Ready made vs home cooked food when weaning

As nutrition adviser for Lulubaby, I am always keen to teach our new mothers about the benefits of home cooked-food for their whole family.

One question I’m often asked in our weaning classes is whether shop-bought baby purees are good substitutes for home cooking.

Popular high street brands of packaged baby foods are often marketed as "organic"and “free from nasties”. These statements naturally make parents think that these meals in pouches must be good for their baby. Sure, they aren’t going to do your baby any harm. And yes, an organic, free-from baby food is going to be better for your baby's health than a non-organic version that is full of sugar, salt, nutritionally void fillers and preservatives.

However none of these packaged shop-bought options compare to the health benefits of home-cooked food.

Let’s look at the fine print

Parents rarely look in detail at the list of ingredients included in the appealingly packaged and incredibly convenient roast lamb or beef stew. When you do take a moment to analyse the detail it’s surprising what you find (and I’m talking about the top of the range most expensive organic options available):

Nutrition: The nutritional value of these packaged food options has got to be a primary concern….a University of Glasgow study published in September 2013 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood tested over 400 baby food products from leading manufacturers and concluded that shop-bought options are half as nutritious as home-cooked equivalents. In particular, the low protein content (often as little as 8%) of some of these meat dishes may be insufficient to meet the needs of a growing baby.

Flavour: Parents are, understandably, delighted when their baby readily devours a shop-bought tub of chicken casserole. However one reason why babies seem to love these packaged options and will often become hooked on them is because the sweetness of apple or pear (6% apple juice in a chicken casserole that only has 8% chicken? Yes, really.) is overwhelming. There’s one sure way to instil a sweet tooth…

Variety: Parents don't see the smooth paste that comes out of these squeezy pouches and plastic tubs as colourless and textureless. Studies have shown that we reduce the chance of a toddler becoming a fussy eater if we expose them to as much variety as possible in the first few months of weaning.  This means we need to give babies a varied diet in terms of flavour, texture and colour. It is undeniable that popular brands of baby food often offer plenty of variety in terms of ingredients. However don’t be fooled! A long list of ingredients doesn’t offer a true variety of texture, taste and colour if these are all indistinguishable within the context of the mush that comes out. Their inclusion isn't helping to develop a baby's taste buds. Yes, a variety of ingredients can offer variety in terms of nutrition. But variety needs to also come in terms of taste, colour and texture  - arguably you don’t get any of this from packaged options.

So, while the convenience of these pouched food options may be irresistible and, on occasion, the simplest option when travelling or when a busy mother just wants a break, home cooking your baby’s food will benefit your baby enormously not only in terms of their health but also in terms of establishing healthy eating habits for life (and you may even find it helps them to sleep through the night if you’re lucky!).

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With thanks to Mary for this guest post, if you'd like more information on nutrition for babies please visit her site below.

Mary van der Westhuizen - Nutritional Therapist MA (Oxon), Dip NT BCNH, mBANT mCNHC

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Great links for home made baby food recipes - 

The Bump -  Top 10 baby food cook books @thebump

Wholesome Babyfood -  Great homemade recipes for babies @wholesomebaby

Annabel Karmel -  the UK’s most trusted expert on good, tasty food for every age and stage, from eating during pregnancy and weaning, to feeding toddlers and family food@annabelkarmel

Cooking Light - Everything you need to prepare healthy, nutritious food for your baby: Find simple recipes and information about food allergies and intolerances, as well as food storage and safety. @Cooking_Light


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