Baby food has been in the press a lot recently and it often leaves parents worried about offering manufactured foods to their baby during weaning. Many parents have asked me ‘can I give pouches to my baby?’ and have questioned whether manufactured foods are healthy for their child.
Firstly, it’s important not to panic – manufactured baby food is fine to offer to your baby as a convenient food option, on the go, or when you really just don’t have time to cook. However there are certain things to keep in mind.
This blog will answer the top questions I receive from parents, giving you everything you need to know about this topic.
When can my baby have pouches?
Technically, right from when your baby is developmentally ready for starting solids, around 6 months old, you can offer them pouches. You may see that some of the pouches are labelled with “suitable from 4 months old,” but remember that in the UK, most babies are ready for weaning around 6 months of age. It’s important to look out for those signs of readiness for weaning before starting your baby on solid foods. If you’re considering weaning your baby earlier than this, do check with a healthcare professional for individualised advice.
How often can I give my baby pouches?
It’s best not to make these the foods that your baby has every day and/or for most of their meals. The reason for this? Babies like what they are familiar with. If they get familiar with manufactured foods, they are more likely to want and accept those, and actually reject foods that you’ve made from scratch! I’ve seen this happen so many times and once babies get comfortable with pouches, it can be a bit of a challenge to get them to eat anything else (not always, but quite often.)
Using pouches during weaning
Ultimately, we want babies to be moving onto “family foods” early on in their weaning journey, so they learn to accept and enjoy the tastes of your own family food & flavours. The more & the earlier they are offered this kind of food, the more they’ll be likely to accept it.
On top of this, pouches often contain very thin textures – they have to be fairly thin in order for the food to come out of the nozzle & they also have to contain fairly soft textures to cover themselves when it comes to risks of choking, but also to ensure that most babies can competently eat them.
As an example – if a pouch is for a 9 month old – some 9 month olds may not have taken well to textures & may still be on thin purées. Baby pouch companies must provide foods that this baby will eat. Other babies may be much more competent with textures, but those babies CAN eat less lumpy textures efficiently – so it makes sense for manufacturers to err on the side of caution when it comes to “moving baby through textures”.
What about fruit and sugar levels?
Many parents ask me ‘do baby pouches have too much sugar?’. Fruit in manufactured baby food IS a bit of an issue….now, I have to add that FRUIT is fine to offer babies and I have actually written about this before in my blog fruit for babies and toddlers.
However, when fruit is puréed a few things happen:
- The pulp,cells and sugar in the fruit are broken down and become more readily available during digestion & absorption.
- The food becomes sweeter – for example pureed apple is generally sweeter than having an apple whole, because the sugars are more available and you can taste them more easily on your tongue.
- The pureed fruit pouches often contain a few portions of fruit – more than a baby might usually eat in a whole sitting if having whole fruits, which also adds to the sugar content.
- Pureed fruits contain LESS fibre as some of the fibre is also broken down in the fruit & often the pulp/skin is removed when making fruit purées to keep the texture smooth. Often these parts are the most fibrous part of the fruit.
So although fruit isn’t something to be avoided, LOTS of fruit blended is not ideal for babies, especially as we know that babies are developing food preferences right at the start of weaning & are actually born with a preference for sweeter tastes.
If we offer them plenty of sweet tastes at the start of weaning, it makes sense that they will become more familiar with that taste and be less inclined to try or enjoy more bitter, savoury and umami tastes. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I like the Veg Led approach to weaning!
Now, this is not to say that manufacturers are “bad” – I’ve worked with some of them & there are a LOT of rules & regulations that stop them offering options that would be “ideal” for babies. They also have to meet strict guidelines that are well overdue an update. They also have to produce what sells! Babies like sweet foods and so will show their parents much more enjoyment for the sweeter pouch options!
However, one thing that often happen with pouches is that sweeter fruits are used to intentionally make the pouches sweeter and therefore more desirable to babies.
Often sweet foods are added to foods that would usually be savoury at home, again to ensure baby enjoys and eats the pouch!
Pouches are often less varied too and if you only offered your baby pouches you may inadvertently be limiting their diet to just a few handfuls of ingredients. Variety early on in baby’s diet is really important!
This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything though and it doesn’t mean you have to avoid pouches completely. For many they are a really easy, convenient food option!
Just try these tips to help instead:
What to look out for in pouches?
- Choose ones that aren’t just fruit based – this can help to lessen the sweetness and also introduce more of a variety of flavours
- Check the back of pack for % of ingredients – for example, if the front of pack says “broccoli” and the packaging is green, what % of the product is actually broccoli?
- Ignore health “halos” such “all natural” – these often don’t mean anything and are purely to make their product seem superior
- Choose a variety of flavours and textures and don’t feel you have to follow the age on the front!
- Remember, they don’t usually contain “added sugar”, but blended fruit is very high in sugars (see above!)
What to do?
- Don’t panic at all! Feeding children can be really stressful, and pouches can be a reassurance for many parents. It doesn’t make you a “bad parent” if you use pouches.
- Focus on ones which contain higher veg and protein proportions – not just fruits. For example choose options which may be a meal such as spaghetti Bolognese or a curry
- Offer them alongside finger foods and whole foods so that your baby gets exposed to textures early on as well (see my blog all about finger foods for 6-12 months)
- Focus on your family meals as much as you can and use pouches less frequently – for example, try to use pouches for meals when you know you won’t have time to prepare any food
- Move onto more textured foods and less “purées” fairly quickly – check out my blog on moving through textures when weaning for more help with this
- Find quirky ways to use pouches, for example:
- Spread on toast
- Alongside crackers or breadsticks as a dip
- Serve with whole foods – e.g. if the pouch is “pasta” – serve alongside pasta shapes as well – this helps your baby to be exposed to foods in their whole form as well
- Use as a dip for veggie sticks
- Stir into yoghurt
- Avoid feeding straight from the pouch and offer from a spoon instead – give your baby a spoon and let them practice self-feeding and let them SEE the food
I hope this blog helps reassure you if you do rely on pouches, and gives some tips for what to look out for.
For more, in-depth support to help you feel more confident with introducing solid foods plus plenty of easy, delicious recipes for your family,
Please check out my book How To Wean Your Baby.