Every few years there's a revolution in children's food and the way it's presented. Back in the day (before my time!), cans were seen as cutting edge in terms of long-term storage and convenience. When I was a child glass jars were all the rage and still continue to be the storage means of choice for many prepared baby food. More recently, many families have decided to make their own food (as they did for centuries before and always did in some areas of the world), storing them in serving-size containers in freezers to reheat as needed.
The most current trend is pouched food and from what I can tell, its popularity is only increasing. These small, flat, mouldable foil containers seem like the best solution for food transport for families on the go. They provide healthy fruits and vegetable servings for children, who often sorely lack these precious food groups. They are convenient and clean with no spoon necessarily required, do not require refrigeration or a microwave, and allow kids to get some healthful calories on the run. But are they necessarily the best choice for your family?
What's in them?
Food pouches generally consist of vegetables or fruits or combinations of both. Manufacturers push the "natural" and "organic" angle, with a resulting feel good factor for parents who are wary of the many processed food options for children nowadays. I hear you on this!
But are they the best nutrition source for your child?
Food pouch merits:
1. Kids LOVE them. Think crack for kids. They gobble them up.
2. They are convenient.
3. They contain fruits and veg -- often lacking in children's nutrition nowadays.
4. Their preparation is regulated, controlled and hygienic.
5. They are accessible -- any grocery store carries them.
6. No prep is needed.
7. Minimal clean up required.
8. Parents know exactly what the child ate. No measuring. No counting.
Why I am wary to recommend them:
1. Food pouches are consumed through sucking, not chewing. Children need to learn how to eat. Simply sucking the goo out of a package skips out on a learning experience and a whole range of oral skills can be bypassed because of this.
2. Children learn through touch and being able to see and smell the food they're about to eat. This is impossible when food is disguised in pouches, blended together and hidden behind a label.
3. Many children who consume an excess of puree foods for a long time become picky with solid foods later on. Certainly you don't want to rely on pouch nutrition into childhood (though many do!).
4. Children develop fine motor skills when they pick up their food and play with it. This is a vital part of learning about food and how to eat it.
5. Many of the exciting things about eating such as the way it looks and smells are altered because kids can't see the food in the pouch. They really don't know what they are eating, so can't make proper choices in the future.
6. Pouches tend to be higher in calories and sugar compared to the real fruit or vegetable. They are often lower in fibre, which gives you that full feeling. This means children eat a lot of fructose in a short period of time, and are at risk for eating more than they need which can cause obesity.
7. Children need to learn about portion control through trial and error. Food pouches tell your child how big a serving is, and off-loads the responsibility from your child to the manufacturer. Improper portion control also contributes to obesity.
8. Kids should know what food looks like. Food pouches don't help kids link food with its origins. Mushed banana in a foil packet doesn't look like a banana in a peel.
9. Pureed food tends to sit on the teeth. Pieces of food have an abrasive quality that helps clean then. So there is an increased risk of cavities and other dental issues, especially for children who suck on pouches for long periods of time.
10. Most food pouches offer a mix of different fruits and vegetables. The child doesn't learn what the individual food tastes like on its own.
11. Pouches may seem relatively inexpensive, though purchasing the fruit and veg in its natural state is often cheaper. A lot of what you are paying for is convenience and packaging.
12. Pouches are bad for the environment. The packaging ends up in a landfill -- a ton of waste.
But pouches are so convenient! So what are parents to do?
In my opinion, home-prepared food is always going to be a superior choice. So when can food pouches be incorporated into your child's diet in an appropriate way?
• Try to use food pouches occasionally, and not daily. Use them for travel, or as a quick on the go snack when sitting down is simply not the best option.
• Make sure your child's diet offers a variety of colour, textures and smells. Let them explore the world through food.
• Use pouch food as an accompaniment to the meal, not as the sole meal. Pouches should not be the child's primary form of nutrition.
• Don't simply suck from the pouch. Offer the pouch food on a spoon or in a bowl. It is better for the child to see it and take as much or as little as he or she wants.
• Sit with your child at the dinner table. Mealtime should be social and fun.
• If your child is unable to eat food that is not pureed, please see your doctor. This may be a behavioural issue, though there may be an organic reason for this refusal.
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