The variety of ready-made baby food available nowadays is quite simply astounding. Covering all ages between 4 months and 4 years. Of course, jars have their uses. And you cannot deny the convenience of a prepared meal if you are pushed for time. There is also the benefit of being able to transport them easily. If you are out and about its great not to worry about chilling them or them leaking. Plus, with the introduction of pouches in recent years, it is easier than ever to feed your tiny hungry mouths, since you can just squirt the pouch directly out onto a spoon, or even give it to an older baby to feed itself.
With all the pouches, jars, and tray meals on the market, it can be hard to know what is most suitable since most of them boast health claims, such as high calcium or vitamin D content. However, there is need for caution when purchasing ready-made baby food. Some of the products have high numbers of allergens, even in the products for 6 months and under. On top of this, the product is heated to an extremely high temperature to pasteurise it, which is why it is often packaged in jars. During pasteurisation, enzymes and antioxidants (particularly phenols) can be destroyed since they are very sensitive to heat radiation. Vitamin C is also significantly effected by heat treatment. It should also be stressed, that lower quality or ‘baby grade’ fruit and vegetables are used in baby food. Ultimately, these are products that could not make the shelves at the supermarket because their quality is below standard.
In addition to this, the texture is also significantly different to that of homemade, freshly prepared foods, which could ignite issues with fussy eating in the future. Generally speaking, it is best not to exclusively feed baby jars or pouches. But, as mentioned before, they have their place and their uses.
Named and shamed
So here is a quick guide of what we think about the different ready-made baby food available.
In terms of the major allergens, and sugar content, Cow and Gate loses out. Many of their products aimed at ‘stage 1’ (4-6 months) contain wheat, egg, dairy and gluten, with refined sugar on top of all this. They even have a section of ‘Dairy desserts’ aimed at 4 months plus! So, in our opinion, we would pass on the banana cookie crumble.
Heinz is not too far behind either, with dairy in their products aimed for 4 months plus; however, unlike Cow and Gate, their products contain no refined sugar. They do, however, include dairy, gluten, and egg from 7 months.
At this point, we would like to add that having seen and tasted the vast majority of all the brands of pre-packed foods, that the Heinz and Cow and Gate products tasted, well, the worst! And the smell of some of them was insulting. It is good practice to consider the idea that if you are not tempted by the smell, taste and texture of the food in the pouch or jar, why should your baby enjoy it?
One to watch
Despite being 100% organic, HiPP Organic also have dairy and sugar in their 4 month plus products. For example their banana custard, which is marketed as suitable from 4 months. Steer clear of products like this, and stick to the fruit and vegetable jars/ pouches. Choose those with no dairy, wheat, sugar or egg in until over 7 months.
A safer bet
Ella’s Kitchen do not introduce any major allergens before the age of 6 months. Plus they have a range of ‘First tastes’ pouches, which include mono-ingredient products such as carrots, prunes, bananas, and peaches. They don’t introduce dairy until over 6 months and, even then, have several options that are dairy and gluten free. There’s no refined sugar in their products, even the baby biscuits, instead they rely on concentrated fruit juice for sweetness.
Other products, such as baby cereals and baby juices, are unnecessary. Despite being made from rice, and therefore, generally non-allergenic, baby cereals contain high levels of arsenic and glycemic. Meaning this is anything but an ideal first food for baby. All the baby food companies sell these products, so be careful not to be persuaded.
If your baby is younger than 6 months, then it is not a problem to stick to organic pouches and jars, free from refined sugar and allergens, if you are on the move. There is nothing wrong with offering a pouch of apple and pear puree as a dessert, for example. So do not feel guilty when you reach for these products, as long as you choose the right ones and incorporate lots of homemade fresh foods.