Ready Made vs Home Cooked Food
It might appear to be a misnomer asking whether ready made or home cooked food is better for your child, but is ready made baby food really much different to home made food? There's been a backlash against jarred food in recent years, with many parents bristling just at the thought of giving jarred food to their babies. But does ready made food deserve its bad reputation? Ready made baby food certainly has it's benefits; it is very handy when you are out and about, and for those times you simply don't have time to cook home made meals. There is a huge range of different brands on the market, including brands which only use organic products. There are also very strict guidelines to what go into baby foods in the UK. The ingredients have to be baby grade quality, and commercial baby food rarely contains added salt or sugar, preservatives, artificial colours or thickeners. If you do use jarred or packaged ready made food, always check the label. Although it is rare in baby food, if you do find they contain any added salt or sugar (described as fructose, lactose, maltose, glucose, or dextrose), artificial colours, preservatives, or low nutrient thickeners (which will be labelled as corn flour, rice starch, or wheat starch), choose a different brand.
Are There Drawbacks to Pre-Made Baby Foods?
However, pre-made baby foods have to be heated and sealed at very high temperatures to preserve them. This can kill some of the nutrients; so many parents prefer to prepare home cooked meals for this reason. If you decide to cook your baby's meals, try to steam your vegetables instead of boiling or roasting them, as this method preserves the most nutrients. If you do boil or roast vegetables, don't overdo it!
The other drawback of jarred food is that the textures are often the same for each flavour (the flavours are actually quite similar too to each other, 'chicken with vegetables' often tastes exactly the same as 'cheesy vegetable bake'). If babies don't have a variety of textures in their diet it can make them more fussy when it comes to eating family meals later on and harder to get them to eat anything other than purees.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Homemade Food
If you make your own baby food, you know exactly what's in it. Although there are many brands on the market that specialise in containing no additives in them, if you cook homemade meals you don't need to label check your baby's food. You can also get your baby used to family meals from early on by setting aside a portion of what you're eating for dinner for your baby before you add any salt, sugar or butter (as long as what you're eating is healthy and age appropriate for your baby - See our article on A Guide to Introducing Solids).
Making home made food is often cheaper than buying jarred food for every meal. This isn't always the case however, as it depends on what brand baby food you buy and what ingredients you use for your home made meals. It also depends on how much waste you have. Home made food typically has less waste as you can freeze food, defrosting just what you need for your baby. Pre-made baby food are often very large portions, which only keep in the fridge for 24 hours before you need to throw them away.
Another benefit of preparing home cooked meals is that parents often get pleasure from seeing their baby enjoy their home cooked efforts, and knowing they've prepared a nutritious meal from scratch for their little one. You can also make up your own flavour combinations if you cook home made meals, rather than being restricted to the food combinations manufacturers come up with.
Drawbacks of Home Cooked Food
A drawback of home cooked food is the time it takes to prepare. Many parents feel they don't have time to prepare meals from scratch for every meal. However, although home cooking is undoubtedly more time consuming than using jars or pouches, home cooking doesn't need to take very long. Using a food processor makes it quicker to make purees than mashing it by hand, and cooking food in bulk means you can freeze what you don't need straightaway. Then all you need to do to prepare your baby's meal is to defrost what you have already made and heat it up. Buy ice cube trays or small airtight containers for handy portions. Some meals don't even need cooking, such as mashed banana, mashed ripe pear or avocado. If you are cooking dinner for the family anyway, as long as what you eat is healthy, you can puree a portion of it for your baby (before you've added any salt or sugar or spices that might be too strong for your baby, like hot chilli powder!).
It's up to you whether you decide to feed your baby ready made baby food or home cooked meals. As long as you check labels on baby food, they won't contain anything bad for your baby, and can take some of the stress out of weaning for some parents. Home made food however contains fresher ingredients, gets your baby used to different textures, and if you've ever tasted jarred baby food, probably tastes better for your little one! Many parents use a combination of ready made food and home cooked meals.