They are quick and convenient, and they often contain very healthy ingredients — mostly fruits and vegetables, sometimes organic, with no added sugar. In fact, food pouches are so popular among American parents that they make up 25% of baby food sales in the U.S. Rachel Cernansky explains why pediatricians give these modern dietary packages a thumbs down:
The features that make pouches so convenient, though — the smooth texture and squeeze packaging — have some experts concerned. They caution against relying on them too much, saying that they can be a gateway to bad long-term snacking habits and routine overeating (not to mention the environmental impacts of the single-use packages).
As experts in child growth and development, pediatricians prefer that their patients eat the real deal:
With particularly excessive use, pouches may also fail to challenge children at a crucial stage of feeding and oral development — when they are learning to chew and swallow soft foods, which helps with speech, and when they need varied and multi-sensory experiences, which helps develop a palate for a wide range of foods later on.
“Parents are feeling reassured that their kids are getting the fruits and vegetables because they’re having the pouches that have all these vegetables mixed in,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. But “when it’s all mixed up in a pouch — or when it’s mixed up in a green smoothie, because that comes up all the time too — it’s good, the kids are getting the nutrients, but it’s less good in the long run,” she said. “Kids need the taste of what the actual food is to come to like it later.”
An occasional pouch containing fruit and veggies for a snack won’t hurt your older infant and toddler so long as its use is limited:
Pouches are unquestionably a better choice than cookies or chips or other low-nutrient foods that are high in calories and salt or sugar, and they can be left in a backpack or car for much longer than fresh foods like carrots or apples. But many experts say you should limit their use.
When you’re at home, give children real, whole foods that you serve from a bowl. Save pouches for travel, and when using them, Ms. Larson suggests squeezing the food into a bowl if possible, or at least feeding from it with a spoon — and ideally, with older babies, giving the spoon to the baby to practice self-feeding.
Katherine Martinko wishes parents would remember that buying baby foods in plastic pouches makes the global, ecological plastic catastrophe already in progress that much worse:
What parents don’t stop to think about, however, is that convenience comes at a cost, and that cost is plastic pollution that could potentially contaminate the body of the same little person whom the parents are in the process of raising so carefully.
Baby food pouches are made of multiple layers of plastic that must be cleaned and separated in order to be recycled, which almost never happens. (People never bothered to wash and separate K-cups, so why would they do it for baby food pouches?) In most cases, said Brent Bell, vice-president of Waste Management, the components in a baby food pouch cannot be separated at all, which means it goes straight to a landfill after its brief 20 seconds of glory.
There the pouch lingers, possibly making its way into the ocean, breaking down into smaller pieces, being ingested by fish, and eventually arriving on your now-grown child’s plate, where s/he eats it for dinner in the form of wine-braised mussels. Yuck.
Read about the enormous and growing problem of plastic pollution at National Geographic here.