How Safe is Packaged Food for Babies?
Good nutrition is one of the strongest foundations you can lay down to build your child’s immunity, allow them to reach their growth potential and developmental goals and ensure that they are happy and healthy little individuals.
However, in today’s fast-paced lives with full-time work, family commitments, everyday errands and long commuting hours taking up most of the day, parents often struggle to find the time to prepare healthy meals from scratch. The consequence is often resorting to packaged, ready-to-eat foods, which are not only convenient but also claim to be nutritious and wholesome. But how safe is packaged food for our children? Can you believe the claims or are they just marketing gimmicks?
We take a closer look at why making food at home is worth the effort and what to look out for if you are buying readymade baby food.
Watch Out For Refined Sugars and Salt
A lot of packaged baby foods contain large amounts of refined sugar and salt, which is neither necessary nor nutritious. It is added to make the food more palatable to children and can lead to them overeating and becoming used to overly sweet and salty meals, rejecting the more subtle flavours of homemade food.
When shopping for packaged food, look at the nutritional labels of the food and pick a brand with the least amount of sugar and salt in it. Make sure that sugar is not listed high up in the ingredients list as contents are listed according to quantities in the food. So if sugar is, say, one of the first two or three ingredients listed, the percentage of it in the food will be quite high. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a food with a high sugar content may be nutritionally fine if most of the sugar comes from a good source - for example, when fruit or milk are listed as the first few ingredients and the nutritional table states sugar as being on the higher side. Keep in mind that refined sugar goes under a whole spectrum of names such as glucose, glucose syrup, honey and molasses.
Choose Real Snacks over “Baby” Snacks
It may be tempting, but avoid giving your baby or toddler treat foods that are made for babies. Many baby food snacks mirror junk foods that are eaten by adults. This may seem adorable but these crisps and cookies contain a ton of added sugar and salt. Babies can’t reason that these delicious treats are unhealthy and should be eaten in moderation. Indulging them in these foods can put your baby off eating nutritious snacks such as bananas, yoghurt, boiled peas and other vegetables.
Limit Food Pouches
Pureed baby food that comes in easy-to-eat pouches have been around for about a decade and are gaining increasing popularity in India. These are convenient because they do not require additional cutlery and babies can suck the food directly out of the package. However, excess use can hinder your child’s developmental skills for good eating habits in the future. This is because the child gets used to a smoother, sweeter version of food, as opposed to the more subtle and textured purees and baby foods made at home, resulting in less exposure and challenges for their developing palate. This can lead to fussy eating in the long run. The ease at which the baby can obtain food from the pouches can lead to overeating and the added sugars (even natural sugars from fruit pulp or juice) can result in tooth decay.
Say No to Juice
You and your baby are better off eating real fruit. The nutritional benefit of juice for babies and adults is very limited as fibre is absent and the concentration of sugars are high. Juice, even those packaged specially for babies, can contain as much sugar as carbonated drinks, risking decay for your little one’s new teeth. Stick to milk, whether breast milk or formula and choose real fruit or homemade fruit purees, depending on your baby’s age, instead of juices.
Save Time by Freezing Homemade Food
Finding the time to cook for a baby or toddler daily can be tough, that’s why making large batches of baby food and freezing it is a great time- and money-saver, and it ensures that your child is eating healthy, balanced meals free of excess sugars, salt or preservatives. Make sure that everything you freeze is cooked hygienically and thoroughly and stored in airtight, food- and freezer-safe, clean containers. Label all packets with the dates of freezing on them to ensure that you discard food that is too old for consumption.
Pay Attention to Overall Health
When it comes to seeing to your child’s health and immunity, there are factors other than just food and nutrition to pay attention to. Immunisation is one of the most important aspects of child health as it is the single most effective way to avoid a host of potentially-harmful yet preventable diseases. By making sure your child follows a prescribed immunisation schedule, you are ensuring their protection against harmful diseases that can compromise their health and have long-term negative consequences on their well-being.
This is a partnered post.