Pre-made baby food from the supermarket shelves may not be the best choice for your baby’s food. Don’t get me wrong, I have used it too when I was desperate. For instance, while travelling overseas, or those days I was so tired I couldn’t think straight. We have all needed the convenience that store-bought baby food brings us! This is certainly not a mum-bashing post. But I thought it would be a good idea to highlight the issues with buying pre-made baby food, because many of you might be unaware of the reasons why it should be a sometimes food.
Why is pre-made baby food bad for my baby?
They are pureed smooth. It’s like liquid. All your baby has to do is drink it, the way they would drink a thick drink. Puree that thin barely teaches your little one to eat, to get used to different textures and chunks, or to use their mouth and jaw properly.
The whole idea behind initially introducing foods to your baby is to teach them to eat. When they place food in their mouth, an intricate number of things have to occur for them to be able to swallow it.
Firstly, they need to be able to accept different textures in their mouth, without using their tongue thrust reflex to push it straight back out again.
They need to be able to move their jaw and their tongue to be able to swallow properly. They gnaw on the food with their gums (or if they’re lucky, a few teeth!).
They learn how small chunks or rough foods feel in their mouth, how to manoeuvre them around, and how to ensure they don’t gag or inhale the chunks!
When you give you baby thin, liquidy puree, all they need to do is open their mouth and suck it in the way they have milk. While they might be getting some experience with flavours, they certainly aren’t learning about foods and how to eat them.
Remember, you don’t need to worry about nutrition in these early days. In saying that, you want to feed your baby good quality, wholefoods, but you don’t need to be concerned if they don’t eat the entire meal you prepared for them. When you start viewing early food introduction as a chance for your baby to learn and explore, you stop worrying about how much they actually eat.
Have you stopped to take a look at the ingredients? Even the meat and vegetable ones contain either rice or corn flour. Granted, that’s the easiest way to thicken the food to a desired texture. Especially when you’re mass producing baby food.
White rice and highly processed corn have a hugely negative impact on your baby’s gut health, hormonal health, and brain development. It is such a paradox that it is recommended as our children’s first foods, yet, as adults we know it’s a food that puts a lot of stress on our body. There is a growing movement towards a grain free diet, and while that isn’t for everyone, grains are inflammatory foods (especially for sensitive tummies).
I’m sure when you picked up the packet labelled Hearty Beef and Vegetables, you weren’t expecting grains to be present in there. In fact your probably went for that option because the title would suggest there were no grains in it! Seems like the healthiest option.. Yet if you calculate the percentages of ingredients, some brands have up to 20% rice flour! Incredible. For those of us wanting to avoid grains in our baby’s diets, especially white rice, using it as a thickener is a real downer. And very sneaky, if you ask me.
It also raises the issue of genetically modified foods. While some companies will label their foods as non-GM, often the companies who use GM don’t mention it on the label! So when you are needing a quick pack of baby food, check the label to ensure it is grain/filler free, or at least says non-GM.
Once you get to the older age-range food choices, they all have either grains, dairy, or gluten present.
First things first, I think chunkier food first up is perfectly ok to give your baby. As in point 1, giving them completely pureed foods does not teach them much about food. So if you are going to be using supermarket packet food, there is no reason why you need to hold off on the chunkier options, no matter what the label says.
However, the chunkier foods are harder to digest, given they all have grains or dairy in them. Many parents who are wanting to feed their babies wholefoods are avoiding these two very foods in the first months (to years!). Many parents will already know their child has an intolerance to grains or dairy, or will have found enough research to indicate humans do not need those foods to flourish. In fact, in some children these exact foods can hinder growth and development. It is not uncommon these days for parents to be avoiding those foods. So there are truly no options for complete wholefoods in the baby food aisle.
Added sugar. If you check closely, many of the fruit puree packets will be sweetened with some form of fruit juice concentrate. Whenever you see that description, you need to remember it is pure sugar, just from a fruit. It will make the food taste delicious – let’s face it, most of us love sweet sugary foods! But is it necessary for your baby? I think not.
The early stages of food introduction teach your baby to prefer flavours. Which means, if given loads of sugar-laden baby food, your baby will prefer sweetened foods. This has been shown to impact their preferences for the rest of their life. So you are literally setting your child up to prefer and crave sugary foods for their entire life. On the other hand, by avoiding sugar early on and providing your baby with wholefoods that support their body’s development, you are setting them up to have a preference for delicious (and healthy) wholefoods for the rest of their life. Imagine the differences in their health!
Unfortunately, the packaging your baby food comes in is toxic, for our bodies and for the environment.
