Being a first time parent is challenging enough–the newness of it all can be overwhelming. And then your newborn baby turns six months and it’s time to start something new: solid food.
Starting babies on solid food can raise a flurry of emotions in parents ranging from sadness, overwhelm, excitement, and sometimes even fear. More than ever, parents are bombarded with suggestions from everyone and everywhere about what food to offer their baby for that first magical bite.
When we were in university, the baby food aisle sure looked different (that was only 10ish years ago). It was mostly full of glass jars and tiny boxes of iron fortified infant cereal. Today? Not so much! The baby food aisle is characterized by illusive foil packets with photos of gorgeous produce, promises of nutrition, and labels like “natural” “organic” and “pure”.
We’ll just call these foil packets ‘pouches’ from here on out.
We did a bit of digging and it seems like baby food pouches made their way into the market sometime around 2007-ish. Since then, they’ve claimed more and more of the market aisle each year. If you’re into numbers, it’s estimated that global revenue from baby food pouches grew tenfold between 2010 and 2017. And, the global baby food packaging market size will grow by about 2 billion units by 2022. Yowza! That’s a lot of food pouches and that’s a lot of kiddos sucking on them. *insert nervous laughter*
Our Personal Experience
Speaking with our mama heart, neither Jessica or myself experimented with baby food pouches a whole lot. There are a few reasons for this.
- We really enjoy preparing food. Perhaps it has a little, okay maybe a lot, to do with the fact that we intentionally landed careers that centre around food and food preparation. The truth is, we both take care in preparing meals. We don’t see it as a task, but rather, view messy kitchen time as an opportunity to fill our cup.
- We both had maternity leaves and an opportunity to be at home with our babies. Living in Canada coupled with having employment meant that we could receive a one year maternity leave with some compensation. That means we were literally paid to be home with our children, something we’ll never take for granted. This allowed us the ultimate gift, time.
I often think about my friends and family from other countries who make their way back to work while their baby is merely 12 or even 6 weeks old. I can imagine how that could impact those choices you make to feed your baby plus juggle a full work week.
- By virtue of being a Dietitian, we knew more about pouches and their potential pitfalls. Read more below.
Some Pros of Baby Food Pouches:
All of that being said, we get it. Parenting in the twenty-first century ain’t easy. Having packaged food that you hand off to your baby can really make life easier (in the short term). We give pouches merit for:
- Creative flavor profiles: some of the puree concoctions truly are beautiful – manufacturers have found fun ways to combine flavors like the sweetness of a pear with chicken! Or, apple, butternut squash with cherries and ginger. Like, woah.
- Unique design resulting in decreased mess: c’mon, those food pouches are pretty easy peasy in terms of serving them to your child. All you have to do is unscrew the lid and they are very compact – perfect for your loaded pantry or that trendy diaper bag.
- Saving parents time: seeing as though you may not want to prepare and then subsequently puree butternut, cherries, and ginger yourself…it’s already done for you. The ultimate convenience is everything is pretty much done for you, the caregiver.
- Shelf stability: as we said before, having a pouch (or two) in your diaper bag makes a snack on-the-go rather convenient. Additionally, if you’re traveling, it’s impossible to keep fresh food safe for longer than a few hours. When Jessica’s oldest was 10 months, she traveled to Germany for a wedding. Having those pouches along were clutch… and certainly a lot lighter than lugging jars of baby food around the airport!
- Application for “problem feeding”: some children really struggle with their food intake – this could be for a variety of reasons such as extreme picky eating (like, ARFID which stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) or for other clinical reasons such as history of tube feeding, a cleft lip, or a neurocognitive disability. In these situations, pouches can serve as a helpful tool for children who require additional feeding support.
There are probably other benefits to pouches, but that’s about all we wanted to focus on! Moving on, like anything…when we present the pros, we also want to chat about those pesky cons.
Pitfalls of Baby Food Pouches:
If we were in charge of designing “warning labels” to put on pouches, this is what we would include.
- Pouches don’t promote oral motor development: when your baby is born, they have a number of reflexes. One of those is the sucking reflex which starts at about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36 weeks! Until about 4 – 6 months, depending on when you introduce solids and depending on the feeding method, your baby likely is a pro at sucking! Introducing a pouch and allowing your baby to suck from the pouch doesn’t really advance their skills. Feeding is also a development process. To be a proficient eater, your baby needs to learn lip closure, practice a munch chew, strengthen their tongue and move it laterally…all of these milestones develop their overall oral musculature. It’s pretty fascinating! Offering pouches frequently can hinder that development.
