Are There Alternatives to Commercial Baby Food and Formula?

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So we’ve been watching the news and hearing all about the baby formula shortage. We’ve been to our usual stores and seen the empty shelves. Our baby is hungry and needs to eat! We have to break out of the programmed habit of relying on the centralized food system in order to provide, but how? This article will discuss what mothers did before commercial formula and baby foods came into existence. 

Disclaimer: I am not giving medical advice! If your child needs a medical diet, discuss the matter with your doctor. 

So what did mothers do before formula was invented?

Mother’s milk given via breastfeeding imparts a great many benefits to the baby, many of them immune-related. Breastfed babies tend to have stronger immune systems, fewer problems with diarrhea and other more serious issues, and tend to become healthier children. Breast milk provides nutrient components in a more readily absorbed form, including antioxidants, enzymes, and live antibodies that will help the infant form immunity to anything the mother has immune antibodies for.

The oldest and most common way to feed a baby when a mother couldn’t do so herself is wet nursing, where another mother breastfeeds. This practice dates back over 2,000 years. This gives all of the benefits of breastfeeding from the mother. For an interesting and detailed history of the practice, go HERE.

I’ve also seen ads on social media from mothers who have excess pumped milk offered. Caveat emptor, however! Due diligence is a good thing. 

NOTE: Both the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued health warnings about alternative formulas. We strongly urge you to speak with a health care professional before feeding your baby anything that is not currently approved.

Other animals, such as goats, sheep, and donkeys, to name a few, do produce milk.

Goat’s milk is a common alternative to cow’s milk, but it does have its risks. According to this article from PubMed, goat’s milk needs to be diluted to reduce solute load and fortified with vitamins, most notably iron. It’s also recommended to pasteurize or at least boil it. Also, be aware that babies allergic to cow’s milk can have bad reactions to goat’s milk as well.

Condensed milk is another possibility, but like goat’s milk is not without its cautions. If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to supplement with vitamins and minerals, most notably iron. An 18-month follow-up study from Canada found that infants fed evaporated milk had higher levels of anemia as well as lowered thiamine and selenium activity. When the same infants were tested 18 months later, no significant differences in these nutrient levels were found, but those who had been fed evaporated milk at an earlier age were more likely to have iron depletion, visit a physician, and have anemia than the breastfed infants.

So what about actual recipes? There’s Cresson Kearney’s infant formula.  Aden’s article also refers to Weston A. Price, whose site contains several recipes. These are fairly complex and contain ingredients that might not be readily available in a collapsed economy, such as Bifidobacteria. The website does give a more simplified recipe, although they recommend this as a stopgap formula for use in emergencies only. 

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Fortified Commercial Formula

Makes about 35 ounces.

This stopgap formula can be used in emergencies or when the ingredients for homemade formula are unavailable.


  • 1 cup milk-based powdered formula
  • 1 large egg yolk from an organic egg, cooked 3 1/2 minutes
  • 29 ounces filtered water (3 5/8 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored high-vitamin or high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon regular cod liver oil


• Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend thoroughly.

• Place 6-8 ounces in a very clean glass bottle. (Store the rest in a very clean glass jar in the refrigerator for the next feedings.)

• Attach a clean nipple to the bottle and set it in a pan of simmering water until the formula is warm but not hot to the touch. Shake well and feed to baby. (Never heat formula in a microwave oven!)

Well, when mothers are shopping across state lines for their neighbors, I’d call that an emergency. If a milk-based powdered formula isn’t available, consider substituting powdered milk from your stores with a hefty dose of vitamins and minerals, most notably iron. Again, this is not medical advice. It’s a suggestion for how to adjust a simple recipe for ingredients you have available when the regular components are nowhere to be found. 

baby food
Parenting in 2022.

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Here are some recipes dating back to the 1950s.

One recipe calls for 13 ounces of evaporated milk, 20 ounces of water, and 2 level teaspoons of Karo syrup. Another is quite similar, with only the amounts being different. The special instructions do call for vitamins starting at ten days, which seems wise even given the differences in thinking over time. I’m not sure about the benefits of tea and diluted orange juice. This website does note that babies have a hard time digesting solids, sugars, and other unnamed substances prior to 6 months. 

According to this article, babies in the 1800s ate solid food just as their parents did, perhaps with some milk or water to wash it down. Since commercial baby foods are filled with sugar and preservatives, some feel that a whole-food diet is far more beneficial than commercial foods anyway.

Here’s a site giving recipes for homemade baby food at various stages of life.

For example, a simple bean puree can add an easily digestible protein to your baby’s diet and consists of beans and water. Honestly, it sounds a bit like making hummus! An added benefit is that the ingredients list doesn’t read like a college chemistry exam. The blueberry puree is equally simple: blueberries and water, blend and feed. Store what’s left in your freezer. Real, whole foods! Who knew!

And how about barley tea? According to this website, babies starting at about six months need to be introduced to semisolid foods, partly because breastfeeding will no longer supply all of the nutrients necessary for growth. Barley contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, among other nutrients, including folate. One tablespoon of barley powder or 1/2 cup barley to 2 cups of water pressure cooked or alternatively simmered for 40 minutes or so, and voila! Barley tea. 

Here’s another article about making your own baby food.

With even the mainstream news being filled with stories about shortages and what governments are doing to help, it seems to make sense to adapt one’s thinking and find some alternatives to feeding baby. Parents have fed their babies for centuries before commercial formulas and food, so why not now? Whole foods in the proper consistency can be as beneficial to a baby as they are to anyone else. Perhaps this is a good time to forgo processed foods for your baby, just as you’ve done for yourself. Adapt and adjust! 

