Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cost of Homemade Baby Food

There are many good reasons for making homemade baby food.  One obvious reason is for the nutrition benefits.  Being able to control the quality, ingredients, and preparation of the food that we feed Kellan is really the ONLY reason that I began making his food.  I have heard arguments that it is cost effective as well but as expensive as organic produce is, I wasn't really sold on this benefit. 

I have recently started tracking how much each item costs and dividing that by how many servings I am able to get, in order to figure out how much each serving is costing us.  Finding items on sale helps lower the price but I was actually surprised at how cheap Kellan's meals really are when I break it all down.  Understandably, some meats (especially lamb and fish) are more expensive and also some of the berries, which I was not surprised by since they are usually more expensive in general.  It is also almost impossible to find store bought baby food that includes these ingredients anyway.

Doing this I also learned that we need to be more careful when buying certain foods like avocados.  We paid 3 different prices on 3 different shopping trips and the cost per serving varies a lot.  Prices also depend heavily on the store.  We have shopped at 4 different Whole Foods locations, one Fresh Market, and our own Food Lion.  Here are just a few of the cost breakdowns for some of the foods that we buy.  If the same food is listed more than once, each listing was purchased on a separate shopping trip.  I listed the name of the food, the total cost, how many servings I made from it, and how much each serving cost.


Cod Fillet $5.64 3 servings @ $1.88 each

Cod Fillet $10.33 8 servings @ $1.29 each

Lamb  $11.62  10 servings @ $1.16 each

Beef  $14.14  19.5 servings @ $0.73 each

Pork Picnic Shoulder $23.48  28 servings@ $0.84 each

Chicken  $6.75  12 servings @ $0.56 each

Chicken $10.17 13 servings @ $0.78 each

1/2 Dozen Organic Eggs (he eats yolks only) $2.99 6 servings @ $0.50


Avocado  $7.47  6 servings @ $1.25 each

Avocado on sale 2/$4 4 servings @ $1.00 each

Avocados on sale 4/$5  8 servings @ $0.63 each

Organic Blackberries $4.99 4 servings @ $1.25 each

Organic Raspberries $3.49  3 servings @ $1.16 each

Organic Strawberries  $3.49  6 servings @ $0.58 each

Organic Strawberries  $7.99 16 servings @ $0.50 each

Organic Bananas  $0.86  12 servings @ $0.07 each

Organic Bananas $1.59  12 servings @ $0.13 each

Organic Kiwi $0.69  1 serving @ $0.69 each

Organic Pears  $3.92  6 servings @ $0.65 each

Organic Mango $5.00  8 servings @ $0.63 each


Organic Zucchini  $6.81  19 servings @ $0.36 each

Organic Kale  $2.49 6 servings @ $0.42 each

Organic Spinach $3.99 4 servings @ $1.00 each

Organic Sweet Potatoes $5.65  9 servings @ $0.63 each

Organic Butternut Squash  $6.23  15 servings @ $0.42 each

Organic Eggplant  $2.92 7 servings @ $0.42 each


Stoneyfield YoBaby Simply Plain Yogurt $2.69 4 servings @ $0.67 each

Raw Mild Cheddar Cheese  $4.94  12 servings @ $0.41 each

When you compare these prices to the cost of store bought baby food it gets kind of complicated.  Most of the baby food jars that I saw in Food Lion had several different foods blended.  I also saw several that the first (meaning the largest quantity) ingredient was water.  That makes it really difficult to determine exactly how much "food" your baby is actually getting.  None of the food that I make for Kellan contains water.  All of his fruits are cooked in coconut oil and his vegetables are cooked in beef or chicken broth.  That nutritional benefit in itself makes the possibility of the small extra cost of making his food worth it to me.

I want everyone to understand that I am in no way an expert and this post is just MY opinion.  I happen to be a little bit crazy when it comes to Kellan's food and for some reason I really enjoy researching and making his food and planning his meals.  It has become a sort of hobby for me.  If I worked outside the home or had another child I don't know if I could make his food to the extent that I do now.  It is VERY time consuming.  There are also arguments now that organic vs. conventional foods are equally nutritious (I was never under the impression that conventional foods were less nutritious, I was just trying to avoid any extra chemicals or pesticide residue on produce).  I will still try to buy organic when possible.  To me, even if there is a fraction less chemicals on the foods that I use to make Kellan's food, the extra cost is worth it.   However, Kellan has had a variety of fruits and vegetables, some organic and some conventional.

These Buddy Fruits were at Food Lion for $1 each.  They are combinations of different fruits but are not certified organic.  When you can get a serving of organic banana for as little as $0.07 and a serving of organic strawberries for $0.50, you can come out cheaper making your own, especially if you aren't picky about it being organic and use conventional fruit.  Making your own also gives you the added bonus of knowing baby's food hasn't been packaged and sitting in a plastic tube (I say this but wait until you get to the bottom of this post).  Depending on the fruits contained in each one (how would you ever know the amount of each fruit used?) the cost to make it yourself could get a little more expensive, especially if you used raspberries or blackberries.  I definitely agree that these pouches would be much more convenient on-the-go.
These jars are Stage 3 and would be Kellan's current stage.  They come out to about $0.80 a jar on sale but also are not organic.  Some of the combinations are mixed vegetables and turkey, mixed vegetables and beef, sweet potatoes, apples, and squash.  While the price per serving is cheaper than I could make at home, you have no control over the variety (only have the option of the combinations that they offer) and you have no way of knowing exactly how much meat or vegetables is in each serving.  It says mixed vegetables and turkey but exactly how much turkey? How much carrot, peas, and water?

