Speaking of freshness, just how long has that baby food jar been sitting on the grocery store shelf? How long was it in transit? And how long was it stored in a warehouse before it was shipped? Was it exposed to extreme heat or freezing temperatures that might affect the quality of the food in the jar?
You won't be troubled by questions like these if you make baby food at home from fresh ingredients -- especially if you grow your own fruits and vegetables. Home-cooked baby foods contain vitamins and minerals naturally. Commercial foods are processed at high heat. This kills bacteria to help ensure long shelf life, but it destroys nutrients, some of which are added back to the food artificially. With home-prepared food, you'll also know exactly what your child is eating. There won't be any surprise ingredients like added starches, sugars or preservatives that are sometimes found in commercial baby food. And you'll be able to control the lean-to-fat ratio in meats that you prepare yourself.
Finally, mass-produced foods carry the rare but real risk of contamination. In recent years, manufacturers have recalled baby food products because of reports that some jars were contaminated with pieces of glass, harmful bacteria and the bacteria that cause botulism and arsenic [sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and USDA].
From birth to at least four months of age, your baby gets all the nutrition he or she needs from breast milk or infant formula. But as your baby grows, he or she will need nutrients from other sources. Learn what foods are good for your developing infant on the next page.