Important information about baby food in pouches
Over the years commecially produced baby food has come to us in cans, glass jars, dried, frozen and now pouch food is all the rage and its popularity shows no signs of waning.
What’s in those pouches, anyway?
While the puches generally contain vegetables or fruits and combinations of both, many have a higher concentration of fruit so the contents are more palatable to children.
Many of the pouches on offer are organic and with nothing artificial added.
Why pouches are fine
There are many advantages to pouch food:
- Preparation is regulated, controlled and hygienic.
- Preparation is regulated and hygenic
- Kids tend to like them
- They are readily available
- They don’t require any preparation. For busy parents, buying pouched food cuts down on shopping and cooking time.
- They’re very convenient, can be transported easily, weigh very little and can be stashed into a nappy bag or handbag for when they’re needed.
- They’re an instant fix for a hungry child who can’t wait to eat.
- They minimise messy eating and there are few if any dirty dishes generated.
- If eaten direct from the pouch the content are easily swallowed, rather than spat out. For parents who are keen to monitor exactly how much their child is eating, pouches can give a clearer indication.
- They promote self feeding and independence. The child controls how much they eat and when to stop because they’re full.
- The nutritional content is clearly stated.
- Some parents view as positive the concept of their child being able to suck on a pouch whilst doing something else. This helps to reduce the food battles and stress of sitting down to eat at the dinner table.
But they’re not all good
Many child health professionals however are concerned that the self feeding nature of some of the pouches encourages sucking rather than chewing. Kate Di Prima, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, supports this view and says that pouch foods eliminate the whole educational purpose of food for children. “Children learn through touch and being able to see and smell the food they’re about to eat. This just can’t be done when food is disguised in pouches – colours, textures and food variety are all mushed together.”
Ms DI Prima also says that “Pouches don’t teach children how to build up to medium and advanced chewing skills and how to move food around in their mouth,”
Why pouches are problematic
- It is pureed and semi liquid meaning children suck and swallow their meals rather than bite, chew and swallow.
- Because the contents are so smooth, they can promote an aversion to lumps and a delay in skill development. Babies need to progress steadily from purees to mash, lumps and finger foods. When not challenged to chew their food they often gag and refuse to eat anything other than soft purees.
- A important part of learning about food and how to eat it is picking it up and playing with it. Pouch food does not make this easy.
- The child can’t see the food in the pouch so they don’t know what they’re eating. This means they can’t and don’t make choices about what to eat and how to eat it.
- Pouches can tend to be kilojoule and sugar rich. Often the contents are very low in roughage and fibre (which promote feeling of fullness).
- Pureed food tends to sit on the teeth and doesn’t have the abrasive quality of chewed foods. That means there’s an increased risk of tooth decay, particularly for kids who suck on pouches for long periods of time.
- They mostly come in combinations such as vegetable/fruit combos so individual foods can’t be tasted on their own.
- They don’t help kids to link food with its origins. It’s one thing to see a banana being peeled and mashed and another to see a screw cap turned on a foil packet.
- Much of the cost is related to the manufacture and packaging rather than what’s actually in the pouch so can be relatively expensive
- They contribute to landfill.
- Portion control is more difficult to maintain
- Toddlers and older kids who suck on pouches often move around when they’re eating: This is a choking and safety risk.
- Once opened (and sucked on) they can become contaminated
But oh so convenient!
Just because something is easy doesn’t make it right. However there is always a time and a place for convenience food. Here are some tips to help minimise the pouch food pitfalls:
Tips for using pouch food
- Try not to use them all the time; ideally a child’s diet is balanced, varied and textured.
- Dispense the food into a bowl rather than giving the whole pouch to your child to suck from. *
- Use once and then throw away what isn’t eaten. Food contents spoil once exposed to the air.
- Read the labels and choose varieties with only one or a couple of fruit/vegetable components.
- Sit your child in a high chair when eating. This is one important way for them to learn about the socialisation of eating.
- View pouch food as an addition to your child’s diet rather than their primary form of nutrition.
*Manufacturers say this is included in their recommendations, but in the main it doesn’t happen. Perhaps it does in the early days of solid foods being introduced but as kids become more independent, they want to hold onto the pouch and control the flow of what’s going into their mouth.
When pouch food becomes a problem
If your child is refusing to eat foods with any texture or is gagging, then have them checked by a healthcare professional. It’s important to rule out any physical cause for not being able to chew and swallow. Speech therapists and dieticians with a special interest in paediatrics have the expertise and additional training to provide support and guidance. Then introduce solids slowly.