After the first feeding decision a new mom makes-mother's milk or formula?-comes another one: homemade baby food or store-bought?
Nikolina Gubernat of Bartlett decided early on. "My mom raised my siblings and me on homemade baby food, so I wanted to do it, too," she says. "Also, I decided that it would be healthier for my baby since I knew exactly what I would be putting in the food."
"In addition to better nutrition, homemade baby food also tastes better and you can modify the texture to suit every stage of baby's development," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian.
You can experiment with more interesting ingredients, helping to shape baby's palate so he or she will grow to be a more adventurous eater. Store-bought baby food is blander, which may train baby to prefer bland food.
Often overlooked are the social and emotional benefits to feeding babies the same foods you eat. When all family members eat the same meals, often the pattern of eating together continues even when children are older.
It's environmentally friendly, too. Making your own can be considered a "green" alternative with very little material to throw into landfills or even to recycle.
"Making baby food from scratch does involve a little advance planning, but the benefits far outweigh the small time investment. Making food for baby in big batches, and then freezing them in single servings, can be a huge time saver," according to Ansel, a mother of two and author of The Baby & Toddler Cookbook.
Gubernat also discovered making her own baby food was a big money saver.
Gubernat, whose son is 1, uses the batch cooking method. "I peeled any skin, chopped up the produce, boiled it until it was softened, then blended it up in a blender or food processor (with some liquid that it was boiled in), let it cool down, poured into little 2-ounce plastic containers, and froze everything," she says.
Start with single ingredient foods. Introduce them slowly to see if baby has a reaction, such as an allergy or upset stomach. "We were once told that cereals should be baby's first food, but now we know that babies can also start with sweet fruits like apples or pears or mild vegetables like butternut squash," Ansel says.
Does baby show a fondness for a certain fruit or vegetable? Gradually combine it with other similar foods to create a new flavor favorite. For example, if he enjoys peaches, combine that with mangoes or strawberries.
Use your freezer. Cook and puree fruits and vegetables and freeze portions in ice cube trays. Once they are frozen, transfer them into a quart-sized freezer bag that you label and date. When you're ready to serve, thaw in the microwave or refrigerator. Use within six weeks of freezing.
All in all, Gubernat is satisfied with her decision to make her own. "It really was very easy and made me feel good that I did this for my son."
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.