Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The baby food experiment

I'm pretty sure I forgot to blog about my baby-food-making escapades last month. But if I've already written this post, I apologize. The steel trap isn't what it used to be. *Sigh*.

Last month, in an effort to save some money, I decided to make my own baby food. It was quite the process.

The things I made:
  • Carrots - bought a five pound bag of baby carrots to avoid having to peel and chop a shload of carrots. Slightly more expensive, but totally worth it in time and labor savings.

  • Peas - snap peas, two or three pounds (don't remember for sure)

  • Green beans - I bought pre-washed, pre-cut ones, again, to save a bit on time and labor. 1.5 pounds.

  • Lima beans - used frozen, one pound.

  • Apples - bought golden delicious, which worked really well. Used 10 medium.

  • Pears - bought d'anjou (the green, firm ones). Worked well, but the puree came out slightly pink-colored. Odd. Had eight medium.

  • Peaches - The fab produce place I got most of my stuff didn't have peaches yet, so I made an impulse buy of a five-pound bag of frozen peaches when I went to GFS. I probably spent too much on them, and it probably drove up my costs a bit.

  • Avocado - this was one of the easiest foods to prepare: cut, scoop, squish. Easy. It also froze a lot better than I expected. Bought two.

  • Spinach - used baby spinach, and wilted it before I pureed it. Bought a one-pound bag.

  • Sweet potatoes - bought four large.

  • I also bought summer squash, but B and I decided it was too slimy and seedy after I got it cooked, so we tossed it.

I bought the majority of my produce from this fabulous wholesale place in town. The prices were fantastic, the produce was great, and the service was amazing. I'm definitely going back there again.

I started prepping and cooking early on a Saturday morning. Naturally, the apples and pears took the longest to prepare, since I had to peel, slice, and core all of them. The carrots, peas, and beans were the easiest - rinse and dump in a pot. I did everything on the stove, with the exception of the spinach (wilted in my wok), avocado (no cooking necessary!), and sweet potatoes (baked). I don't really remember how long I cooked any one thing, but it took awhile. I had all four stove burners and the oven going at once.

When the foods were soft and squishy, I took them off the heat and drained them, reserving the cooking liquid to add back in if necessary during the pureeing stage (except for the carrots. Because of nitrates). I then let everything cool and put it in the fridge until Sunday.

Sunday, I spent a good amount of time pureeing. Not too much to explain here. Put stuff in food processor, add liquid if necessary, scrape sides a couple of times, and you're done. The lima beans were really dry and needed a lot of liquid added back in (and I probably should have added more...they're still really dry, and I mix some water in with them every time I feed them to W), and the carrots also needed some water added. Everything else was pretty much ok without additional water.

After a food was pureed, I put it in a bowl and stuck it back in the fridge so I could do all the packaging at once.

Most people you talk to or websites you read will talk about putting your baby food in ice cube trays. For various reasons, I opted to buy those little plastic salad dressing cups you get at restaurants. The genius idea came from a childless friend of mine (a guy, no less). I love it. It's so much more convenient to transport the food when it's in portion-sized cups, rather than uncontained cubes. It adds $.084 per serving. I filled each cup - which is just about the same size as a plastic container of Gerber baby food - wrote the type of food and the date on the lid, stacked it all in the deep freezer, and let it all freeze.

Overall, I'm guessing I spent about eight hours doing actual work on the food. If I included the time it took to cook everything, it would have been much longer.

I don't remember exactly how many servings of each food I made, and I can't find the paper where I wrote it all down, but here, to the best of my recollection, is how everything broke down:

  • Carrots - 24 servings

  • Peas, green beans - somewhere around 12-15 servings each

  • Lima beans - eight or so servings

  • Apples - 18-ish servings

  • Pears - 15-ish servings

  • Peaches - 20 servings

  • Avocado - five servings

  • Spinach - five to eight servings

  • Sweet potatoes - 10 or so servings

  • Total servings - 120

Costs:

  • Produce - $50; $.417 per serving

  • Packaging - $.084 per serving

  • My time - assuming the value of my time is the rate at which I'm paid at work, I spent waaaaaaaaay more money on this than I should have.

  • Cost per serving (not including labor costs) - $.501

  • Cost per serving of store-bought baby food (Gerber two-packs, at the cheapest regular price I've found) - $.43

So, making my own baby food is not, in fact, any cheaper than buying it at the store. Even if I were to get rid of the individual serving cups, it would still be $.417 per serving. I don't think saving $.013 per serving is that big a deal.

I actually really enjoyed making the baby food, and I think I'll do it again, at least for the foods that you can't find commercially (lima beans, avocado, and maybe even eggplant...I don't want the baby to have my picky palate). Not because I'm saving money, though. I like making my own because I can control the texture and thickness of the food, rather than just giving the kid the soupy stuff you buy at the store. For a younger baby, homemade may not be the best idea, since it's difficult to get the puree as smooth as those from the store - though you might be able to do it if you have a better food processor than I do. For an older babe, like mine, slightly chunkier is fine.

I've started purchasing baby meats at the store because the thought of pureeing meat ooks me out. I've also bought some fruit blends that include fruits I don't have (apples and cherries, for example). As the summer fruits come into season, and my kick-ass produce place gets them in, I'll probably buy some stuff and make some more purees. It makes me feel like a better mother, somehow. I think I'm going to continue to buy meats and fruit blends (possibly some veggie blends, too, depending on how adventurous I get here at home). If I run out of homemade food and don't have a weekend to waste on baby food, I'll probably switch back to commercial food, at least for awhile.

So, there you have it. My baby-food-making experience.

3 comments:

Amy said...

I don't even have kids, but I thought this was really interesting! Does store-bought baby food have anything added, like preservatives? How long of a shelf-life do they have? These might be some additional benefits of making your own...

Calley said...

Since most store bought baby food is mostly water and filler it's well worth your time to use fresh food to make babyfood. I did it with my son and have started to do it with my infant. I try to cook something for dinner that I will use for the babyfood and just make little portions. Of course she's only 6mo so it's easy this way now. I'll have to do the big cooking day every few weeks once she really starts eating. Check out my blog between July 1-15 for a great article on babyfood.

bringinghomebe said...

I wandered over from Lawyerish's blog and felt compelled to comment. I made all of my son's baby food, so I clearly feel that it is worth the effort. Kudos to you! In case you haven't tried this, my kiddo LOVED fruit purees semi frozen. I could buy a bag of frozen berries or tropical fruit and toss a few chunks into the blender with a bit of banana and a splash of water or juice and end up with a slightly runny sorbet that the wee person adored. Might be worth a shot. It works well for on demand servings or for freezing, no cooking required.