What’s In That Pouch?
The latest trend in the baby food game is food pouches that contain yoghurts and a variety of purees. The baby food aisles at all supermarkets are now stocked with a dizzying array of choices that cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some even contain trendy superfoods like quinoa, kale and chia!
Who could say no to “Organic Blueberry, Banana and Quinoa” or “Organic Super Vegetable Rice Congee”?
These small, flat, moldable plastic or foil containers are increasingly popular because they are convenient, clean with no spoon required, don’t need refrigeration or heating and are super easy for families on the go. They also contain servings of healthy fruit and veggies, which even fussy eaters are happy to eat.
But are they the healthiest and best choice for your family?
Although pouched food is convenient, there are a few things parents need to be wary of when buying them:
- The pureed food is all the same consistency– mush. This means the food is consumed through sucking and not chewing. So if this is all they’re consuming, older babies who are progressing to more textured foods aren’t able to appreciate a wide variety of texture and tastes
- Food hidden in a colourful pouch doesn’t allow kids to learn how real food looks, feels and tastes. You also can’t see it before they eat it so even though food preparation is hygienic and standardised there have been reports of mould and other contaminants in pouched food.
- They may only cost a couple of dollars each but for the same amount of money, you can also buy a kilo of carrots and a few bananas that the whole family can enjoy. What you’re paying for is the packaging and the convenience.
- Labels can be misleading. Just because the front label proudly states ingredients like quinoa or kale, the ingredients list will often say otherwise. It’s the cheaper components of the puree that are listed first and make up the bulk of the product (usually apple, pear, carrot and cooking water). So most of the time the trendy or nutritious ingredients are listed at the end and don’t make up much of the puree at all.
- Know your sugar limits! Most pouches contain excessive amounts of free sugars including fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, rice malt syrup and evaporated cane sugar. Be aware that most of the savoury pouches also contain fruit purees which add unnecessary sugars to your child’s day. The recommended amount of added sugar for children in the 0-2 age group is zero teaspoons per day. The recommended fruit servings per day is a half serving. Always choose pouches that have less than 5g of sugar per 100g.
- Pouches tend to be higher in calories and lower in fibre compared to their whole food counterparts. Since fibre gives us that ‘full feeling’, a pouch only diet puts kids at risk of eating more than they need. A child’s inbuilt ability to portion control can be disrupted.
- Know your salt limits! Don’t trust claims like “low sodium” which are poorly regulated. The guidelines for Australian baby food are clear: no more than 100mg of sodium per 100g in foods containing meat, vegetables and fruit, no more than 300mg per 100g in biscuits, and no more than 350mg per 100g in rusks.
- Many pouches also contain fruit juice or purees that sweeten the food. This gives kids the false impression that all foods are sweet and they may not be willing to eat whole foods in their natural state. The last thing you want is to create a pouch guzzling and overly fussy toddler when it comes to meal time!
- Pouches create waste so instead of going for something disposable to store food on the run, choose a reusable container. Even pouches come in reusable versions.
So what should parents do? Fresh food is always going to be a better choice over processed & packaged food. So pouched food is ok occasionally and can be a handy backup or emergency meal that you can store in the pantry or nappy bag.
No one wants to be stuck with a hungry toddler on a packed train or in a car during peak hour without anything on hand. They can also be used as an accompaniment to a meal rather than the whole meal itself. Also, a pouch can be served in a bowl to be eaten with a spoon so that kids can see what they are eating and can take as little or as much as they want.
In short, purees in pouches can be a convenient option for parents and can be a nutritious addition to our children’s diet. It shouldn’t replace nutritious whole foods but rather be integrated thoughtfully so that healthy eating habits like portion control and the development of taste and eating skills isn’t hampered.