There are different ways of introducing solid foods to infants. Home-made baby food is made by pureeing or blending fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats that are eaten by the family at home. Commercially prepared baby food is mass-produced and usually packaged in jars or pouches. Everyone seems to have different thoughts, but which one is safer?
Baby food first became commercially available in the late 1920s but most were still made at home.
In 2019 a study was published that questioned the safety of commercially prepared baby foods, after finding they contained heavy metals.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes a “Closer to Zero” campaign to eliminate lead and other contaminants from baby food.
Home-made and jar-bought foods both have pros and cons, such as price, convenience, nutritional value, and safety.
Experts agree that a diverse diet of both home-made foods and commercially prepared foods is a healthy and safe way to deliver proper nutrition to your child.
The history of solid baby food
Baby food became commercially available in the late 1920s, but parents were feeding their infant's homemade food long before that. Gerber was one of the first companies to offer canned baby food, which was considered a convenience. Now, commercially prepared baby food is produced by many companies and is a standard food item used in many households.
The growing concern
In 2019 a study of over 160 baby foods was published by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It looked at the safety of commercial baby foods, and the volume of heavy metals, such as:
The findings caused concern among parents and healthcare professionals. Parents and caregivers were faced with the decision of which jarred foods to feed, and how often to feed their children commercial baby food.
Soon after the study was released, companies scurried to make changes to their baby food, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) went to work to implement new safety regulations. While lead and other metals are often naturally occurring in food, children under 2 years of age are at a higher risk due to their smaller size.
“Closer to Zero” campaign
The FDA has been making progress in limiting heavy metals in food since 2019. They have developed improved testing methods, conducted surveys on common baby foods, and learned how nutrients help protect against these contaminants. Just as recently as January of 2023, the FDA has proposed a “Closer to Zero” campaign to eliminate lead and other heavy metals in children’s food, which builds on this progress.
When to introduce solid baby food
Infants are usually ready to be introduced to solid foods like pureed fruits and vegetables around 6 months of age. Try introducing one new food at a time and waiting a few days between new foods. This will help you identify if your child may have an intolerance or allergic reaction.
Signs of reaction could include:
- Stomach pain
- Coughing or breathing difficulties
If your child has any breathing difficulties call 911 immediately. If you are concerned about whether your child is developmentally ready to start solids or have concerns about allergies, talk to your pediatrician.
Home-made vs. from a jar: Which is better?
Experts agree that both commercial and homemade baby foods have pros and cons, and each is considered safe. It is widely accepted that a diverse diet is best, with slow introductions of each new food. If you are trying to determine which type is best for you and your baby when introducing solid foods, here is a breakdown:
Benefits of home-made baby food
Some parents prefer making baby food themselves. The most reported benefits are:
- Cost. Making your own baby food can reduce a family's grocery bills.
- Preservatives. You know exactly what is in the foods you prepare yourself.
- Contaminants. The potential of heavy metals may be lower.
- Nutrients. Processing at a lower heat can preserve the nutrients in food.
- Packaging. Reusable and more earth-friendly.
Benefits of commercially prepared (jar) foods
Other parents prefer to opt to use commercially prepared baby foods because of these advantages:
- Convenience. Easy to use on the go, no preparation time, and less clean up.
- Storage. Multiple jars can be bought and stored, and are good until the expiration date printed on the jar.
- Batch testing. This is done to check for the presence of contaminants or bacteria.
- Safety. The texture/thickness/chunks are age-appropriate to reduce the risk of choking.
What do the experts say?
Most experts agree that both methods are acceptable for your baby, and many recommend a blend of these. Many suggest using commercial food for convenience when going out or traveling, and home-made when you are home preparing your food.
Healthy foods when away from home
When you are out and about, but still want to offer your child fresh food, there are several options.
- Fresh fruit. Bananas and avocados can easily be mashed up for your baby. If it is too thick, you can add a small amount of breastmilk, water, or formula to help with the consistency.
- Yogurt. Another option to bring on your outing as long as you have a cold pack. If you are feeding your baby yogurt, be sure to check the sugar content. Some brands have an entire recommended daily allowance in them.
- Diced fruit. If your child has new teeth and is ready to chew, small diced fruit such as strawberries, melon, peaches, and pears are great snacks.
- Cottage cheese. If you have a cold pack or insulated pouch available.
- Hummus or unsweetened applesauce. Available in single serving sizes or you can pack them in a small container.
Parents have concerns regarding their children’s health, and nutrition is often a top priority. Most experts agree that a diverse diet is the best way to provide balanced nutrition. This helps reduce dietary toxic element exposure and gives your child a diet full of nutrients.
Both commercial and home-made foods are safe if prepared correctly. Ultimately, it is up to you to make the best decision for your child, and your lifestyle.
- Food and Drug Administration. Closer to Zero: Reducing Childhood Exposure to Contaminants from Foods.
- National Library of Medicine. Lead and cadmium contamination in a large sample of United States infant formulas and baby foods.
- Science Direct. Toxic metal exposures from infant diets: Risk prevention strategies for caregivers and health care professionals.
- Cleveland Clinic. What Are Signs That My Child Has a Food Allergy?