What are your thoughts?

How would you feed your baby if commercial supplies were no longer available? What options sound best for you? What if breast milk was not available for some reason? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

About Amy Allen

Amy Allen is a professional bookworm and student of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s also a Master Gardener with a BS in biology, and has been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010.

Amy Allen

Amy Allen

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  • Thank you for sharing this with all these very doable recipes! We as mothers have given away our power for so long to big ag and big pharma that we feel helpless to care for our babies with our own wits and intelligence. We need more moms to know they are enough, and that we have the power to care for our babies no matter what the supply chain does. This article is an important piece to that end- thank you!

  • Babis shouldn’t get added vitamins or iron as young newborns. They have gotten enough from the mother for the earliest newborn period, and iron has a constipating effect. But certainly they should have them added when they have reached the right age, maybe a month old.

    Lactose, the main carb in mother’s milk, IS a sugar. The sugar is necessary to avoid constipation, but mainly to help digest the protein in the milk. The recipes I have seen such as in Dr. Spock, include two teaspoons of sugar or corn syrup per bottle, 2 tablespoons per 13 oz can evaporated milk diluted with two cups of water.

    I agree that any mammal’s milk used should be boiled for some time to kill germs before using. Then diluted appropriately with boiled water. Their immune system is just beginning to develop and can be overwhelmed by any germs. I also agree with being cautious about buying other women’s milk: it might have germs for many diseases or drugs she has taken.

    The government should have heavily promoted this homemade formula rather than warning against it. It’s hard to understand babies being taken to the hospital with malnutrition when there is ample evaporated milk on the shelves.

  • I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to ask, as this is a bit off topic.. I’m looking for advice/articles to learn about baby immunizations (current risks etc.). My first grandchild is a month old and I want my daughter to educate herself on todays array of vacs that they push on babies. Thankfully, she is breastfeeding so this baby food shortage isn’t an issue for her.

  • My children grew up eating what we ate, when they were able to tolerate solid food. We just took couple of servings out and ran it through the blender. Then fed to the kids. No unwanted chemicals or preservatives. Baby foods are expensive too! Just an idea. Supplements can be added if needed and depending on the ingredients in can be frozen or canned.

  • we bought goats , that will be hopefully giving birth about 6 months after i do. partly for self sufficiency in general, but also partly to supplement to baby in case i don’t have enough milk, or want some freedom now and then and want to have options for someone else taking over a feeding.
    also purchased some formula in advance as a “just in case” as well.

  • I mostly did homemade baby food for my kids. My first was so insanely picky he ate almost nothing. Thank God I was able to breastfeed because that was almost all he wanted. We had some Norwegian friends and he did like Leverpostei. That and whole milk yogurt was all he would eat. But babies can eat whole-milk yogurt starting at about 6 months, my child’s pediatrician told me to try it because my son was so underweight and wouldn’t eat regular baby food. He’s a healthy teenager now, running an under-6 minute mile. Still thin, but he made it through infancy without baby food. Just breastmilk, whole-milk yogurt, and liver paste. With the younger two, we did whole milk yogurt but I was also able to give them fruits and veggies I ground up in a blender. That’s really all commercial baby food is– pureed fruits and veggies. But I would puree a bunch of avocados, carrots, whatever, and then put the puree into ice cube trays to make single servings. That way I wasn’t making baby food all day, every day. I could just grab a couple cubes out of the freezer at mealtimes. We didn’t do any cereals till over a year because my daughter got horribly sick on them, when I tried at 6 months. I know some kids can digest them but mine couldn’t (or wouldn’t).

    • Good that you knew how to adjust to fit your situation! If they’ve grown up healthy and happy, obviously you did something right LOL

    • GREAT baby diet, mama! That’s just about what the Weston Price Foundation suggests for baby’s first foods. Good fats and lots of them, and quality protein. Mama’s milk, avocado, whole milk yogurt, liver, veggies and some fruits.

      Babies don’t produce carbohydrase enzymes until they are between one and two years old, so best NOT to have grains until then. Doctors are not taught nutrition so they STILL promote rice cereal to babies, with can wreak havoc on their gut, and make them crave starchy carbs and sweets.

      You did good!

  • We gave our kid formula that was main ingredient raw cow’s milk. My sister-in-law was given raw goat milk.

    Most baby formulas are actually junk food so if more people can switch their babies to healthy formulas, we could see a massive increase in the health of the babies of the nation (and world).

  • I was raised on the evaporated milk/karo syrup and iron supplement formula. I could not breastfeed any of my children. My eldest and my youngest both had formula but when my middle son was a baby I was a poor single mother and was dependent on WIC for his sustenance. WIC didn’t provide enough formula for the whole month and he couldn’t drink milk products as an infant so I learned to make soy milk. You have to know how to make soy milk though. It’s not made with cooked soybeans, but you can’t drink uncooked soy milk. What you have to do is soak the soybeans and then grind them and add water to it until you make soy milk and then cook it until it is ready. It has been a long time since I did it.

    Just to let you know, my son is extremely healthy and now in his 30s.

  • A cheap and readily available form of iron is blackstrap molasses. It also provides sugar. In addition, kefir starters are also pretty cheap – you can buy them online or get them free. The kefir culture breaks down cow’s milk, making it easier to digest. However, since the culture eats the sugar in the milk (lactose) to survive, you need to add more lactose and a little coconut milk yogurt for brain development. It’s important for the little ones to also get Omega 3 fatty acids from cod liver oil or fish oil.

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