It's evolved from child to child. With Sam, I made special baby food for him. With David ... not so much. Here's how I did it. This may work for you, it may not, or you might be Sarah, reading this and thinking, 'This is boring.' That's ok.
The first food for Sam (after oatmeal cereal) was bananas. If you have a banana and a fork, you can make banana baby food. Bananas are currently $.49/pound. Last time I checked (like 6 years ago), a jar of banana baby food was around $.75. For the love of all things holy, if you make no other baby food but this, please make your own smooshy bananas!! Here's how you do it:
Peel the banana. Put it in a bowl. Smash it up with a fork. If you don't own any forks, a spoon works just as well, but might take 47 extra seconds. Add some oatmeal cereal to make it a little less slippery. Feed it to your baby. Look! You just fed your kid homemade baby food!! Yay, you!!
Let me throw in a note about baby cereal. I think rice cereal is stupid. It has no nutritional value except for what is added to it. I've always started out with oatmeal cereal, and even that I only did for about a week before just feeding the baby oatmeal.
If you don't have a small food processor, that's ok, but having one is really helpful. For example, after I figured out that the oatmeal cereal didn't make my kids break out into hives or go into shock (no allergies), I just fed them oatmeal. Here's how. Make oatmeal, but make a serving more than your family currently eats. Take out the baby's serving. Put it in the food processor with some breast milk or formula or whatever you are using. Or water, that works fine, too. Pulse the oat/liquid mix until it's as smooth and runny as you can get it. You don't want it to be too thick at first. I made mine thin enough to drip from the spoon, but not completely watery. Cool it down and feed it to the baby. Viola! More baby food!! Refrigerate the unused portion (which will be most of it at first), and warm up small batches over the next few days to use whenever you need it.
For the first few months, we added oatmeal to everything the kids ate. Fruit, veggies, everything. Our rule was this: at breakfast, we did fruit and grain. At lunch, veggie and grain. At supper, fruit, veggie, and grain. So for breakfast, just add a few spoons of banana or applesauce or pureed strawberries.
With Sam, I made baby food in big batches. I would take a whole bag of baby carrots, steam them until they were super soft, and puree the whole thing (using the water they were cooked with to get the consistency I wanted). I would cool the batch completely, then freeze small portions (1 cup) in flattened Ziplock bags. Anytime I wanted to feed Sam carrots, I would pull the bag out, thaw it in hot water, and let 'er rip.
Always make sure you introduce each new food individually. It's really important to watch for allergies and things like that. And just because they don't want to eat it first doesn't mean that they don't (or won't) like it! It's just new, and they're a baby, and not sure what to do. So they automatically spit everything out.
It's easy to puree and freeze combinations, too. Some ideas: carrots and broccoli. Squash and green beans (the only food I ever strained, because of the strings). Carrots, broccoli, and squash. Sweet potatoes and whatever. Spinach and whatever.
Regular potatoes don't freeze well. Just trust me on this one before you add potatoes to three different batches of food and find all of it unusable later.
I found it much easier to not freeze fruit. Just whip up a small batch and use it within two or three days. Fruit is fun. Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears, kiwi, star fruit, peaches, plumbs, apricots, pluots, the list is endless! Step outside the box and use your imagination. You can use frozen fruit, too. Put it in a covered bowl or plastic bag in the fridge overnight, and smoosh it up in the morning.
Also, with the exception of sugar and salt, don't hide flavors from your kids! My kids had cinnamon (from the applesauce) at 6 months. I added very small amounts of herbs and spices at 8 months, and they were eating everything we ate by 12 or 13 months.
With Evie, we transitioned her to table food by about 10 months, and I didn't freeze as much for her. I did more of it on the spot.
David is obviously a Third Child in many ways, one of which is this: I never made him baby food past 7 months. And I never froze anything for him. I gave him what we ate, except that sometimes I would give it a quick spin in the food processor, or I would cook his a little bit longer. His first food was avocado. High in fat, not normally one that causes allergies. And if you get one that's pretty ripe, you don't even have to squish it (I never smooshed David's bananas, either). Just scoop out a tiny bit on a fork, and put it in the baby's mouth.
I didn't start my kids on baby food until close to 6 months. They don't need it before then. Sometimes I'd give them a few (plain) Cheerios to keep them busy ... and because it's really funny. The first time you see your little one try to eat a Cheerio, you'll understand. No milk until 12 months, and we tried not to do too much cheese before 10 months. And we never did meat until 14 or 15 months, but that was a personal preferance. I think the 'experts' say 9 months for meat. I say that's stupid. Babies don't need meat, and have a hard time digesting it. (And it makes for some really, really, really nasty diapers. Trust me!!)
The only time I used baby food in a jar was when the kids were under 8 months, and we were traveling more than 2 hours away for more than one meal. Unless you're willing to take a cooler with ice (I did this occasionally), it's not safe.
Have I ever mentioned that I married a restaurant manager who is, by profession, a total food safety Nazi? Yeah, you won't be seeing any mold, botulism, or food poisoning over at our house.
I say that, and we'll probably all get sick because I was so prideful. Oy.
So that's how we did baby food. John helped a lot and made a bunch of it, too. I loved it, and if we have anymore kids, I'll be not buying jar baby food for them, too. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments (I've changed it back so anyone can comment) or email me at brea.mangosteen(at)gmail(dot)com.
Coming next: How I Taught My 10-Month-Olds To Have Excellent Table Manners.