Store-bought baby food is quick, easy and can be nutritious. But just like any other area of the grocery store, some options are not as healthy as others. Follow these tips to make sure you’re choosing the best baby foods for your little one.
Look for Iron
Your baby needs iron for his developing body and brain, so be sure to offer iron-rich sources every day, such as meats and iron-fortified infant cereals.
• Meat: Look for single meats (such as beef, turkey, chicken and pork) with no additional ingredients. Added water is OK.
• Cereal: Look for plain, single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal. Skip flavored cereals; they’re filled with sugar and other ingredients your baby doesn’t need. Instead, combine your baby’s cereal with a little bit of real veggies or fruits for flavor.
If arsenic in rice cereal is a concern, use infant oatmeal cereal.
Pick vegetables that are actually veggies
Your baby doesn’t need added sugar or preservatives, so look for veggie baby food that includes veggies only (added water is OK). And skip the veggie/fruit combos; they teach your baby that veggies only taste good if they’ve been sweetened with fruit.
By exposing your baby to the taste of plain veggies while he is young, you are setting him up to enjoy whole veggies when he’s older.
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What to Look For
Percentage of ingredients
Under Australian food labelling laws manufacturers must list ingredients on the label in descending order of weight, but they only need to declare the percentage of ‘characterising’ ingredients – the ones mentioned in the product name or pictured on the label. An ingredients list that shows the percentage of ingredients gives you a good idea of how much real food has been used, and whether it reflects the name – “pureed peaches” might actually be 15% apple.
Jars, cans and shelf-stable containers have the highest level of heat treatment and so have retained the lowest level of heat-sensitive vitamins. Chilled products with long shelf lives in the fridge are less treated, and chilled products with short shelf lives and products which must be kept frozen are the least heat treated (and the closest to making it yourself).
Check the ingredients list for added sugars (including honey and fruit juice concentrate which can act as a sweetener and isn’t as nutrient-dense as whole fruit). If more than four percent (4g per 100g) sugars are added, the label must say it’s ‘sweetened’. Check the nutrition panel for sugar content per 100g.
Our baby snacks review exposes the added sugars in many supermarket products.
Dietitians have told CHOICE that babies don’t need dessert. But if you must, look for products with no or minimal added sugars. 100% fruit purée mixed with natural yoghurt is a reasonable option.
Like sugar, salt is an unnecessary addition. The amount of salt baby foods can contain is limited – no more than 100mg of sodium per 100g in meat, veggie and fruit baby food, no more than 300mg per 100g for biscuits and no more than 350mg per 100g for rusks. Check the nutrition panel for sodium content per 100g.
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