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Commercial vs. Homemade Baby Food—How To Provide All The Essential Nutrients

Parents want to ensure they provide all the essential nutrients for their children‘s growth and development—either through homemade or commercial baby food. There isn’t a “best” option though, both have advantages and disadvantages, which usually depend on parents’ individual needs. That’s why, it’s really important for you as a parent to understand their differences, in order to make informed decisions. This article will hopefully ease the decision process for you!

Many parents think that (1) homemade baby food is always the best option, that (2) commercial baby food is unhealthy, as well as (3) homemade baby food is always more nutritious. However, there are many factors that determine whether these common beliefs are true or not.

Around 6 months of age, breast milk becomes insufficient to meet all the energy and nutritional requirements of your child due to the accelerated growth during this stage. That’s why, it becomes very important to start complementary feeding and offer additional nutrients to contribute to her/his growth and development. Regardless of whether these are provided through store-bought products or homemade preparations, what’s really important is to offer foods with a high nutritional density (i.e., foods high in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats) and in the necessary quantities.

Therefore, you as a parent should choose what best suits your needs as a family. Both, commercial and homemade food have advantages and disadvantages. But getting to know them well, will certainly help you evaluate what to choose depending on the specific situation.

 PROS of homemade baby food

  • Money—It can be cheaper.
  • Origin—You probably know where is comes from.
  • Ingredients—You get to choose what to add.
  • Creativity—It gives you the opportunity to combine and experiment with different foods, textures, colors, and flavors.

CONS of homemade baby food and solutions/alternatives

    • Time-consuming—Preparing your own food (e.g., chopping, steaming, blending) usually means extra time in the kitchen. Try to → Lean about batch cooking/meal-prep techniques. It will help you save time and money.
    • Shelf life/storage time—More likely to spoil quicker. Try to  Learn about food storage and refrigeration times. It will help you keep homemade foods safe for longer periods of time, as well as avoid growth of bacteria! Why don't you stick a list on the fridge with storage and refrigeration times?
    • Safety—Homemade food doesn’t have safety and quality checks.Try to   Learn basic hygiene standards in the kitchen (e.g., wash your hands, avoid cross contamination, cook animal source foods such as meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly) will help you keep your baby’s food safe from dangerous bacteria.
    • Nutrient loss—Loss of nutrients in foodsespecially vegetablescan highly depend on how you cook these, thus lowering their nutritional value.Try to  Select cooking methods that result in less mineral loss (e.g., stewing, or blanching) or using instruments in the kitchen such the Olababy Steam Bowl, can help you to retain more nutrients in food. This BPA-free Bowl is made from silicone, and acts as both a steamer and serving bowl, combined into one, allowing you to prepare more nutritious homemade baby food.

PROS of commercial baby food

    • Time saver—If you are a busy parent this might be a good alternative for you.
    • CreativityBuying some baby foods doesn’t mean that you can’t combine these with other homemade preparations and create interesting and nutritious recipes.
    • Longer shelf-lifeIf you don’t open the product there is a good chance that you can keep it for a longer period of time.
    • Regulatory requirementsThese are definitely more rigorous!
    • FortifiedIt has important added nutrients, which help boost your child’s growth and development. 

CONS of commercial baby food and solutions/alternatives

    • CostIt can be more expensive.Try to  Consider this option when you don’t have time to cook or are tired, because you had a busy week at work.
    • ContaminationSome packaging can be environmentally unfriendly and produce unnecessary waste.Try to  Buy eco-friendly commercial baby food products, or recycle/reutilize its packaging.
    • Heavy metalsAlthough regulations are strict, some reports have confirmed the presence of heavy metals in some baby products.Try to  Offer your little one a wide variety of different foods (e.g., grains, fruits, vegetables, animal sources).
    • Confusing labels—Sometimes you don’t know what to pay attention to on food labels. Try to  Learn how to read labels. See guide below:

In conclusion, (1) homemade baby food isn’t always the best option, (2) commercial baby food isn’t always unhealthy, and (3) homemade baby food isn’t always more nutritious. It always depends on your particular situation and the specific food or preparation you select. However, if you are still hesitant and are trying to decide whether or not to buy commercial (packaged) food for your baby and family, it could be useful to evaluate its nutritional content, paying special attention to:

  1. The list of ingredients on the label: The first ingredient represents the largest amount that the products contained when manufactured, and the last represents the smallest one.
  2. The nutrition facts: Look for products that contain key nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, omega 3, vitamin D, A and C.
  3. The health claims: Although many baby food products are marketed as “no added sugar”, many of them are naturally high in sugar, and the fact that they don’t have added sugars doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Banana puree, grape sugar and apple puree or juice concentrate, are also a sugar form. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t offer products that contain this sugar forms to your child. Maybe you just have to get a little bit more creative and come up with a simple homemade preparation that includes a smaller amount of this store-bought products—then it will be definitely healthier.

 

References: 

    Food labels: Nutritional information and ingredients. Raising Children. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/healthy-lifestyle/nutrients/food-labels

    How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label

    Complementary feeding - Global. (2019, December 20). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/complementary-feeding#tab=tab_1

    Global Regulatory Requirements for Baby Food. (n.d.). SGS. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.sgs.com/en/news/2015/12/global-regulatory-requirements-for-baby-food

    Lee, S. (2017, December 12). Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food Science and Biotechnology. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10068-017-0281-1?error=cookies_not_supported&code=a2485e73-4db5-4957-9ffb-e80330710e9b

    McCarthy, C. (2021, March 2). Heavy metals in baby food? What parents should know and do. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-metals-in-baby-food-what-parents-should-know-and-do 2021030522088#:%7E:text=A%20report%20from%20the%20US,lead%2C%20cadmium%2C%20and%20mercury.

    Okeyo, D. (2018). Impact of Food Fortification on Child Growth and Development during Complementary Feeding. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2018, Vol. 73, Suppl. 1 - Karger Publishers. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/490087

    Food industry marketing sugary baby foods as healthy, misleading consumers - Obesity Policy Coalition. (n.d.). Food Industry Marketing Sugary Baby Foods as Healthy, Misleading Consumers. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.opc.org.au/media/media-releases/opc_food-industry-marketing-sugary-baby-foods-as-healthy-misleading-consumers.html#:%7E:text=Processed%20baby%20foods%20that%20are,one%20in%20five%20baby%20foods.