Survey: first time mums most likely to choose packaged baby food

A recent survey showed that first time mums are the most likely group to feed their baby packaged food. 

Roy Morgan Research spoke to almost 2000 parents with children aged below 2 years.

The research showed parents aged between 25 and 34 were more likely to purchase baby food than their older counterparts – 26% of parents aged 24 and under buy baby food in an average four-week period, compared with 22% of 25-34 year-olds and just 19% of those 35 and over.

As is the case with many parenting decisions, these results suggest that experience (whether that’s age or subsequent children) contributes to the outcome. 

Like most topics associated with babies and parenting, everyone has an opinion on whether or not babies should be fed commercially produced food or if meals should be home made. 

Here, our expert dietitian Erika Harman discusses the pros and cons of both packaged and home cooked baby food. 

Many parents feel guilty about including commercially prepared baby foods in their baby’s diet.

In reality when used from time to time these items can add variety into the baby’s diet as well as allowing time in the busy role of parenting to shower your baby with love in other ways.

Unfortunately, not all commercially pre-prepared baby foods are created equal.

This does not mean homemade will always be better but there are a few points to keep in mind when buying prepared baby foods.

My top tips are:

  1. Choose items with no added sugar or salt. Babies have an incredibly sensitive sense of taste. Having more than double the number of taste buds than adults do ( they even have them on the back of their throats and on their tonsils) their sense of taste is very sensitive. While babies are sensitive to sweet and bitter tastes at birth, they prefer sweet. At approximately 5 months babies become sensitive to salty foods. Because their sense of taste is so sensitive, babies do not require salt/sugar to make their meals more palatable. Leaving the added sugar/salt out will have lifelong health benefits. Introducing foods other than breastmilk/formula sometimes is a slow process because the new tastes will be so different to the sweet taste of milk. Babies are often cautious and slightly suspicious of new foods for this reason. New foods therefore need to be offered individually in small amounts and often (more than 10 times) before a baby will begin accepting/enjoying them. Some babies may take to new foods immediately.
  2. Choose items with only one food/ingredient in the pack to begin with. Some baby foods on the market have 3 or 4 or more ingredients in them. An example is a baby food pouch recently seen on a supermarket shelf “Lamb Casserole with 7 veggies inside”.These foods can present several problems. If your baby reacts to the meal in some way (e.g. rash) it will be very difficult to work out which ingredient was the cause.  When introducing new foods to your baby , the goal is to get them to recognise the food. i.e when feeding the baby pumpkin, it needs to look , taste and smell like pumpkin.Creating stored images of what that food is, will mean that next time baby is presented with pumpkin he will know what is coming and is less likely to be anxious about what this “new” food is.

    Once your baby has been exposed to many different foods, and readily accepts them, “mixed” meal items such as casseroles will be more appropriate to include in their diet.

  3. Commercially prepared baby foods do not offer enough variation in texture. While there are basic variations in texture on offer, such as pureed/smooth, lumpy, toddler in commercially prepared foods, there is very little in between.

Many of the flavours offered are very samey. This is due to all the ingredients being mixed up together in the same pouch/bottle. In my opinion, this is where homemade is better as you can more carefully chose the flavours and textures you wish to expose your baby to.

For example, a teaspoon of flaked tuna, teaspoon of mashed pumpkin, teaspoon of well cooked, finely chopped broccoli fed separately but all at the same meal. The following day it could be a small cheese omelette finely chopped, pureed peas and pasta shapes. Homemade foods allow a greater exposure to different tastes and textures. Homemade foods also allow the parent/caregiver to see which food items the baby loves immediately and those which require further exposure.

The best approach is to expose your baby to a mixture of homemade and commercially prepared foods. Commercially prepared for the convenience factor and homemade to provide opportunities to advance flavour and texture challenges.

For parents/caregivers who value the inclusion of commercially available organic food whenever possible, look for price per 100g . This way sometimes the organic option can be cheaper than the regular varieties. Buy several different varieties when they are on special/sale to keep moving your baby on developmentally and exposing him/her to new foods/flavours.

Try to move your baby from the smooth to the lumpy to the toddler versions every couple of months to keep in line with their developmental stages. By about seven months to eight months your baby will have developed the skills to hold finger foods. This is a good opportunity for him/her to try new foods and explore different textures with a variety of soft fruits or vegetables. Finger foods assist baby get used to different textures, improves co-ordination and encourages self feeding. If your baby is not taking foods with a lumpy texture/ finger foods by nine months an Accredited Practising Paediatric dietitian APD can help.

When making meals at home for your baby, using fruit/veges which are frozen/canned is a great idea as these foods are picked at their peak and for this reason, they are good foods to be using to make meals for your baby. Check they have no added sugar or salt.

Other tips for homemade meals include:

  • Avoid hard, sticky foods which are choking hazards – e.g. nuts, marshmallows
  • Cut round foods which can easily become lodged in their throats, into 4 pieces lengthwise and then into smaller pieces e.g. grapes, carrots, hot dogs.
  • Avoid soft drinks, fruit juice, all tea, coffee, soy, rice,cereal drinks.
  • No honey
  • No raw eggs – all egg dishes must be well cooked to avoid food poisoning – salmonella.
  •  Low fat options are not suitable for children under 2 years of age – the full fat version is required for normal brain and spinal cord development.