For this sweet potato jar, I like that the first ingredient is sweet potato but I wish that it didn't contain ascorbic acid or water.  I like that Kellan's sweet potato is just a baked sweet potato...that's it...I don't add any other ingredients to water it down except maybe a little unsalted organic butter for added cholesterol needed for healthy brain development.
These are actually Stage 2 but I was trying to find an organic store bought baby food option in order to compare.  They come out to be about $0.36 to $0.42 per serving each and are organic (yay!).  However I could 100% make these a whole lot cheaper at home.  Babies do not need granola in their diet at this age so I wouldn't want that to be included in Kellan's food.  The fruits included in this type of baby food could definitely be bought organic for much cheaper.  Also considering that these are 4 oz. cups and my homemade servings are 3.5-4 oz.  I could use 1/2 serving of banana and a 1/2 serving of peach/apple/strawberry to recreate this at home inexpensively.
Again, babies do not need whole grains in their diet at this stage (it has little, virtually zero nutritional value to them right now) so I would not want that included in Kellan's yogurt.  Its also not organic.  I love the YoBaby Organic Plain Yogurt and I add my own fresh fruit to it although Kellan likes it by itself too.  This Gerber Yogurt is $0.75 a serving and YoBaby is $0.70 a our yogurt is still cheaper.  It is also available in fruit flavors for the same price.
These are similar to the Gerber jars I mentioned above but they are the same price without being on sale.  They are also not organic and you are limited to only the combinations that they offer.  Again, you don't know how much of each ingredient each jar contains.  Most all of them also contain water as one of the first ingredients.

This Beech Nut jar is not organic but I do like the fact that the first two ingredients are squash and zucchini.  Although it does contain water, its the last ingredient listed so you know you are getting more vegetables than water.

This Beech Nut jar would not make a good choice in my opinion due to the high number of ingredients that I cannot pronounce and do not know what they are.  Any nutritionist will tell you to stay away from chemicals and additives that are not natural.  Baby doesn't need to be eating them and really neither do we.

I don't like this choice for 2 reasons.  Not only does it also contain chemicals (most are synthetic vitamins) and other extra additives, but water is the first ingredient, meaning there is more water in it that any other ingredient.  I would want a little more food substance for my money.

These pouches are organic and most of them contain combinations of 3 foods.  They are a lot more expensive and are $1.29 per serving.  I could totally make these for MUCH cheaper but you are paying for convenience since these are packaged in an on-the-go pouch.  I did like the food choices that they offer (spinach, mango, sweet potato, apple, carrot, etc.) although they are all so easy to make at home!  But if I didn't have the time to make it, I think these are a good option.
Gerber also offers organic fruit pouches for slightly less money on sale.  They have pretty much the same positives and negatives as the organic pouches previously mentioned.
These pouches are a little cheaper and also offer the same positives and negatives.
 Buying baby food is definitely more convenient than homemade baby food and some options are better than others.  The downsides are that you can't control the ingredients, the quantity of each ingredient, how its prepared, or the variety offered. I like that when I make Kellan's food I can make up my own combinations and can be a lot more choosy about the variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats that he eats.  Making baby food is certainly not more time efficient but to me it is worth it. 

All of this being said, I should point out the fact that I also have the time to devote to it.  I am a full time stay at home mom and Kellan is my only child.  If circumstances were different I might not be able to be as picky as I am about Kellan's food.  I firmly believe the phrase "You are what you eat" so I want Kellan's diet to be mostly made up of natural, organic, meats, vegetables, and fruits.  I don't think that granola or whole grains or any of these baby foods, harm babies, but I want to fill his belly with foods that I KNOW are the highest in nutritional value for him, not just something to fill him up.  Most of the jar baby food contains synthetic vitamins.  While I don't think these are particularly harmful, I would rather Kellan get his vitamins from foods where they are found naturally.

As far as the cost of homemade vs. store bought, sometimes its cheaper to make and sometimes its cheaper to buy.  To me, the quality of the food is more important so even if it costs a little more, making baby food is worth it in the end.

*I should also include that we are currently on an 11 day trip on the other side of the country and I broke down and bought some store bought baby food to take with us.  I have taken some of my homemade food but it was getting to be too much trouble to find a way to transport and keep cold, enough food to last the entire time we will be gone.

I bought several Plum organics, a few Happy Tot, and lots of Ella's Kitchen pouches.  I bought all of these at Target but the Happy Tot is available at Food Lion.  I mainly chose these brands because of the varieties of fruits and vegetables offered (Ella's Kitchen contains most of the same ones I make myself).  I only chose types that did not contain water and only use lemon juice as a preservative.  They were anywhere from $1.27 to $1.89 a pouch.  Definitely not cost effective but will be worth it in their convenience.

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