How I Make My Own Baby Food and Other Frugal Parenting Tales
We’re almost eight months into this whole parenting gig and we continue to find Babywoods a rather inexpensive–and amazing–addition to our frugal lives. The overwhelming assumption and declaration is that babies are ridiculously pricey little beings. But there’s a frugal way to do just about everything in life and baby-rearing is absolutely no exception.
As a frugal friend of mine put it: babies are not expensive, parents are. Too true. We can choose to buy an absurd number of baby-related items, or we can abstain. Aside from the necessities, babies are relatively laid-back about their material possessions. Hand-me-down pre-chewed toys and pre-stained clothes are par for the course for our little nugget. She doesn’t mind and neither do we.
Thus far, I’ve chronicled our baby journey at each relevant stage:
- Starting with pregnancy
- Then a foray into frugal maternity clothes
- Moving onto preparing the nursery
- The birth itself
- Our frugal childcare solution
- And most recently, the gear we found worthwhile for the infant stage of life
Now that those nascent infant months have eclipsed, Babywoods’ personality is shining through as she learns, develops, smiles, grabs/eats toys, grabs/eats parents, tries to grab/eat Frugal Hound, and generally enjoys life as a small person who now knows how to sit up. Since we’ve graduated past the crying baked potato phase and into the “I look like a storybook baby” phase (every parent reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about… ), I thought an update on our frugal baby-rearing tactics was apropos.
I Eat Food!
One of the most substantial milestones at present is Babywoods’ newfound ability to eat food! She continues to breastfeed but also downs two meals a day. This child loves food (I wonder where she got that from… ).
When it comes time for babies to munch vittles, you can choose between essentially the same options as we adults have: pre-made or homemade. And the trade-offs are also essentially the same: pre-made is more convenient, but homemade is cheaper and delivers the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients you’re putting in your baby’s mouth.
In light of these upsides, we’ve gone the homemade route (surprising exactly zero people), which is proving quite easy and thrifty indeed. My process for getting food on Babywoods’ tray is as follows:
- Cook/steam the desired food item
- Puree said food
- Spoon aforementioned food into ice cube trays
- Transfer frozen cubes of food into labeled ziplock bags (frozen peas and broccoli look identical as do, well, a lot of other things); put back in freezer
- Pop a few cubes into a glass tupperware the night before and let them defrost in the refrigerator overnight
- Feed to a baby!
Thus far, Babywoods has supped on carrots, sweet potatoes (slightly more labor intensive as they must be baked first), peas, broccoli, spinach, beets, black beans, chicken, avocado, strawberries, prunes (word to the wise: go LIGHT on the prunes, folks), and eggs… plus probably a bunch of things I’ve forgotten. We adhere to the school of thought that introducing commonly allergenic foods early on will portend fewer food allergies down the road. Who knows if this is accurate, but our pediatrician recommended this philosophy and it makes my life as bebe chef just that much easier.
What I like about my prep method is that I can cook up a huge batch of food once a week (or once every two weeks) and then assemble her daily meals in less than a minute. Furthermore, she gets loads of variety in her diet as I cook different things each week and have a wide array of frozen cubes to select from for each meal.
Since I have full control of the ingredients, I also add spices occassionally–such as pepper, garlic, onion, basil, a dash of chili powder–in order to expand her palate. Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t want to get into the habit of cooking separate kids’ meals once Babywoods dines at the table with us, so we’re exposing her to our favorite flavors now in the hopes she’ll take to them. So far, so good… except for some extraordinarily garlicy hummus, which she did eat but let her disapproval be known through a series of Groucho Marx-worthy expressions of disgust.
I also keep a few foods on hand that don’t require any prep at all: bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, baby rice cereal, and applesauce (though she doesn’t seem to much like the applesauce… makes a terrible face; but kid, we have apple trees growing on our land!!!). I use these no-cook items to complement her meals if she’s especially hungry. They’re also super handy when mommy and daddy forget to defrost her food ahead of time… whoops. Just as we adults have the frozen pizza back-up system, I have the baby food back-up system on lock down. Periodically I blend up our adult meals for Babywoods, as long as it’s food that’s amenable to blending (and really, it’s more like if I remember before we eat it all).
I’ve found (through trial and error) that buying frozen vegetables often works best as: 1) they’re already chopped up/mushy, 2) the organic options are usually cheaper than fresh organic, and 3) this ensures I don’t waste any food since I can re-freeze anything I don’t cook immediately. Additionally since vegetables are typically frozen right after harvest, they’re likely to retain even more nutrients than fresh veggies that’ve endured a long trip/shelf life. Locally grown produce (aka what’s in my garden) is of course the exception.