It might be labelled BPA-free. But did you know that many manufacturers are replacing BPA with BPC? BPC has not been tested thoroughly, but initial testing finds it more toxic than BPA. BPA and BPC are known as endocrine disruptors. This means they wreak havoc on our hormonal systems. And while babies are still growing and developing so quickly, chemicals have a huge impact on their little (immature) systems. Our babies are getting a nice solid dose of hormone-disrupting chemicals in each mouthful.
Simplistically speaking, their hormones are still learning what do to. Their cells are learning how to respond to the hormone messages. And considering many of their cells depend on hormonal signals to develop correctly, you want to ensure they are sending and receiving the right messages. What these chemicals do is ‘mimic’ hormones, so they give your baby’s cells the same messages as hormones do. Which means the chemicals have the ability to tell your cells what to do! Considering how finely tuned and sensitive a baby’s development is, you want to lower your baby’s chemical load as much as possible.
Plastic by-products leech into foods at room temperature. However warming them up will cause the rate of leeching to increase. In those moments you use a baby food pouch, do not heat it up (even in a bowl of warm water). Remove it from the packaging to heat it up.
Plus.. In using plastics we are unnecessarily adding to the environment’s growing waste piles. These pouches take years and years to degrade. And while they’re degrading, they are leaching more and more of those hormone-disrupting chemicals into our underground waterways. What comes next? We drink the water, we shower in the water, and our entire planet relies on that water.
They aren’t what your baby was primed to eat. Did you know that what you eat while pregnant becomes the food your baby prefers? Babies prefer foods based on the culture they were ‘grown’ in. It’s pretty incredible, when you think about it.
When you’re introducing food, your baby will easily accept the foods they are used to. Now, I’m not guaranteeing they will love every food you give them first time! But my point is that you do not have to start them off on rice cereal, or apple puree from the supermarket just because baby food marketing tells you so. It is completely safe for you to offer your baby foods that you’re cooking for yourself, rather than going out of your way to buy supermarket ‘speciality’ baby food. Cooking some broccoli? Put a bit extra in and give some to your bub! Simple.
To sell in a supermarket, baby food has to be sterilised, and must maintain a shelf life that allows for transport, and time in the supermarket before someone buys it. Fresh food tends to go off, very quickly.
The concern with sterilisation is that often the food is ultra heat treated (UHT). This kills all the bacteria in the food and prevents it from fermenting and going rancid. But ultra heat treating changes the composition of your baby’s food. The heat works to break down the proteins in bacteria and literally break it up into small pieces. The same principle goes with the food proteins. So what was a well-rounded meal (aside from the rice flour and added sugar!) becomes a meal that has less nutrients which are harder to digest and absorb.
Some companies are now snap freezing baby food. This method retains a lot more of the nutrients compared to heat treating. And honestly, at this point it isn’t clear which companies use which method.
They are expensive! Think about how much it would cost you to make your baby’s food from scratch. And when I say that, I mean, it’s so cheap to cook a little bit extra of your own meals and offer that to your baby.
Packet baby foods are made cheaply, with rice or corn fillers, with dairy and lots of water added. They are designed to make money. They are marketed to be exceptionally healthy and the best foods for babies. I hope after this article, you can see they are not the healthiest option, nor do they teach your baby how to eat properly. Even when on special, packaged baby food is a very expensive way to feed your child.
Well I’m not going to leave you with all this bad news and not give you some alternatives! Here’s what I recommend instead.
- Make a little bit extra of your own food, and offer it to your baby. It’s so quick and easy! It’s the easiest way to start with solids. Our babies are always interested in what we are doing, and what we are eating – why not share your meal with them? (If you’re eating a grain and dairy filled meal I would probably steer towards giving your baby a vegetable or meat based meal to begin with).
- Spend one afternoon cooking and freezing a batch of food. You can get reusable food pouches that are safe for babies – we used Sili which is silicone and loved them.
- If you are confident in your baby’s eating abilities, why not just buy some fruit that they can eat straight away? Most fruits are easily eaten by babies as they are soft and taste delicious. This way you’re avoiding all the packaging, the fillers and the added sugar. Older babies could also have some raw vegetables. Cucumber, capsicum and carrots are a favourite in our house!
- When you buy packet food, read the labels – go for organic, GM-free and filler-free options. I have found the cleanest ones to be from the Aldi organic range.
- If you are buying and plan to heat up, consider going for the glass jars to reduce chemicals leeching into your baby’s food.
Have you got some extra tips for being out and about with your baby? Or for exhausted mamas who have no energy to cook up a big meal for themselves and their baby?