- Pouches are expensive: if we do a bit of math…one pouch can range from $1.99 – $2.99 CAD for a small portion (128mL or ½ cup). Once opened, you really don’t have much time as it’s recommended to use these even once refrigerated within 24 hours. For the sake of comparison, a 650mL of unsweetened applesauce will run you about $1.77. Friends…that’s a CRAZY inflation!
- Pouches likely lack key nutrients: we’ve browsed through the options, and while we see companies are making an honest effort, the truth is, the large majority of pouches do not offer any iron. And, if they do, it’s a pretty small amount. As you’ve already learned in our Everything You Need to Know About Iron document, your baby has high needs of this micronutrient typically found in meats, egg, tofu, beans and lentils. So filling their belly up with foods that contain it, doesn’t make a ton of sense. Additionally, many pouches lack fat, another critical nutrient for optimal brain and eye development!
- Pouches all have the same texture: food pouches typically range between being puree or slightly lumpy. Like we’ve explained here, purees are JUST a phase. At 8-ish months, babies are typically ready for more advanced textures and finger foods. Eating is about mastery, we want babies to move onto more and more challenging textures based on their capability. We teach you exactly how to do that in our Start Solids Confidently e-course.
- Pouches may have misleading labels: the front of baby pouches may be affectionately titled “chicken stew” or “beef shepherd’s pie”, but while chicken and beef are great sources of iron, the actual iron content of the pouch is negligible. When you do some detective work, you’ll often notice that the iron rich food is the last ingredient on the list under a beautiful array of sweet tasting foods. Seriously, adding chicken to a puree but only a teeny tiny amount doesn’t count as an iron source.
- Children can’t distinguish between pouch flavors: there are five universally accepted tastes that are perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. A quick taste test among many pouches will likely result in one taste bud stimulation: sweet. Your baby is already hard wired to enjoy sweet tasting food. They come by it innocently since amniotic fluid is sweet and breastmilk is too. Food introduction should be used as an opportunity to expand your babies acceptance of a wide range of foods and all tastes!
- Pouches are almost all sweet and may contain sugar: a comprehensive study by the German Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shared that puree pouches are extremely high in sugar content, with up to almost 90% of total energy content. The German researchers came right out and said: “We discourage the feeding of pureed complementary foods from baby food pouches.” Additionally, a 2015 American study noted that squeeze pouches were significantly more likely to contain added sugars. Which is kinda weird, because North American recommendations are that infants and toddlers under two years old not consume any added sugars. Why are manufacturers preparing products that have an unbalanced nutritional composition with sugar being so high? Not fair.
- Children may overeat on pouches: there’s not much to sucking back on a puree pouch and it can happen really fast. If all babies have to do is give it a squeeze, they may be taking really large and fast gulps, consequently, not allowing for enough time to realize that they may be full mid-way through a pouch. One of the goals of feeding is to raise an intuitive eater who can stop when they are full and conversely, communicate their need for more food. Pouches can override hunger and fullness cues in this way.
How to Offer Baby Food Pouches:
If you do want to offer your baby a pouch, here are a few things we encourage you to keep in mind.
First, always check for mould. Pouches, like many other foods, have the potential for foodborne illness which is sometimes inevitable in our complex food system.
Do your best to squeeze the contents into a bowl and spoon feed your baby the yummy goodness. Or, better yet, let your baby practice self feeding. As often as possible, don’t let your baby suck from the spout. Of course, when you’re on-the-go or traveling, this might just make the most sense!
Lastly a few extra tips: try not to let your baby or toddler walk around sucking on the spout, have them seated and focused on the task of eating so that they may “tune in” to their fullness cues. And, if you’re regularly relying on pouches, consider tapering down to no more once daily! That gives you an opportunity to get comfortable in the kitchen!
Additionally, consider using your pouch in fun ways like:
- Adding a squirt into yogurt or ricotta cheese
- Drizzling some onto french toast strips
- Mixing pouch contents with iron fortified infant cereal
- Using the pouch content for other recipes such as muffins or biscuits
So What’s The Be-All, End-All?
Baby food pouches might get some brownie points for their short term benefit. But here’s the thing. Parenting is about the long haul. It’s almost always about seeing the end from the beginning.
This isn’t our plea to have you running away from food pouches. But rather an invitation to see the flipside, and then balance things out in a way that works for you, your baby, and your family.
Consider our suggestions to use pouches in other ways or get yourself comfortable with preparing foods for your baby that you can all enjoy! We teach you exactly how, in our e-course, Start Solids Confidently.
Feeding babies whole foods doesn’t have to be a ton of extra work. If you didn’t catch our last blog post, we showed you how to deconstruct the following family meals for your baby:
What are you waiting for? Enjoy!