One of the things that frustrates me is when people try to make healthier choices by buying healthier products and they are misled by companies. There are so many labels claiming to be “natural”, “healthy”, “pure”, etc. These “healthwashing” words are meaningless. Food companies can claim what they want with these words and trick buyers into thinking their products are healthier than the competition. Even organic is tricky, as companies try to say things like “made with organic ingredients” or similar statements. While I could write a whole post on this topic alone, I’ve actually been dealing with these issues with baby food recently.
While I generally make most of the baby food in our house so I can control the ingredients, preparation methods, and textures, I do purchase store-bought baby food and use it when we’re out or when I just can’t get the homemade thawed or ready in time. Overall, I have two issues with most baby food, and these issues apply to the general food supply as well, so feel free to read on even if you have no interest in baby food.
First of all, when did we decide babies need fruit with every meal? Even for an adult, that would be a lot of fruit. It is usually the first ingredient and used to make foods more palatable as babies (of course) prefer sweet tastes. The problem is, I can’t help but wonder if giving babies every vegetable mixed with fruit misses the point and teaches them that all their foods must be sweetened. I didn’t introduce fruit until recently, and my baby enjoyed all vegetables as-is. Sure, a few took a few attempts, but with breastmilk his primary source of nutrition, we just were relaxed in our attitudes and he eventually liked everything we gave him (including avocado, which took longer than everything else). I have to really search in the baby food sections (organic, pouches, jars….) at numerous stores to find a handful of foods that don’t include fruit as a sweetener. I can somewhat understand, as some of the baby foods out there taste like nothing after they have been processed for storage. This is the same problem you might have had if you’ve ever attempted a Whole30 or sugar detox of some sort. It seems like some form of sweetener is in everything!
The second problem I have is that labels claim that you are purchasing one thing, but you end up purchasing another. Here is a baby food example:
I didn’t want to show the brand name, but this organic baby food pouch says on the front “Organic Spinach Lentil Brown Rice”. Here are the ingredients from the back:
The main ingredients it claims to include are not even listed until ingredients 3-5 and two of them are just flours1 (If you’re new to label reading, ingredients are listed in order of proportion so this baby food pouch contains more pea puree and water than the other three ingredients.) I guess I just have an issue with getting what they claim to be selling. Moms, Dads, and other caretakers are busy and I hate that we have to read the back of every package to see if baby food (something that should be honest in my mind) is really what it claims to be. Sure, there are honest examples, such as this one below, but this is one of the only examples I could find that only had one ingredient:
Non-baby food items are the same way. You might want to buy tomato sauce, expecting tomatoes and a few herbs for seasoning, only to turn the jar over to find 20+ ingredients.
What can we do? For starters, if you’re trying to make healthier choices, always read those labels! Never assume the product is what it says it is (sadly). Second, focus on preparing more meals with whole food ingredients, batch cooking and freezing as necessary to save time and money. Finally, we’re busy people, especially if you’re working or have kids at home. In that case, do the best you can. If it is most important to you to buy organic, do that and don’t sweat the ingredients so much. If it is more important for you to prepare every meal (or jar of baby food), then batch cook and freeze and do the best you can.
If you are currently looking for a few baby food making resources, this is my absolute favorite baby food cookbook (and I’ve read many). It has great recipes for purees, chunkier foods, and even meal ideas and recipes so you don’t have to make special meals for babies or toddlers. It is whole food based and I highly recommend it! I also buy these 4oz mason jars (buy at your local store to avoid breakage, but I’ve included the amazon link for reference) to freeze my baby food in.
We’re in the middle of an international move (more to come on that topic soon), so I’ll try to post when I can. Until then, I encourage you to focus on one small health goal you’ve been neglecting.