Homemade or store-bought baby food: Which should parents choose?

By Rima Kandalaft, CHOC clinical dietician

Parents, of course, want to choose the best food to feed their infants. There are many healthy store-bought options like organic baby foods. Another option is homemade baby food. Consider the following for each option to help you decide what is best for your family:

Homemade baby food:

  • Can be less expensive.
  • Offers more control of the ingredients that go into your baby’s food.
  • Provides more choices of flavors and ability to incorporate family favorite foods.

However, homemade baby food may also take more time to prepare and safely store.

A small food processor or immersion blender is helpful for pureeing the food. You can also save time by cooking in batches. Freeze the prepared batch in ice cube trays and then store it in clean freezer bags — and make sure to label the type of food and date prepared.

Store-bought baby food:

  • Can be more expensive.
  • Is more convenient and easier to carry when on the go.
  • Ingredients and food combinations are limited by manufacturers choice.

Children under 5 years of age are at increased risk of foodborne illness. Use this table from foodsafety.gov as a guide to safely prepare and store baby food for the recommended amount of time in the refrigerator or freezer. For more information, read their article, “People at Risk: Children Under Five.”

Purees and Solids (opened or freshly made) Refrigerator Freezer
Strained fruits and vegetables 2 to 3 days 6 to 8 months
Strained meats and eggs 1 day 1 to 2 months
Meat/vegetable combinations 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months
Homemade baby foods 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months

With the pros and cons of homemade and store-bought baby foods, the best option may be a combination of both. Make use of the convenience of store-bought jars of baby food when on the go and let your baby enjoy homemade baby food the rest of the time.

Baby’s first foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies during their first six months of age. Baby foods can be introduced at about six months of age depending on when baby is developmentally ready. Cues for readiness include baby’s ability to sit with good head control, showing interest in food and opening their mouth when food is offered.

It is recommended to introduce one new food at a time every 2-3 days while watching for any allergic reactions. Another new food can then be introduced, and then you can try a combination of foods baby has already enjoyed.

A common first food is baby cereal. Start with single-ingredient cereal such as rice, oatmeal or barley. Breastmilk is low in iron and the iron stores that a baby is born with become depleted at about 4 to 6 months of age. Iron-fortified cereal, as well as meats, are important first foods for breastfed infants since they provide a good source of iron.

As baby’s food repertoire expands over the next few months, aim for variety, color and texture. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Offer soft, pureed foods. Avoid foods that can pose a choking hazard such as grapes and hotdogs.
  • Do not give honey or cereal sweetened with honey to infants under 12 months of age, due to the risk of botulism.
  • Since juice is high in sugar and low in nutrients — and can predispose to obesity — offer fruit puree instead.
  • It may take up to 8-10 tries of offering a new food before baby accepts it.

Remember to always feed with love and use those early feeding stages to instill good eating habits from the beginning!

For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program