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Don’t Let Your Baby Blow Your Grocery Budget

Diapers have the reputation for taking up a substantial part of the budget in your child’s first few years of life, but store-bought baby food isn’t too far behind.

Baby Center reports food as one of the top costs, once baby is old enough to start on solid foods at four to six months of age. By their estimates, buying jars at the supermarket adds an extra $50 to $100 to your monthly grocery bill, depending on baby’s age and appetite, and whether you’re buying organic. And those figures may be on the cheap side: fresh fruits and vegetables have gotten progressively pricier as food costs rise, and that has a direct impact on what you pay for baby food. British price comparison web site My Supermarket found that baby food prices had jumped 31 percent over the past three years.

Making your own baby food provides an easy savings solution, with the added advantages of knowing exactly what’s going into it while avoiding preservatives and sugar. Momtastic.com estimates making your own banana puree from a pound of bananas costs $0.49. Buying a five-ounce jar of banana baby food runs $0.70 to $1.40. When you factor in that your cheap bananas make a heck of a lot more puree than that jar, savings can easily reach $0.27 per ounce. (That’s like getting the priciest jar of baby food for 5 cents.)

Here’s how to make it work for you:

Ditch your food phobias

The best way to make your kid a lifelong foodie? Start early. “Even if you don’t like the food, puree it for junior,” says reader Karen Eutsler, who made baby food for her kids, now ages 4 and 2. “I have the least picky eaters of any kids I know.” Some foods, like black beans, mushrooms, spinach, kiwi and avocado, aren’t typically found in store-bought versions, but they’re great nutritious additions to your homemade repertoire. “I will admit that pureed black beans looks like mushy ash and earned me more than a few stares in public, but that’s a small price to pay for the benefit,” she jokes.

Skip special equipment

There’s no need to spend $150 for a baby-food maker. “Your everyday kitchen utensils work beautifully and even better because they can make large batches,” Jennifer Nichols Parnell of MommyBeta.com. “Use a veggie steamer and blender, immersion blender or food processor.” That said, there are some gadgets useful for making baby food that can also be great additions to your cooking repertoire. Reader Ellen Murphy Cheung likes the Magic Bullet blender system ($50, Bed Bath & Beyond). “It’s so much easier to clean than a food processor and does the trick,” she says. (Not to go too informercial-esque on you, but Frugal Foodie swears by hers as a fast, easy-cleanup way to make smoothies and small batches of hot sauce and pesto.)

Stock up

Don’t waste time making meals daily,” says Parnell. “Make large batches and store them.” One freezable baby food tray can store a week’s worth of meals. (Her pick: Mumi and Bubi feeding trays) Or use your own ice cube trays and pop frozen foods out into bags marked “fruit” and “vegetable” as Eutsler does. “It’s so easy to tell Daddy ‘feed Nicole two orange from the veggie bag and one purple from the fruit bag,’” she says. “Even he can’t mess that up.”

Take shortcuts

When your favorite fruits and veggies are out of season, frozen varieties provide the same nutrition for a fraction of the price. Just steam and puree.

Reuse, recycle containers

If time constraints mean you can’t make everything baby eats, put store-bought baby food jars to good use. “Save those glass baby food jars, clean and sterilize them, and re-use them for your home made baby food endeavors,” says actress and model Camille Anderson, who has been cooking for her now 1-year-old daughter Brooklyn. Keep in mind, however, that not all glass jars can be safely frozen, and those that can require you to leave ample space for the contents to expand a bit as they freeze.

Skip purees

Baby food doesn’t necessarily require even that much work. “Making food can be as easy and rinsing blueberries, mashing up an avocado or banana,” says Parnell. Babies can enjoy brown rice, too, and mashing can also work for meat dishes. While the rest of the family enjoyed pasta with homemade meatballs and sauce on a recent night, Cheung served seven-month-old Madeline a mashed up meatball with some ricotta cheese and tomato sauce mixed in. “I put carrots as a base for my tomato sauce so I get a vegetable in as well,” Cheung says.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodiehttp://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.

Photo credit: Lovelihood