Feeding My Son Cheap, Healthy Meals Has Been One Big Learning Curve

Being in charge of someone else’s nutritional well-being is terrifying—or at least it was for me.

Photo credit: Security, CC0 Public Domain.

When your baby is a tiny gurgling cuddly toy type thing, they drink milk — either from the breast or a bottle. Pretty simple.

But, when they start to grow and develop, it’s up to you as a parent to ensure their diet is decent, healthy, and varied. Being in charge of someone else’s nutritional well-being is terrifying — or at least it was for me.

Not only is there the fear (or my irrational fear) of choking, but there’s also salt content, saturated fats, sugars, and the potential for allergies. Plus, preparing baby-friendly meals can come at a cost.

I like cooking, but I’m no Jamie Oliver by any means, and at first, I relied on healthy ready meals for infants to feed my son, Sid. There’s nothing wrong with pre-prepared meals at all, as they’re balanced and nutritious — it’s just that sometimes, you have to branch out and be more varied.

Getting to a point where I can look myself in the mirror and say “I provide my son with a good diet and it doesn’t cost me the Earth” took a lot of trial and error, but I got there in the end.

If you’re a new parent facing the same dilemma, here are a few tips that might help:

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be a fruity affair

At first, my wife and I would give Sid one of those posh, expensive baby breakfast bars after his milk in the morning, followed by a bit of brown toast with unsalted butter — I don’t know about him, but I got pretty bored with it after a while.

Soon after, I started the whole baby-led weaning thing, and Sid took to it right away (he’s inherited his lust for almost anything edible from his mum and dad).

By letting him examine and try foods on his own, it allowed me to slip other flavors onto the tray of his highchair without him knowing. Sometimes, he’d screw his face up like a pit bull and other times he would say, “oooooooh”— an undeniable seal of Sidney approval.

Once I tried slipping a piece of avocado under the radar, and it was immediately aimed at my face in disgust. Sid likes avocado now; babies are fickle like that.

Over the space of a few weeks, I wrote down a little food diary documenting all the things Sid did and didn’t like. Soon I had a rotating list of foods I could give him for his breakfast and lunch, and although he had a selection of dietary staples, they were varied enough to provide him with a diverse enough diet.

Now, because of Sid’s love for berries and bananas, most meals include some form of fruit, even if it’s just a few blueberries after his main meal — his eyes light up at the sight of miniature fruit although he occasionally does like to throw it around the room. Once, I found a raspberry wedged into one of our living room’s plug sockets and a piece of banana in my boot. Fruit can appear in the strangest of places when there’s a baby in the house.

Blend, blend, blend

As I said earlier, most dinner times, I would give Sid one of those baby ready meals which cost £2 to £3 ($3.65 — $4.65) a pop. Sid had fish, risotto, beef casserole, pork and veg, and other wonderful concoctions but it wasn’t long before the costs racked up and the sight of the same packed dinners made all wince.

So we bought a blender. One of those Ninja Bullets that whizzes up smoothies and sauces at the cost of £50 ($62.46) — and it’s safe to say that it’s been one hell of an investment.

Not only do we use it for breakfast smoothies, but we knock up different soups, sauces, and meal bases. There’s a lot of variety, especially as you can change up an old recipe simply by making it smooth or chunky. It’s proved a great way of introducing Sid to new flavors without any fuss — maximum nutrition and minimum protest (although I have had to re-paint one of our walls).

The bullet has paid for itself many times over and has given us the freedom to provide Sid with more baby-friendly (he’s still only got two-and-a-half teeth) versions of our meals. We’ve also been able to whip him up a varied selection of healthy meals packed with veg and proteins and freeze them for later in the week.

If you’re a parent, a hand blender or food blaster is your friend—so don’t miss out.

Try to relax

Our son loves his food, and he’s willing to try most things, but he’s still fussy from time to time. Babies are babies, and as with most elements of their lives, they can be unpredictable — one day they’ll be in love with eggs, the next day they’ll see an egg and look at you as if you’ve tried to poison them.

When Sid was fussy, I’d stress and panic, making him stressed and panicked, resulting in general chaos and me having to resort to giving him extra formula which can also be a costly affair.

I’ve found that if your baby is fussy, look at their one of go-to staples and give them a big old portion of it — even if it’s just blueberries or banana. The phase will usually pass pretty quickly, they will receive sustenance, and no one ends up crying, bewildered, or traumatized.

Relaxing at mealtimes has helped me to spend less energy, resulting in me being able to focus and pay more attention to my son’s diet — it’s also saved my a fair chunk on formula — and at £9 ($11) a tub, that’s not a bad thing.

I’m no guru, and every baby’s different, but I’ve found that trial and error, perseverance, the ability to go with the flow, and a rock-solid blender (never forget the blender), you can go a long way.

We used to spend a total of £94 ($114) a month solely on pre-made baby snacks and products, but now we’ve refined our methods a little, we’ve managed to reduce it to £40 ($48) — that’s a saving of £54 ($65) a month and a total of £648 ($788) a year. Oh, and by my calculations that means the blender was paid for in just over a four weeks.

Did I mention the blender? I don’t think I did.

Dan Hughes is a writer with a penchant for oddball fiction, the bass guitar, beer, Bukowski and traveling to strange places. You can find out more about him by getting lost in his Catchy Space.

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