Don’t fret if you aren’t a goddess in the kitchen whipping up that homemade baby chow. Research has found that the home-cooked baby and infant foods are not necessarily superior to store-bought varieties. Who would have believed it!!
Weaning your baby to solid foods can be a very confusing time for parents with all the differing opinions coming from family members and the good ole internet.
The recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are that the babies who are breastfed, receive their sole source of nutrition until the age of 6 months. Introducing solid foods is a major step in a child’s development, but can really be fun for the child when he/she explores the new flavors and textures. The big question plaguing parents is if their child is getting the right nutrients or not.
The Archives of Disease in Childhood has published a new study that aims to help these parents make the choice between homemade versus pre-made infant foods. A team proceeded to assess whether commercially available ready-made meals designed for young children met age-specific national dietary recommendations. The nutritional content, price and food variety of commercial pre-prepared infant and young child feeding meals in the United Kingdom was investigated. The researchers then compared them with home-cooked recipes obtained from cookbooks. They found that home-cooked meals had a greater variety of vegetables.
The U.K. market offered 278 commercial savory main meals for children from 8 different manufacturers and 174 of the meals from six of the manufacturers were organic.
Out of 55 cookbooks, which included 4,438 recipes targeted at feeding children under 5, were selected from libraries and Amazon United Kingdom’s top 20 best-selling IYCF cookbooks. They used a random sample of 408 recipes that came within the categorized food types of poultry, seafood, red meat and vegetable. The analysis on these food types, when compared with commercial meals, revealed home-cooked meals were:
- 16% poultry-based (commercial 27%)
- 19% seafood-based (commercial 7%)
- 21% red meat-based (commercial 35%)
- 44% vegetable-based recipes (commercial 31%)
Home-cooked recipes included a greater variety of vegetables than store-bought meals across all the meals. In the commercial meals, carrots featured highly but onions were the predominant vegetable in home-cooked meals.
The sampled home-cooked meals did include a greater variety of vegetables but the commercial products contained a greater vegetable variety of three vegetables per meal compared with the two in home-cooked recipes.
About 26% more energy and 44% more protein and total fat content than the ready-made meals was provided in the home-cooked recipes. While the majority of store-bought products (65%) met energy density recommendations, 50% of the home-cooked meals exceeded the maximum range. The meals that were home-cooked were significantly lower in average cost compared to the commercial meals. Encouraging reduced energy density and fats, as are adult recommendations, it is important in infants that food is energy dense in appropriately sized meals to aid a child’s growth and development.
Essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins together with energy and sensory qualities are vital for the growing child, but excessive intakes might impact on childhood obesity and health.
A lower level of protein is contained in commercial meals, which might be due to the high quantity of early-stage meals and therefore a larger number of vegetable-based meals for first tastes on the market. Adding protein-based ingredients might be higher, so the manufacturers use less of them.
The child would most likely be exposed to a lower range of food types of vegetables, meats and fish options if the parents relied completely on the commercial market. This indicates that a mix of commercial products along with those home-cooked recipes may provide a child with a varied diet.
Of course those commercial foods are a convenient alternative, but there are a high proportion of red meat-based products and a low proportion of seafood-based products available, which conflicts with the dietary recommendation of increasing that oil-rich fish consumption and reducing the intake of red and processed meats. Most of the commercial meals did meet ED recommendations and can provide an easy and convenient alternative that includes a greater vegetable variety for each meal.
If you choose to use commercial foods alone to feed your infant, just be sure to do so with caution and read those labels. We all want the very best for our child and maybe a good deal of that is to also use our own recipes and be sure our child is exposed to the biggest variety of different types of food available.
-Dr Fredda Branyon