In case you’re joining us in medias res (my favorite high school AP English class phrase, meaning “in the middle of things”), I’m Libby, a professed non-crunchy mother of two who, on a whim, decided to cloth diaper my second child. You can read about my cloth diaper vs. disposable diaper cost comparison test here…
Once I took the leap to cloth diaper my son, I figured I might as well go for the green mama trifecta (I was already nursing him) and try my hand at making baby food as well. I’d stumbled upon tons of websites touting easy-to-make baby food recipes (my personal favorite is Momtastic’s Wholesome Baby Food site) and figured it couldn’t be all that hard.
And it wasn’t hard. It was impossible. As in, impossibly addictive.
Why I Chose To Make My Own Baby Food
As I mentioned in my last cost comparison post about cloth diapering, my motivation behind being a “green” mom has nothing to do with saving the environment. Sorry, Mother Earth, but it’s Mother Bank Account that’s my priority these days. (If you want to see the supposed health benefits of making your own baby food, spend some time on the Momtastic site – they’ll give you all the info you need.) With my firstborn, I’d spent huge amounts of money on pre-made baby food. Here are the nuts and bolts of the expenses, thanks to my daughter’s immaculate baby book (anybody else notice their first child gets a completely filled-in baby book, while their second child gets a single page in a baby book?):
- 4-6 months old: 1/4-cup of rice cereal (mixed with breast milk) at breakfast, plus one 2.5 ounce jar of stage 1 baby food with dinner daily – TOTAL COST: $0.77/day
- 6-8 months old: one 4 ounce jar of stage 2 baby food with breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily – TOTAL COST: $1.53/day
- 8-12 months old: one 6 ounce jar of stage 3 baby food with breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, plus a fourth jar split between lunch and dinner – TOTAL COST: $2.72/day
Overall, from the time my daughter started solids just after turning four months old until she hit a year, I spent $464.40 on jarred baby food. I got 3780 ounces of baby food with that money, meaning I spent roughly 12.3 cents per ounce. Now, granted, I’m sure I saved here and there by using manufacturer’s coupons or by taking advantage of in-store promos and loyalty discounts, but I’d say that dollar amount is a pretty accurate reflection of our expenses at the time.
Making Your Own Baby Food
At first, the idea of making baby food for my son seemed daunting. I rarely found the time to cook meals for my husband and firstborn – how was I going to find the time, let alone the energy, to make food for the youngest member of our family?
That’s when I decided that if I was going to invest the time making baby food, I’d have to first invest in a good blender. There are a lot of options out there, including some products that market themselves specifically as baby food processors. I found these products to be nothing more than glorified blenders, and instead opted to buy a used Magic Bullet blender (that brings me to my first rule of parenting: never buy anything new, because your children will destroy it) for $10.
Next, I took a trip to my grocery store to see what produce they had in stock. Specifically, I was hunting for organic produce; I figured if I was already going to be making baby food, I might as well make it organic. I targeted organic produce on the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list; these are foods that the EWG suggests you buy organic. On the flip side, I was going to buy non-organic versions of the produce listed on the EWG’s “clean 15” list. (You can check out both lists here.)
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with my neighborhood supermarket’s organic produce options, so I made the (longer) drive to our nearest farmer’s market instead. There, I found everything I needed at a reasonable price, including:
- Apples (5-lb bag of red delicious for $4)
- Peaches (3-lb basket for $5)
- Blueberries (1 quart for $4)
- Avocado (2/$1)
- Mangoes ($1.60 ea.)
- Sweet potatoes ($0.65/pound)
- Butternut squash ($1/pound)
- Carrots (3-lb bag for $2)
I could go on, but you’re probably not interested in seeing my full shopping list. In all, I spent about $50 in baby food, which I took home and promptly pureed (again, see the Momtastic website for specific recipes; I’m not going to go into specifics here). Then, I poured the purees into ice cube trays; each cube is approximately one ounce. Ultimately, I ended up with roughly 200 cubes – equaling 400 ounces – of baby food.
You Know What They Say About The Best Laid Plans…
One of my favorite quotes from literature comes from the requisite middle school novel, “Of Mice and Men.” It goes, The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley (in plain English, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”).
And that’s exactly what happened in my case. When preparing my son’s homemade baby food menu, I forgot to take two things into account:
- I’d delayed introducing solid foods into his diet until he was more than five months old, as opposed to my daughter, who had just turned four months when she started on solids. As a result, my son was very picky at first, but as he got the hang of it, his desire to expand his menu was nearly insatiable. In other words, I didn’t have enough variety on hand to meet his demands.
- My son was a bigger baby than my daughter. At six months old, my son outweighed her six month weight by more than four pounds. As a result, he needed more food than she did; I found myself giving him six ounces at a time by about six months old, whereas my daughter had only eaten four ounces at each meal.
OK, remember that I’d spent about $464.40 on jarred baby food for my daughter over an eight month span. Also, keep in mind that my son didn’t start solid foods until he was a full five weeks older than she had been, and as I type this today, he is three weeks shy of his first birthday. That means he’s been eating solid foods a full two months less than my daughter; however, he’s always eaten roughly a third more per meal than she did. I believed those two factors would cancel each other out; I estimate I would have spent between $425-$475 over six months to feed him the pre-made baby food.
Tallying up the receipts from my shopping trips over the past six months, I’ve spent a total of $512.87 on the raw ingredients to feed my son. I used that money to make 4124 ounces of baby food. In other words, I spent 12.4 cents per ounce; that’s one-tenth of one cent more than I did to buy my daughter’s jarred food.
On top of that, I also spent $15 in start up costs ($10 for the used blender and another $5 for BPA-free ice cube trays). Additionally, I soon realized that some foods – like apples – simply weren’t worth the time and effort it took to make them, and instead bought organic apple sauce instead; that added another $25 to my overall expenses, bringing my grand totals to:
$552.87 for 4124 ounces of homemade baby food
13.4 cents per ounce
Overall, I spent more money making baby food than I likely would have spent to buy it. I suspected this would be the case early on, but – as I mentioned earlier – I found making my own baby food to be quite addictive. I found it empowering to know that all the foods my son was eating were coming directly from me, whether it be my milk or my handiwork in the kitchen.
That said, I estimate I would have saved just over $45 had I opted to buy my son’s food instead of make it. I could have put that $45 into his 529 college savings account, and at an eight percent return over the next 17 years, that could have turned into a nice chunk of change for college…
…of course, maybe he never would even get into college if not for the organic, healthy, homemade baby food I’ve served him over the past year…
I guess the jury’s still out on this one.
Reader, how much do you budget to feed your family – regardless of how old your children are?