Can Kids Live on Food Pouches Alone?
Baby food pouches are a healthy option on occasion — but not a substitute for real food
Fiona Bull sucks down a food pouch, which experts say to reserve for occasional on-the-go use.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Parents are busier than ever, and squeezable baby food pouches have become a lifesaver for many. Experts say pouches are a wholesome option for on-the-go kids, but they offer some words of caution.
“This is definitely a huge new market,” said Kelly Morrow, a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University. “It would be great if most packaged food were as healthy.”
Benefits are the variety and unusual combinations of foods, from quinoa and millet to kale and spinach, found in pouches. Also, they’re portable, and kids can feed themselves with minimal mess.
“The pluses are the convenience, and being able to get a lot of food diversity and whole foods into their diets,” Morrow said. “The more diversity and the more nutrients kids have, the healthier they are.”
They can be a great option on airplanes, road trips, field trips, or when you’ll be away from home for long stretches. But parents shouldn’t rely on them as substitutes for real table food.
“If you’re making choices among packaged foods, they are a good option compared to others,” said Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician affiliated with Seattle Children’s and University of Washington. “But I would see them as an occasional rather than an everyday food.”
Although some pouches do contain healthy grains and vegetables, most are mixed with fruit, and the labels don’t show how much of each food they contain, Grow said. Because the natural sugar in fruit is more concentrated, pouches likely have more sugar than fresh fruit, she said, and definitely less fiber. Parents should choose products without additional sugar or additives. The food is pasteurized for packaging, so most pouches don’t have preservatives, she added, but that’s another ingredient to avoid.
So while pouches work fine for on-the-go, Grow and Morrow encourage feeding “real” food at home. It’s not necessary for babies and toddlers to have pureed foods for a long time, and a major part of their development is learning to handle different textures. “The issues with the processed food evolution is kids lose their connection with food,” Morrow said. “We need to make sure kids see the food, have textures that advance them to mentally accept food in its shapes and flavors and colors. If they’re just squeezing it out of a tube, they don’t know what they’re eating.”
And it’s between 6 and 18 months that kids are most receptive to novel flavors and textures, so relying too heavily on pouches during this time could mean missing opportunities to help create a broad, varied palate.
Grow also has concerns about the throwaway nature of the packaging, which is not recyclable like baby food jars. Another downside is the cost.
“They are very expensive,” said Grow. “Through an equity lens, they’re kind of an elitist food.”
Making baby food at home needn’t be complicated, she says. Parents can buy an inexpensive food grinder to puree table food. They can freeze it in ice cube trays, which can be microwaved for future meals. Frozen vegetables can be steamed or microwaved, then mashed up and fed to kids, or stored in reusable pouches.
“You should be able to prepare it in five minutes,” she says.
Yet both she and Morrow know it’s unrealistic to expect parents to make everything from scratch, and understand that many families constantly move from one commitment to the next. That said, “We should be mindful to teach our kids other ways of eating, and make time for family meals when we can,” Grow says.