Summary of Public Health England's report on commercial baby foods
During my weaning workshops, I always include information on commercial baby foods. I highlight that, whilst useful in some instances such as when travelling or very short of time, bought baby foods are not to be relied upon. Homemade foods can be more nutritious as well as helping to expose babies to the sight, smell and texture of foods enjoyed by your family.
This month Public Health England released their review of commercial infant food products: Foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children: evidence and opportunities for action June 2019 which drew further attention to short comings of these products and how they are marketed.
The only type of commercial baby foods for which there was an increase in consumption with age was snacks (sweet and savoury).
Commercial baby finger foods such as sweet and savoury biscuits, crisps and puffs, and processed dried fruit products are not consistent with the types of foods given as examples of healthy snacks - fruit, vegetable sticks, toast, bread or plain yoghurt.
Whilst in general levels of added salt in baby food products are kept low, on average, savoury finger foods (including puffs, crisps, biscuits, crackers, wafers) contain the highest levels of salt per 100g across all product types.
Baby finger foods or snacks also often have free sugars in the form of fruit juice, purees or concentrates.
Some of these products contain added sugar, and many, marketed as snacks, contain dried fruit as an ingredient - this is inconsistent with dental health recommendations that dried fruit should be consumed as part of a meal and not offered as a between meal snack.
Nearly three-quarters of fruit juice-based baby drinks are marketed at infants under 12 months which is inconsistent with advice to offer only breast milk, infant formula or water as drinks between 6 and 12 months of age. If fruit juice is offered for children up to 5 years of age it should be heavily diluted (10% juice), but the proportion of fruit juice in commercial baby drinks is higher (15-50% juice).
Around one-third of commercial baby foods and drinks are packaged in pouches, many of which have nozzles. Instructions on how to feed these products (from a spoon) is not offered in a consistent way across the market.
The use of nutrition and implied health claims can suggest to parents that products are healthier than their nutrient composition indicates e.g. Claim: 1 of 5 a day; packed with real fruit; no preservatives. Contains: Sugar 67.7g/100g.
Often a products name does not reflect the range and balance of ingredients used in the product for example: Name: Broccoli, pear and peas Ingredients: Pears (79%), Peas (14%), Broccoli (7%), Lemon Juice Concentrate. This can mean that the product name sounds savoury whereas the first, or main ingredient is sweet.
PHE made a number of recommendations to government to address these issues.
The review also highlighted the overall lack of research in this area and that the limited quality and quantity of evidence, particularly the lack of studies based on recent data, makes it difficult to draw conclusions relevant to current UK policy and practice. Therefore, recommendations were made to gather more data on consumption.
The recommendation that I can help with is that of “creating a more supportive environment for parents and carers to enable healthier infant and young child feeding practices”. If you would like support during this critical time for establishing children’s food preferences and dietary patterns, then attending one of my workshops will allow you to have further support from me as you progress with weaning! My next course is on July 30th. Book here!
What else can you do?
Ideally first foods should be foods you have cooked at home. Pureed fresh or frozen single vegetables are ideal, cooked and pureed fruit, plus baby rice, oats, and Ready Brek made with babies usual breastmilk or formula milk. This way you will naturally be introducing foods that are free from added sugar and salt.
Introducing as many different vegetables that aren’t disguised with fruit will help with their acceptance of these foods as they progress as well.
Before you add salt or sugar to your own meals, put a little aside and save it for baby the next day. This way you don’t even have to cook separate meals.
If you are offering commercial food in pouches - make sure you offer it off a spoon rather than letting baby suck it out of the pouch. This will protect their teeth from the sugar and let them see and smell the food, thereby teaching them what food looks like!
Babies less than 1 year, in general, don’t need to be offered snacks between meals. Some bought baby foods may seem ideal finger foods, but foods from home can be cut up into the size of an adults finger and offered. Fruits and vegetables (parboiled or roasted veg, plus skins and pips removed) or offer strips of toast, salt and sugar free rice cakes, omelette, fishcakes, bean patties.
Invest in a small insulated picnic bag, ice blocks and a thermos flask for transporting foods and keeping them the desired temperature for when you are out and about. Don’t forget a spoon & bib :)
When eating out - ask the restaurant for some plain boiled veg, cut up fruit or toast that baby can eat if you haven’t brought anything with you and baby is still too young to order a meal for. Look at their menu and see if anything can be modified and served without added salt or sugar.
When buying baby foods learn to read labels and check that fruit juice, purees or concentrate isn’t near the top of the ingredients list for something that is supposed to be savoury.