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Homemade purees are a healthy, cheap alternative to jarred food


St. Joseph News-Press (MO)

10-23-13

Oct. 23--A recent European study from the department of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow has concluded that homemade baby food contains more energy and protein and less sugar than commercially prepared store-bought baby food.

The study found that manufactured baby food, even organic brands, only contained about half of the nutritional content of foods made at home, but had a "very high" sugar content. Additionally, a 1996 Center for Science in the Public Interest report stated that store-bought baby food often included extra water and non-nutritive fillers or thickening agents like flours and starches.

While the idea of homemade baby food might sound antiquated or time consuming, it actually is no more complicated than preparing a meal for yourself. And not only does it provide your child with superior nutritional content, it better introduces their palates to new flavors and ingredients and saves a bundle of money in the process.

"I will never, ever understand why parents buy banana purees when all you have to do is pick up a fork and mash up a banana," writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in an article for Slate.com. "A single serving of the former costs more than 50 cents at my local grocery store, whereas an equivalent amount of the latter comes out to 11 cents."

Indeed, the cost of buying enough whole fruits and vegetables, whether fresh or frozen, to make a month's worth of baby food is significantly cheaper than a month's supply of jarred and prepackaged baby food, since much of what you'd be paying for are manufacturing, packaging and shipping costs.

New mom Beth Unzicker knew before her daughter was born that she wanted to make homemade baby food. She learned about the practice by reading articles and finding ideas online. She liked that she would be feeding her child less preservatives and sugar than if she were to buy jarred purees. After some trial and error, she found that making baby food turned out to be quite simple.

"We now steam or boil our fruits or veggies in minimal water with nothing extra. Once they are soft, we puree them in the water that they were boiled in. That is supposed to help keep the nutrients that are water soluble," she says.

Then she pours the purees into ice cube trays and pops them into the freezer. Once frozen, she stores all the cubes in a bag and thaws the cubes as needed. Using this process, she can make several weeks' worth of baby food in only one cooking session, which is helpful since she also works full time and goes to school.

Ms. Unzicker says she mostly uses organic fruits and vegetables from her own garden or from a local produce delivery service, Goode Food Delivered. She wants to be able to feed her child the best possible food, as well as help her develop a lifelong appreciation of fruits and vegetables.

"I think it makes it easier for her to eat a healthy diet if she starts out with good habits," she says.

Dr. Cynthia Brownfield of Heartland Pediatric and Adult Care says she is a major proponent of homemade baby food. She first became interested in the practice after noticing how intense the commercial baby food industry is on parents. It offers so many products and packaged foods in different "stages" for babies that it tricks parents into feeling ill-equipped to provide proper nutrition for their children on their own.

"The only reason to buy baby food is parental convenience, so I really wish that more people would not fall into the marketing schemes of baby foods," she says.

She says homemade food isn't just cost-effective and more nutritionally sound, it actually introduces babies and toddlers to the meal habits of the whole family.

"It will teach your child's palate to develop what the family is eating. They'll start learning the taste of what your family likes to eat," she says.

Homemade foods also taste more similar to real fruits and vegetables than jarred varieties, so young children become more familiar with the taste of these foods and therefore are less likely to reject them at an older age. This is especially important for families with specific ethnic or cultural backgrounds, whose traditional meals and flavors are not reflected in mainstream commercially prepared baby food.

Most of what a family eats around a dinner table can be customized to the right flavors and consistency for babies. Dr. Brownfield says if you've made steamed broccoli as a dinner side dish, just set some aside before adding seasonings and put it in the blender or food processor to make a quick puree.

There are many cookbooks and websites that provide recipes, meal plans and tips on how to transition children from liquids to solid foods. Ask your family doctor about certain things to avoid when making homemade baby food, such as choking hazards or foods like honey that are dangerous for children to eat before a certain age. Dr. Brownfield also points out that when thawing and reheating frozen food cubes, make sure to heat them all the way and then let them cool instead of only heating them to lukewarm so that the high heat will kill any residual bacteria that might have been left over when it was first prepared.

If you're really pressed for time and occasionally need the convenience of store-bought jarred food, just make sure to read nutrition labels instead of bold buzz words on the front of packaging to make sure the foods contain as little salt, sugar and fillers as possible.

Brooke Wilson can be reached at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.

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