A lot of patients coming to my office have been bringing along the new "pouches" of food for their babies. It seems pureed baby food has gone from jars to squeeze pouches, and now includes new concoctions like peas, pears and carrots, or squash, apples and broccoli. Many different manufacturers have picked up on this latest "baby invention."
The pouches are handy for feeding infants, since you can just squirt some of the puree onto the spoon and then feed the baby. Most infants initially eat pureed foods, whether from a jar, a pouch, or even prepared at home, as they begin sampling solid food and have to learn to eat from a spoon.
Marketing is always important and the moms told me these products were "organic" and "natural," etc. They said their kids "loved" them and the mother's were excited that their children were getting their fruits and vegetables. Here's the good news/bad news story:
Many of the brands I looked at might have squash as the first ingredient on the front of the package, but when you looked at the actual ingredients, apples were listed first. It was the same for other combinations; while the veggies were prominently displayed on the front, the fruit was actually the main ingredient.
I'm not saying that fruit isn't good for young children, since, of course, it is! However, fruit contains natural sugars and is also caloric. I asked different mothers how often their toddlers "slurped" a snack from a pouch, and many told me they gave their children such foods throughout the day. "It's so much easier than trying to get them to eat vegetables. I don't even try real veggies, as they won't touch them," was a typical reply. But why feed baby food to children who are not babies?
Toddlers need to start experimenting with different foods and food textures. Children are supposed to learn to feed themselves by picking up cooked squash and broccoli and ripe pears. They need to feel the textures between their fingers, as well as in their mouths. Have you watched a child between 9 months and 2 years old eat? It's not a pretty sight, but effective. They mush up food in their hands, put it in their mouths, taste it, swallow some, maybe spit some out, then repeat the process. This technique is very important for learning about textures and tastes.
A toddler also learns to throw food off his/her plate, and the lesson is that if you keep this up, your parents will stop picking up the discarded bits. Sometimes the dog will eat them, which can be fun to watch, but you also might get hungry and actually try a bite or two of different things. If parents don't experiment with textures and permit messy self-feeding, their children may miss out on some of the important "side effects" of this behavior and have issues with food texture as they get older.
Pureed pouches of food may be convenient, and they might be good for travel or a special treat but should not be substituted for "real food." Too many of these pouches per day could lead to cavities, especially as the puree is "sucked" into the mouth and the teeth are exposed to more sugar than when food is eaten and swallowed in small bites.
I remember those pouches being for astronauts in space, who needed to squeeze pureed meals into their mouths due to zero gravity - not for earth-bound children as substitutes for eating whole food.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)