Does my approach entail more steps than buying a jar and cracking it open? Of course it does. But you know what? Most worthwhile and frugal things in life do take a tad longer. And I’m thrilled to make her food for the cost-saving and preservative-free result. Jars of organic baby food are $1.38 each, which would run me $19.32 per week, or $77.28/month. There’s no way I spend anywhere near that on the raw ingredients for her meals. If I ever got organized enough to do some math, I could tell you how much I spend per meal on our homemade goodness, but let’s be honest here, I kinda doubt that’s going to happen in my imperfect world of parenting. A rough estimate is that her meals are probably circa 0.25 each.
Food Related Accoutrements
No need to rush out and stock up on the dozens of feeding-related “must haves” marketed for babies. I use regular old ice cube trays and plastic bags to freeze her food and she doesn’t even wear a bib–I find that dining au naturel yields the smoothest clean-up. I used a bib for about 5.4 minutes, after which I realized all I was doing was generating more laundry for myself. Hence, I use the post-meal patented wipe-a-baby or bathe-a-baby method.
Obtain Three Spoons
The parable of the baby and her three spoons: happy baby, happy parents, lots of eating. Why three? Babywoods likes to commandeer two spoons (one for each hand), leaving me one spoon leftover with which to conduct the actual feeding. Her favorite pose is the reverse warrior whereby she pounds both spoons on her tray, then drops them on the ground simultaneously in order to reach forward and grab the third spoon as it comes towards her laden with food. Because why not grab ALL the spoons???
Rather than tussle over a solitary spoon, we’re both happiest with this allocation of silverware. Plus, since I’m not fighting her for spoon dominance, she’s learning how to feed herself–sometimes the food goes into her neck, sometimes it lands on the floor, and occassionally it actually makes it down the hatch! Instead of special baby bowls or plates, I just put her food in the smallest of our glass tupperware collection (a key component of any frugal weirdo’s kitchen entourage).
I do greatly appreciate the fantastic hand-me-down highchair we have, but you could also feed baby in a bumbo seat or on your lap. Although I will say that Babywoods loves sitting up at the table in her chair so if you can find one used, it might be worth the expense! Additionally, the tray is convenient for placing bits of food on to encourage Babywoods to feed herself.
I had a plastic tablecloth under her highchair for about a week before I realized that, much like the bib conundrum, the tablecloth did nothing more than generate laundry. Now, I simply wipe the floor with a damp rag after each repast. The upside? That section of our floor is supremely clean. Maybe I should move her highchair around the house in order to slowly wash every inch of floor…
Sleep Sweet Baby
Every parent is obsessed with sleep: who is sleeping, who isn’t sleeping, why, how, and when???!!! I discussed our sleep-training methodology in greater detail in my infant post and I’m delighted to report that Babywoods began sleeping through the night a few months ago. I can’t tell you how fabulous this is for the entire family. SO fabulous.
To facilitate good sleep, we continue to utilize our white noise machine and black-out curtains (which are actually paper bags I taped over the window… ) in Babywoods’ room.
When Babywoods grew too large for her Miracle swaddle (that thing lives up to its name, by the way), we employed a Merlin sleepsuit for a few months, which served as a wonderful transition. For the uninitiated, a swaddle is essentially a baby straightjacket–it mimics the security and warmth of their erstwhile bed (the womb) and keeps them from accidentally thwacking themselves in the face all night long (the infant Moro reflex).
The Merlin sleepsuit is basically a baby sumo outfit that restricts excessive flailing/kicking, but allows baby a bit more range of motion than the swaddle. Babywoods has now graduated from the Merlin into a sleep sack, which is the recommended accessory for safe sleep (a baby could get tangled in a loose blanket and suffocate).
A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that prevents suffocation but also keeps the legs at bay. I’m betting my baby isn’t the only one with active leg/foot syndrome–anytime I try to put her to bed without her sack, I come in like 30 minutes later and she’s wide awake, gleefully sucking on her foot with wild abandon… so, we opt for the sack every time.
Babies are easily amused. Empty oatmeal cans = marvelous toys! They roll, they bounce, they can be filled with rattling toys, and they apparently taste terrific. I’m now saving every empty food container I come into contact with. I have visions of creating an entire percussion section of oatmeal cans, peanut butter jars, and yogurt containers when she’s older. Another high dollar toy? Light reflections on the ceiling. Much like a cat, Babywoods loves to stare at prisms of light.
