I’m a fan of convenience food. Not all convenience foods, not all the time, but I like that ready meals, cooking sauces, frozen foods, tins and packet meals give a relatively nutritious option when you’re pushed for time, not feeling up to cooking or not able to cook from scratch due to lack of skills, motivation or equipment. But what about for babies?
Convenience foods are usually, by definition, processed foods, and usually need a long shelf life, and so may have different additives to preserve and enhance them – such as salt or various E-numbers. Such additives may make them less healthy but not all have a poor nutrient profile! And for most of us it’s all about balance – eg watching the healthfulness off foods 80% of the time and not worrying for the other 20% of the time.
But what about for our babies? Traditionally babies are weaned (introduced to solids) being spoon fed puréed or mashed foods (baby led weaning is an alternative approach that skips this phase). There are many different special baby foods on the market – jars, pouches, packets, snacks, even baby juices (not recommended by the way – breast milk, formula and water are the only recommended drinks under 1).
The excellent charity First Steps Nutrition recently published a report analysing the nutritional qualities of different baby foods. See the report here. This report highlighted a number of worrying issues with the most popular brands in the U.K.:
- Many foods marketed as for 4-6 month olds contain ingredients not recommended at this age eg egg and gluten!
- Many are bulked out with added water – reducing the nutrient density and calorie content (babies need lots of calories!)
- Recommended portion sizes are often too large
- They are predominantly sweet – even the savoury versions use sweet vegetables or added fruit!
- Many meat containing products contain a lot less meat than would be found in home made versions and so are less nutritious – containing less important nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc
- Textures are often very smooth – making progression to family foods potentially harder
- Levels of essential micronutrients may be too low due to heat treating and processing
- Processed baby foods are costly!
- Dubious marketing techniques are used
In conclusion the report found that home made baby food was overwhelmingly more nutritious and more cost effective. So although they are convenient their use is unnecessary and best limited to occasional use.
Read about my blind taste test of a few baby jars and pouches here.