So if you’ve read my previous blog, you’ll know that weaning is recommended from 6 months old, and that baby led versus puree will probably be a bone of contention for some time to come!
So this week I’m moving on to nutrition, healthy foods, junk foods, home made foods, jars and packets of ready made, etc. As if weaning isn’t confusing enough!
For many years, it was considered the norm to feed your baby food from the table, either pre-chewed or allowing them to pick it up themselves. Then came “medical research” which changed all that. In the 1900’s, doctors decided that a fat baby was a healthy baby. Queue weaning from 12 weeks, which bought about the need to mash the food in to oblivion in order for such a young baby to be able to swallow it without choking. Thus began the culture of baby jars, which were much easier for parents than making their own.
80 odd years later, and still the baby food companies are cashing in, mass producing jars of gloop and packets of powder that will provide your baby with everything they need to be happy, healthy and strong.
But do they? And what makes a parent choose whether they’ll feed these to their baby over home cooked foods, be it pureed or whole for baby to help themselves?
I asked several mums, who all had differing opinions. One told me that she couldn’t afford to buy the ingredients that were in some of these jars, so she found it more cost effective. Another told me that she didn’t like the idea of baby led weaning so wanted to start on purees, but as she was working full time she didn’t have the time required to cook up batches of purees, and therefore they were easier. Another said “Well that’s what babies eat! We eat adult food, they eat baby food, and all our foods have too much salt in them for a baby to eat, they put specially grown vegetables and fruit in baby jars so it’s safer for them”
On the side of home made foods, mums were equally sure of their decision, telling me that it was healthier, that they liked knowing exactly what they were putting in their baby’s mouth, that jars and packets are full of chemicals and preservatives and are too expensive to use all the time. One mum likened it to feeding your child McDonalds for breakfast, Burger King for lunch and KFC for dinner.
I have tried to research what goes in to baby jars and packets, and what I can tell you is this; Companies do not want you to know! It’s easy to find out that they use “fresh, organic ingredients” or that nothing is genetically modified, and there are no added flavours, salt or sugar. What they don’t seem to tell you is HOW they are made. For example. When you are making your own baby food to puree, you boil or steam the veg/meat/fruit etc,you then puree it, possibly adding a little water or breastmilk if needed to aid the process. You then separate it in to portions, and freeze. If you don’t freeze the food, it goes off very quickly. So what do they put in to jars that means you can keep them in the jar at room temperature for up to a year? I don’t think I want to know! And as for the boxes of powder, well what exactly do they do to the food to turn it in to that stuff?!
As a mum, I can tell you that I don’t like or use ready made, processed foods more than once a week. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy, and I think home cooked from scratch tastes an awful lot better. So the same goes for baby foods. I wouldn’t eat microwave meals 3 times a day 7 days a week, and so I would’nt give them to my baby, either. I also think baby jars are extremely expensive for what they are, when you can go to a fruit and veg stall, spend a fiver and have at least a weeks worth of food for a small baby. Yes it might be hard work, and yes it might mean having to give up an evening a week to cook and puree, but I would say that’s time well spent to ensure your baby is getting healthy meals.
On the other hand, if as a family you eat a lot of processed foods, frozen ready meals, sauces from jars and packets etc and you don’t want/don’t have the time to cook from scratch, then baby jars are better, as they’ll have a lower level of salt and sugar etc in them, which is safer for your baby (although I will say, those foods are not very good for you, either!) so again it would be a personal decision based upon your family needs and lifestyle. Perhaps the best way would be to make your own wherever possible, and only use jars when you’re out and about. After all, it wouldn’t take long to mash a banana or some sweet potato and broccoli at home for breakfast or dinner, yet this might not be entirely practical if you’re going out for the day or visiting a restaurant.
And then we move on to another subject entirely. Once your little one is that little bit older, do you ONLY give them healthy, organic sugar free foods, or are you quite relaxed in your approach, and let your child have treats in the way of chocolates, crisps, sweeties etc?
Of the mums I spoke to, only one said her children (aged 3 and 6) had NEVER eaten any of the above, had never had frozen food, had never tried fast food or even squash, they only had milk, water, and as a treat some diluted fresh juice. She confessed to me that she even considered herself to be OTT, but she couldn’t help it, as she worried about the affect junk food would have on their health. And in total fairness, her children seemed perfectly happy, were healthy and robust, and didn’t seem in any way to feel that they were “missing out”.
On the other side of the coin, only 1 mum admitted that her children only ever had frozen, processed foods, take aways at least twice a week, and as many sweets, chocs, crisps and fizzy drinks as they wanted. Again, she wasn’t particularly happy with this, but felt she was “stuck in a rut” of being unable to say no to her children, and she didn’t know how to cook. I’ve sent her some recipes and she assures me that she is really trying to eat more healthily as a family.
On the whole, the other mums I spoke to were quite relaxed with regards to what their children ate, trying to make sure that the majority was healthy and home cooked, but with treats thrown in for good measure.
As I said, I do prefer to eat home cooked, and tend to steer clear of processed foods, but that’s not to say my kids don’t get treats, they do! They all love chocolate, they’d all live on crisps if they could, and they all cheer if I serve up super noodles and fish fingers for lunch. I’m not part of the judgemental mummy brigade, and a mummy group I belong to have a long standing joke about the home grown, organic wotsits types (really, you had to be there). I think as with all things, balance is needed. Should your child get lots of fruit, veg, and healthy foods? Of course! Should you allow your guilt to overcome you if one day they have coco pops for breakfast, noodles for lunch and a kebab for dinner? Of course not! Just be extra good the next day, and teach your children to have a relaxed and sensible attitude toward food, which will set them up nicely for when they grow up and have to make their own dietary choices.
All this changes, once again, if you have a child who has special dietary requirements, or is an extremely fussy eater. I myself have an 8 year old who, due to his autism and sensory issues, prefers to eat carbs over anything else. So that’s chips, pasta, noodles, crisps. They only fruit he’ll eat is apple, the only veg carrot. And even that is hard work. I then have a daughter who eats with her eyes, and is known to take one look at something before she proclaims “that’s disgusting!” and refuses to even look at it. I deal with these two in very different ways.
For Luca, he’s given a little of what he does like alongside his dinner. For every bite he has of something he’s not so keen on, he gets a bit of what he does like. Yesterday, this meant wiping his forced sick (rice with peas in) off the sofa and continuing to encourage him to chew and swallow one mouth full of rice and peas alongside the rest of his dinner, before he was hugely praised and given his bowl of ice cream. It sounds cruel but he does need to learn to accept different tastes and textures, and he really wasn’t that distressed!
Isabella, on the other hand, is ignored. If she eats, wonderful, lots of praise! If she doesn’t, no problem, you must not be hungry! Plate removed. No begging, no threats, no coaxing or tears. If she later on says she’s hungry, the same dinner is offered, re-heated of course. 9 times out of 10 she’ll then have a go, and is praised for a job well done, then offered some fruit or ice cream, even if it’s just 1 bite of each thing on her plate. If she still refuses, she doesn’t eat until breakfast, and just has a cup of warm milk before bed.
Some may not agree with this method, but it does work, and she is a healthy weight, so it’s clearly not harming her! It’s simply teaching her that dinner is what it is, and you either eat it or you don’t eat at all. Luckily my other 2 eat well (although the oldest has no real appetite and is skinny, he still eats a good range of foods) otherwise dinner times could get really tricky! If you have problems with a faddy eater, try speaking to your Health Visitor, who can point you in the direction of help!
The most important thing to remember is that you are parent, you know best, and if you do ever have judgemental comments over what you feed your child, tell that person to go eat a kit kat!