This is truly the age of grab-and-eat, so we have a bevy of hand-me-down toys for this express purpose. Trying to prevent a baby this age from mouthing everything is completely futile and also stymies development since exploration-via-mouth is an important cognitive milestone. Instead of engaging in a constant tug-of-war, I have age-appropriate toys within reach at all times. There’s currently a foam hippo hanging out in my dish drainer, a stuffed moose in my sock drawer, a crinkly bird in the car, a plastic lobster who lounges on the changing table, and a giraffe in the bath. Having toys scattered throughout the house (and car and diaper bag) means I don’t have to hunt for a way to occupy Babywoods at any given time and, she’s continually engaged with her environment. Don’t hand a baby an iPhone or car keys–those are some expensive teething rings, people!
Music is also quite popular with Babywoods and we listen to the free toddler stations on Pandora… that is until I can’t handle the chirpy, syrupy kids music any longer and we revert to my music (or NPR), which I honestly think she likes just as much. Books are also swell these days–especially if you can chew on them!
We venture out to baby play groups periodically so she can stare at other babies in wide-eyed, toothless wonder. There’s just nothing like another baby! Of course the baby who lives in our mirror at home is also pretty interesting. Free baby groups seem to abound everywhere–I found them in the middle of ultra-urban Cambridge and I find them here in ultra-rural Vermont. Yes, there are certainly groups you can pay to join but in my experience, there are so many free groups, there’s no need.
If you’re stumped on where these groups are in your area, start with your public library. Nearly every library has some sort of singalong or storytime for tots–even my local library, which serves a town of 700 people–so it’s likely you have one nearby. And once you find one group, poll the other parents on their favorite gatherings.
A Ridiculous Baby Thing I Bought
In my very imperfect iteration of parenting, I totally bought a ridiculous baby contraption this month. Babywoods and I do the grocery shopping alone together every week and we’re relatively decent at it (we haven’t had to run out of the store and leave a cart behind yet–though we’ve had a few close calls). Previously, I carried her in the Ergo through the store, but now that she’s a big, sitting-up baby, I pop her in the grocery cart seat. However. I quickly learned that the cart is made of hard metal and that my baby is made of soft baby.
During our first shopping trip with this new seating arrangement, Babywoods sucked on every part of the filthy cart, bonked her head on the handle countless times, slid to the side, and dropped her toys on the floor of the grocery store 9,867 times.
For our second trip to the store, I figured I was all hot stuff and outfitted the cart with a blanket tucked under her legs and another one for the cart handle. Well. That lasted all of 3 minutes before the whole thing was on the floor and she was again sucking on the cart and throwing her toys across the aisle.
So you know what? I bought one of those completely idiotic-looking cart covers (this one to be exact) for $13 and I freaking love it. Now, Babywoods can sit up in the cart with ease or rest her head on the handle and there’s plenty of soft fabric for her to suck on. Plus, it works as a net to hold in her toys as well as my grocery list. Basically, a dream come true. Is it an unnecessary luxury? You betcha. But do I love it? You betcha.
As with all purchases, I recommend trying out a situation (i.e. grocery shopping) and a frugal solution (DIY blanket contraption) first before dropping the dough on a new item. It’s also a case of frequent use–since we grocery shop every single week and will continue to do so on into the future, I figure we’ll get quite a few uses out of this little purchase.
Of course no discussion of thrifty kid-related life is complete without my heralding of hand-me-downs. The overwhelming majority of Babywoods’ items–everything from clothes to crib to carseat–came to us via the free, used market. If you’re in need of baby stuff, put out the word, join your local Buy Nothing group, and yes, scan the side of the road. There’s no beating free.
Concerned about the cleanliness of used? Concern yourself no more because everything for kiddos is designed to be washed. Everything has a removable cover and everything else can be wiped down. Still not convinced? It’ll take your kid about 8.78 seconds to get it dirty again.
Forget Perfect: Save Money, Love Your Kid, And Enjoy Life
Never has there ever been a more important juncture in life to let go of the patently mythical pursuit of perfection than while parenting. A kid is a messy undertaking and the notion that we can craft an idyllic little tableau–replete with brand new stuff–is nothing more than a farce. Surrendering to the very real, very imperfect existence of parenting makes life easier, less stressful, and of course less expensive. Perfection in all iterations is an endless arms race of material possessions and never is that more true than with children. So save your money, skip the expensive “must haves,” and enjoy this unique moment in your life–it won’t happen again (at least that’s what I tell myself when Babywoods screams and spits everywhere… 😉 ).