Choosing Food for Your Baby

By Ashley Traves
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The first few years of a child’s life can determine their future eating habits and relationship with food. From the beginning, what we feed our children is extremely important.1,2 As parents, this gives a wonderful opportunity to focus less on calorie intake or nutrients and more on introducing the tastes and textures that provide a foundation for healthy eating habits.1,2 This task is no easy feat with countless conflicting theories on children nutrition. One of the biggest debates is if baby food from a jar is just as good as homemade baby food.

To discuss this topic, we must start at the beginning. Commercial baby food first appeared during the depression era.3 It helped cash-strapped families provide nutritious meals for their kids and working families a timesaving alternative when more started working.3 Then, in the 1930s, Gerber introduced canned food and, a year later, was producing 2 million cans a year.3 By the 1950s, homemade baby food was considered time-consuming, unsanitary and old-fashioned by most parents.3

In recent years, however, parents are more concerned with additives and preservatives in canned baby food, giving homemade baby food a comeback. Homemade baby food may sound like a wonderful idea — you can control the amount of salt, sugar and even preservatives — but sometimes parents just don’t have the time. The added effort required to keep supplies fresh or frozen is hard enough! Homemade baby food also has the added worry about spoiling faster than your little one is willing to eat. Luckily, you can find good canned options at the store. Here is what to look for:

  • Ingredient lists with the least amount of ingredients, and avoid concentrates5
  • Foods that are single vegetable or fruit — cocktail mixes tend to have more fruit than vegetables, skewing babies tastes to sugar1
  • Added salt and sugar — this can be identified with sugars ending in -ose or -ium, like dextrose or sodium5
  • The breakdown of daily value, paying close attention to the portion size and how much salt and sugar are in that portion — if the portion size is 40 grams and 23 grams of that is sugar, then more than half of that portion is sugar1,4
  • A lot of natural fruit — a constant intake of fruit can be as bad as refined sugar1

You may even find a hybrid system works well for your family. Blend the family's meals as the baby gets older. Your child then can be introduced to new flavors and textures to start building healthy eating habits. Plus, one homemade meal is much easier to manage, and, with the tips above, you can feel good about buying timesaving baby food at the grocery store.

1.        Avena, N.M. 2018. What to feed your baby and toddler. Ten Speed Press, New York, NY. 
2.        Birch, L.L., and A.E. Doub. 2014. Learning to eat: birth to age 2 y. Am J Clin Nut. 99(3): 723S-728S.
3.        Rupp, R. 2014. What’s best for baby’s tummy? The history of baby food. Natl Geo. 
4.        Hammer, H.C., C.G. Perrine, P.M. Gupta, K.A. Herrick and M.E. Cogswell. 2017. Food consumption patterns among U.S. children from birth to 23 months of age, 2009–2014. Nutrients. 9(9): 942.
5.        Cogswell, M.E., J.P. Gunn, K. Yuan, S. Park, and R. Merritt. 2015. Sodium and sugar in complementary infant and toddler foods sold in the United States. Pediatrics. 135(3): 416 -423.