Except for rice and other infant cereals, you can make baby food yourself from scratch. All you need is a fork to mash bananas, for example. You can process fibrous foods such as sweet potatoes or meat in a baby-food grinder (found in baby stores), food processor, or blender. Before preparing food, always wash it and your hands thoroughly, and if you're preparing any kind of meat, wash your knives, cutting board, or food processor afterward with soap and hot water and air-dry them to prevent cross-contamination of other foods with meat juices. Play it extra safe by using a separate cutting board for meat and other for food. For maximum nutrition, buy the freshest fruit and vegetables and use them within a day or two. Remove peels, seeds, and cores. Boil, bake, or steam them until they're soft, then purée them well.
Here's a time-saving tip: Pick one day a week to make a big batch of baby food, then freeze individual portions in ice-cube trays. (Transfer puréed food from the blender to ice-cube trays with a small spoon or turkey baster.) Or try the cookie sheet method: Place dollops of cooked, puréed food on a clean cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Once the food is frozen solid, remove it from the cookie sheet or ice-cube tray and store it in plastic freezer bags in the freezer. Frozen fruit and vegetable purées will last three months; puréed meat, fish, and chicken will last up to eight weeks. If you mix meat together with veggies or fruit before you freeze it, use the mixture within eight weeks.
Good vegetables to start with are zucchini, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, and squash. Excellent fruit choices are apples, apricots, bananas, peaches, pears, plums, and prunes. Homemade food can go right from freezer to microwave, but make sure to cool it to just barely warm before serving it to your baby to avoid mouth burns. (That goes for any baby food--homemade or not.) Add water, breast milk, or formula to smooth the texture, but don't use butter, oil, lard, cream, gravy, sauces, sugar, syrup, salt, or seasonings, because they can prevent your child from experiencing the natural taste of those foods. And don't use honey as a sweetener for babies under 1 year old because it can harbor botulism spores, which could lead to a serious form of food poisoning. Give any food a good stir to dissipate any hot spots before serving.
Another word of caution: According to the AAP, fresh beets, turnips, carrots, collard greens, and spinach can be high in nitrates, naturally occurring chemicals in soil that can cause an unusual type of anemia (low red blood cell count) in infants up to 6 months old. The problem isn't solved by buying organic produce. Because organic produce is raised without synthetic fertilizer it can sometimes be lower in nitrates, but there are too many variables to know for sure. It's better to follow the AAP's advice, which recommends buying commercially prepared forms of these foods, especially when your child is an infant. Baby-food companies screen the produce for nitrates and other residues, and avoid using vegetables with high levels of these chemicals.