it was my first time, there were a few glitches in the process. I kept checking on the steaming vegetables, making the half hour more work than it needed to be. I also did not add enough water initially when pureeing the carrots. It takes a surprising amount of water to match the Gerber consistency.

 

Results

Homemade Baby Food

This is my homemade baby food.

 

Gerber baby food

This is the Gerber carrot baby food.

I love the bright color of the baby food I made. The two baby foods came out about the same consistency, but the Gerber one was a little smoother. They tasted about as good as baby food can taste. I honestly can’t decide which baby food I think tastes better. Mine was fresh and I could taste the sweetness right off, but the flavor died really quickly. Gerber’s was a little dull but the sweetness lingered. My son ate both readily, so I could use either in the future.

 

Why I Might Make Baby Food

If I choose to make baby food regularly it will be because it saves money. I bought a one pound bag of carrots for less than a dollar and made seven servings of baby food. I could have made more if I hadn’t used some carrots in a soup. By comparison, two servings of Gerber Supported Sitter baby food costs one dollar.

The preparation time is not bad either. It is easier and faster than several dinner recipes I know. One hour for multiple servings is great! I bet I could make a whole weeks worth of baby food in one afternoon.

 

Why I Might Buy Baby Food

The main downside to making baby food is the time it takes. I know I just said the prep time isn’t bad, but compared to opening a container of ready made baby food, the hour of prep work and dishes seems like a lot. Plus, food processors and blenders are my least favorite type of dishes to wash.

I also like that Gerber baby food can stay at room temperature until opened. This eliminates any wait time to get the food to the right temperature to serve. Plus I can take a container of food on the road without using ice packs.

 

Factors That Don’t Effect My Decision

Gerber baby food is “processed”. Processing is anything done to food. So the cutting, cooking, and blending done to homemade baby food are all processing steps. Half of the magic of cooking is in the ingredients, the other half is in the process. Baby foods have very few ingredients and quite a bit of processing because it has to be made soft enough for babies. I personally do not mind having a food plant do the grunt work for me.

Homemade baby food has hand picked ingredients. If grocery stores had amazing produce every week, this factor might be more important to me. But there are days when the selection is not that great. Gerber does a lot to ensure the produce they are using is of high quality. Check out their website for more information.

 

So which is better: homemade baby food or store bought? The answer depends on which factors are most important in baby food. Convenience? Cost? I’ll let you decide.

Comments

  1. ok, so I’ve had a question I’ve been meaning to ask you but have kept forgetting and this post brought it back. So When I go to walmart I see the gerber baby food and then there’s, what I can only assume is the walmart brand, beechnut. I’ve looked at the ingredients labels and they’re basically the same but beechnut is 10-15 cents cheaper. I only got gerber a few times and from what I remember of its consistency beechnut seems to be a little runnier but then again I could be remembering wrong…do you think it’s as good as gerber? or did they just add more water to save money to sell it for cheaper? I need a food scientists opinion 🙂

    • From what I can tell Beech-Nut is not associated with Walmart, but I might be wrong. Beech-Nut baby food being cheaper than Gerber could be because there is more water in it. There are several other possible reasons as well. Beech-Nut might have a lower cost of initial ingredients, the costs of maintaining a working company might be smaller, the company might just have a lower price to pull customers away from other baby food companies.

      If you are worried about a watered down product, compare the amount of calories per serving to several other baby food brands. Make sure they are the same food (comparing apples to oranges doesn’t help) and serving size. A difference of a few calories is not a big deal, but a significant different is cause for concern.

    • You are right Tonya. By the way Whitney, I looked at the nutrition labels of several brands of baby applesauce. Beechnut is not watering down their product 🙂

  2. Hi, I’m Jacob and Tonya’s friend and just ran across your blog when I saw it on their friends list. This is a really cool blog! I’m excited to read more of your posts and learn from your knowledge and excitement for the topic! No one may ever see my comment since the rest were posted a few months ago, but on the Beech-Nut question, it is in fact a name brand company, located in upstate New York. (Or at least they have one plant there.) I’ve passed it several times on my way to my aunt’s house. When I was a child there was also Beech-Nut gum, but I don’t think they do gum anymore. So, it is a name brand, and I kind of like it just because it gives me a little nostalgic memory and I feel a little more connection to it since I’ve passed by it. I also buy Gerber and have pureed my own, but in general I get my kids from breastmilk-only to table food pretty quickly so as to get through the specialty baby food stage rather quickly anyway. Thanks for the blog, I think it’s really interesting and fun and I hope to read more from you!

  3. So what makes the Gerber’s carrots stay edible and fine inside of the jar at room temperature? Are there preservatives added so that it maintains its taste and doesn’t require refrigeration? What do the preservatives consist of, if so? Or what is the voodoo magic that keeps it fresh and ready for infant consumption? Since I don’t understand it I feel uneasy about what exactly it is, and I would love to hear from you. Also does the carrot baby food lose nutrients the longer it goes stored/uneaten (whether homemade or no)? Also, have you done a post about expiration dates? How do food scientists determine when a food will officially expire? In the case of baby food for example what would make it considered expired?

    • Most baby foods do not include preservatives. They are able to keep at room temperature because they have been heat processed or “canned”. Canning with a boiling water bath or in a pressure cooker is a pretty common way for people to preserve their garden vegetables. In industry it is basically the same process on a larger scale. The bottled food gets cooked at such high temperatures that the bacteria inside is killed off. No new bacteria can get inside to grow because the containers are sealed.

      Foods loose some of their nutrients over time, but it is a really small amount. Minerals aren’t lost over time, but some of the more sensitive vitamins (like vitamin A) do degrade. For store bought food, you shouldn’t have to worry about the nutrient content being less than the label says until after the expiration date if you are storing it unopened in normal conditions. For homemade food, you’ll have to worry about the food spoiling before the nutrient content will become an issue.

      I’ll definitely have to write about how expiration dates are determined. I did write a post on spice expirations dates.

      • Aha! Thanks! Yeah I read your food spice expiration post (I never knew!), that’s what made me wonder.

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