Are consumers being misled by baby food?

Are consumers being misled by baby food?

By Alison Pask, Registered Dietitian

I was shopping for a friend over Christmas and the shopping list asked for a weeks’ worth baby food and snacks. The family I was shopping for are a busy family and rely on convenience and packaged foods for their young children.

As my children are now adults it has been some time since I was shopping in the baby food isle. My first impression was the number of products labelled Organic, No Artificial Colours or Flavours, Gluten Free, No Preservatives and Added Prebiotics.

While choosing the baby foods, I noted many savoury vegetable and meat meals contained fruit, which bumped the sugar content up significantly. While I was not doing a scientific experiment, I compared two similar products and the sugar content ranged from 2 to 15.8g /sugar/serve.

Processed snack foods

However, it was the wide range of processed snack foods that astounded me. There were shelves of puffed snacks and various shapes and sizes of fancy crackers, with dinosaurs being the most popular shape. There were organic tomato sticks made with 77% flour and only 6.6% tomato powder. Many labels highlighted that these highly processed, salty snacks were made with ingredients like lentils, chickpeas, white beans, and quinoa – making them sound much healthier than they really are.

What worried me was the idea that many of these foods are highly processed foods in disguise. I left with a strong feeling that it is unethical and sneaky to market junk food to parents under the guise of healthy ingredients.  Do we need to be packaging so called ‘healthy’ foods into highly processed crackers or biscuits and pretend they have nutritional benefits?

Children grow quickly and have high nutrition needs and filling them up on highly processed foods at a young age contributes to many issues including tooth decay. The sweet tastes impact on children’s taste preferences and this can result in the child expecting all food to taste sweet, making foods without a sweet taste more challenging to introduce. A child has a small tummy, so snacks fill them quickly leaving less room for more nutritious foods such as fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables.

As an occasional meal or snack for a busy household these products can have their place but certainly not as an everyday or every meal item.

Nine Tips for choosing baby food
  1. Make your own baby food from seasonal produce
  2. Choose a savoury baby food option without added fruit, such as chicken & vegetables
  3. Invest in a whizz or blender to make your own foods to the desired consistency
  4. Read labels and compare similar products looking for lower sugar and salt
  5. Check out the supermarket website before shopping. Countdown shows the nutrition information panel of the products online making it easier to read the labels. New World has some great recipes for homemade baby food without added sugar or salt.
  6. Avoid shopping with hungry children
  7. Consider online shopping
  8. Gradually offer a wide variety of different flavours and textures to babies from six months’ old
  9. By the age of one, aim for your child to eat the same food as the whole family.