Puree food pouches – they’re a parents dream! Always there when you need them, filled with ingredients that your child would “never” eat otherwise, and seemingly perfect meals/snacks for babies and toddlers.
So what could I possibly say about them besides – they’re a gift from the heavens!
Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit dramatic (although I’m sure many of you agree I’m not that far off).
In all seriousness though, I will say that for those who know me, you know I actually always approach the topic of feeding kids holistically – from a nutritional perspective, a social perspective, a developmental perspective, and from a mom perspective. So while I’ve started this post fully channeling my mom side, I have a few things I’d like you to consider from the perspective of a feeding expert and dietitian (which are important for me to talk about even though it’s not all fluff and rainbows).
Before I burst anyone’s bubble, let’s first start with all the things I LOVE about puree food pouches.
Leave one in your diaper bag to pull out for a snack at playdate, one in the car for a meal while you’re running errands, and a few at home for when a cooked meal just isn’t happening. Nothing gets more convenient than a meal or snack in a bag that doesn’t require heating, prep or washing dishes.
The food leaves the pouch and goes directly into your baby/toddler’s mouth. No mess. Enough said.
They’re liked by kids
I mean, let’s put it this way. There hasn’t been a kid I’ve met yet that doesn’t like them. Even if your kiddo doesn’t like fruits or veggies, this seems like the perfect solution to that!
The ingredients in the majority of food pouches out there are seemingly healthy (not as healthy as whole food though). They’re also less heat processed that food in baby food jars, meaning generally more nutrients are preserved.
However….there is the down side to most things, and so here is what I DON’T LOVE about food pouches…
Not really teaching kids to love veggies
So pretty much every flavour, whether it’s a squash and pea variation or a kale and quinoa mixture, all taste sweet. This is because the ingredients present in the highest quantities is almost always fruit, thereby masking the real taste of any vegetables present. This means, your child is not learning to like the real taste of veggies – rather, they just liking the taste of fruit. And although fruit is great, these pouches now become just one more sweet tasting food that shape our children’s taste buds to prefer more sweet things.
The other side to this is the texture and mouthfeel is also all the same no matter the combo of ingredients, so slurping back a puree texture of carrots versus feeling the texture of real carrots and peas in your mouth is very different. Your child is not learning to like real veggies and will still scoff at the taste of them if the majority of what they’re exposed to are pouches.
Promotes lazy eating/chewing
The fact that the texture is soft and mushy and easy to swallow, unfortunately is not great from an oral motor perspective. You see, if your child becomes so used to sucking back (or drinking) a puree, they lose the much needed practice of actually biting into, chewing and maneuvering more difficult textures in their mouth. Even if your child has already learned to chew different types of food, the frequent use of these pouches can cause regression in eating skills, making them dependent on soft, easy to chew, meltable or more liquid food that don’t require heavy chewing. And this my friends can cause…ready for it….picky eating towards certain food textures! I’ve seen this time and time again in my practice where a child refuses to eat anything that requires “work” to eat, all because they are had been exposed to easy to eat, soft textures a little too much.
Quick access to sugar without the fibre
Now although it’s made with real fruit, let’s keep in mind that that fruit is dehydrated, then reconstituted, then boiled and heated at extreme temperatures for pasteurization, and what’s left is a condensed form of sugar (think a little better than juice!) without the fibre. Take this Love Child Organics Apples, Strawberries, Beets & Blueberries puree combo – 12 grams of sugar for 70 calories and 0 g of fibre. A snack like this on it’s own isn’t likely to fill up your child as much as half an apple would, and it’s eaten so quickly with little protein or fat in the mixture to help balance out your child’s blood sugars. Plus, I’ve seen kids take more than one of these pouches down in an hour or two! That’s a lot of quick access to sugar in a short period of time, even if it’s from a “natural” source. A real apple would take at least twice as long to eat and will keep them satisfied for much longer without extreme sugar spikes. Keep in mind, there are definitely better ingredient combinations out there than others that may include more fibre or fat. Focus in on these ones if you’re offering your child a puree pouch.
Eliminates the sensory experience of touching/smelling food
With real veggies, kids can hold, squish, smell and play with their food (and all this exploration leads to more acceptance over time = less pickiness!). We know this is a crucial contributor to the success of baby led weaning, and why babies who have had the exposure to play, feel and get messy with food have way higher chances of being more adventurous eaters. Compare this with food in pouches that they can’t see or interact with, resulting in less exposure and less opportunity to build familiarity with veggies (or other food ingredients). Furthermore, the act of physically seeing a whole food is directly related to feelings of satiety as well. I talk about the importance of play, sensory experience and exploring food as a baby and continuing that into toddlerhood in my Baby Led Feeding and Feeding Toddlers courses – click on each if you want to learn more!
Now, let’s be clear – I’m not some crazy dietitian who expects parents to feed their children absolutely “perfectly” (if there even is such a thing). I’m realistic and know there is room for most everything in our diets. So my real problem is not with the puree food pouch as a stand alone item per say. My problem has way more to do with the frequency and reliance with which they’re used!
Of course, as a feeding expert, I’m the one who sees the more extreme cases where the overuse of puree pouches is the main cause for pickiness. What this usually looks like is kids who are sucking on puree pouches between official meal and snack times, on the go, or as a way to calm them down. Maybe they’re used to keep kids at the dinner table, or as a safeguard if they don’t finish meals. Maybe mom and dad feel like they don’t eat healthy enough family meals so they continually offer baby or toddler these pouches as a way to keep them “away from the unhealthy food they eat”.
And I know that convenience is much needed and worry over your child’s nutrition is more than reasonable and expected. But I also want to speak loud and clear about the dependence we have on these foods and how convenience can come in other ways that don’t affect our child’s development. Now a days, we’re made to feel like life is so crazy that grabbing a puree pouch instead of an apple is easier. Or that our children can’t be trusted to eat what they choose out of an array of real, whole foods, so we need to supplement them with these types of food to make sure they are growing well. If you need support with how to tackle any of these issues that may be stressing you out, please feel free to reach out to me and let’s explore personal counselling or a course offering that may help you.
My core message to you is to think about the frequency of offering these foods over whole food and to keep them as “sometimes” foods that serve a specific purpose.
So here are my official recommendations:
1. Limit the use of food pouches to when you are out on the go and limit it to once per day (in case of a real emergencies).
Avoid using them to distract your child, or as a safeguard if they don’t finish their meals. Ask yourself – “do I really need to give this or is it just habit?”
2. Squeeze it out onto a spoon when possible or better yet, into a bowl
When you offer them and let your child self-feed so they get into the act of using their lips better around a spoon (oral motor skill development) and so they can see and interact with the food more closely.
3. Get into the rule of offering a real fruit or veggie for every time you offer a puree pouch
This will ensure you give the use of a puree pouch a second thought before serving it and that your child is still continually exposed to the real stuff.
Really hopes this puts things in perspective!