Starting solid food on a budget

Moving your baby on from milk doesn’t have to mean spending half your maternity allowance on the veg aisle. Here’s how to move your baby on to food cheaply but healthily…

When it comes to introducing solid foods to babies, there’s always going to be waste.

There’s that avocado your baby threw at the fridge and the mashed potato on the bottom of your slipper. There’s also the butternut squash they point blank refused to eat despite devouring the same thing the day before.

There’s also the pressure to feed your baby the best quality produce, and a slew of pre-prepared products on the market. So no wonder it can all seem like it’s going to be pretty pricey.

Yet – genuinely – it doesn’t need to be. We’ve put together our own tips plus some parents’ tips to help you to get your child onto solid food without clearing out your bank account.

1. Go for homemade baby food (as often as possible)

Homemade food is best for your baby and you can make it from simple ingredients, although obviously don’t add sugar or salt. You can keep any unused food in the fridge or frozen.

Homemade food is quick and easy and a lot cheaper than shop-bought baby food (Start4Life NHS, 2015; Small Footprint Family, 2017a)

“I have quite strong feelings on plastic tubes of baby food. Apart from the environmental perspective, the food in them isn’t fresh and the taste won’t be right, plus they are much more expensive. I just mash up an avocado or banana.” Julie, mum to Molly.

2. Introduce food at the right time of day

If you try to feed solids to your baby when they’re tired, they’re more likely to be disinterested or fussy (Healthy Families BC, 2015; YMC, 2015). So try to feed your baby when they’re not too tired or hungry and you have lots of time to sit down for a meal. They’ll be more likely to try things and come to different foods gradually. And you’ll get less waste.

3. Batch-cook and freeze

Batch cooking and freezing on weekends makes sure your baby gets good quality food and it’ll be cheaper for you too (Alina Health, 2015; Start4Life NHS, 2015; Small Footprint Family, 2017a). Here’s what one dad suggests: “Batch-cook and pop it into small plastic pots, or use ice cube trays at the beginning if you do purees. Sweet potato, carrot, parsnips, swede, broccoli, cauliflower are great introductory tastes. And you’ll get so many meals out of them if you do it this way, with minimal waste.” Robert, dad to Nikki.

4. Avoid ‘baby specific’ foods

You’ll probably have seen a whole host of baby rice, baby porridge, baby pasta, baby rice cakes etc. on the market. Yet there’s no reason why your baby can’t eat normal (cheaper) versions (NHS, 2018).

5. Make a meal plan

It might surprise you to know that as much as half of all food grown is lost or wasted before and after it reaches home (Lundqvist et al, 2008). At least you can do your part to reduce food waste after buying your food.

It might sound dull and like something your parents used to do that you want to roll your eyes. But meal plans do mean you buy what you need and don’t end up chucking out a load of fresh goodies each week (Small Footprint Family, 2017b).

6. Bake with leftovers

When you do have fruit or veg left over that’s about to go off, sling it into some muffins or a frittata with a few herbs (Best Recipes, 2018). Older babies can even join in by playing with the dough. And voila: a free extra meal, pretty much.

7. Use frozen fruit and veg

Add frozen fruit to yoghurts instead of buying flavoured and sweetened ones, or add handfuls of frozen spinach to pasta sauces. Frozen fruit and veg is some of the best for you and it’s so much cheaper (The Telegraph, 2012)

8. Slow cook cheap meat

Meat is often one of the most expensive foods you can give to a child – which might make you want to weep when it ends up on the floor. But slow cookers and stews could solve the problem.

You could buy cheap cuts that cook well for a long time so they’ll be super-soft, which is great for early eating (The Diary of a Frugal Family, 2015). You could have a quick Google for recipe ideas.

9. Keep breastfeeding if you can

You can carry on breastfeeding as long as you want but recommendations are that you do so for at least the first year (Start4Life NHS, 2015). Here’s what one mum said about it: “Keep breastfeeding for as long as possible, then you save on milk at least.” Sarah, mum to Caroline.

10. Try baby-led weaning

Baby-lead waning is the easiest and cheapest way to feed your baby. That’s because it involves introducing solid foods by allowing your baby to feed them self (Small Footprint Family, 2017b). Here’s one dad’s experience:

“Baby-led weaning (i.e. letting your child pick up their own finger foods and not pureeing) saves you so much money because you’re not having to buy and make separate meals. This way, they eat what you eat. Obviously, it needs to be low salt and healthy but that’s not a bad habit for you either. You can always add salt to yours later.” Graham, dad to George.

This page was last reviewed in November 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

You might find attending one of NCT's Introducing Solids Foods workshops helpful as they cover topics such as when to start weaning, purees and baby-led weaning, as well as what foods to avoid. They are all run by one of our qualified practitioners.

Alina Health. (2015) Five tips for transitioning baby to solid foods. Available from: https://www.allinahealth.org/healthysetgo/article.aspx#!nourish-article-36507242688 [Accessed 30th November 2018]

Best Recipes.com.au. (2018) 7 ways to use up leftover vegetables. Available from: https://www.bestrecipes.com.au/article/7-ways-to-use-up-leftover-vegetables-a1564.html [Accessed 30th November 2018]

Healthy Families BC. (2015) Starting Solids. Available from: https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/articles/starting-solids [Accessed 30th November 2018]

NHS. (2018) Complementary feeding. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/first-foods [Accessed 30th November 2018]

Small Footprint Family. (2017a) How to feed your baby healthy food on a budget. Available from: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/make-your-own-healthy-baby-food [Accessed 30th November 2018]

Small Footprint Family. (2017b) Save money and the planet with meal planning. Available from: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/save-money-with-meal-planning [Accessed 30th November 2018]

Start4Life NHS. (2015)  Introducing solid foods. Available from: https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/women/maternity/postnatal/infant-feeding/documents/solid-foods.pdf [Accessed 30th November 2018]

The Diary of a Frugal Family. (2015) Is a slow cooker really cheaper than your oven. Available from: https://www.frugalfamily.co.uk/is-a-slow-cooker-really-cheaper-than-your-oven/ [Accessed 30th November 2018]

The Telegraph. (2012) Buying frozen food rather than fresh ‘saves £400 a year’. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/money-saving-tips/9049469/Buying-frozen-food-rather-than-fresh-saves-400-a-year.html [Accessed 30th November 2018]

YMC. (2015) 7 common reasons why your baby is struggling with solids. Available from: http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/blogs/sarah-remmer-the-non-diet-dietitian/20150812/when-baby-doesnt-want-to-eat-solids [Accessed 30th November 2018]

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