Baby food pouches may be the best invention ever. However, reading these product’s labels may be the most important thing you do.
Idealism meets reality
The idealist in me hoped to make all my son’s baby food from scratch. However, the realist in me knew this wasn’t going to happen 100% of the time. My cute husband recognized this before I did, and he came home from one of our initial gazillion Target runs one afternoon with a couple of options.
Not someone who normally reads food labels. He told me he spent close to an hour comparing the jars and pouches across the various brands in Target’s baby food aisle. Based on his comparisons, he brought home 2 brands: Plum Organics and Ella’s Kitchen.
Plum it is
Based on our baby’s acceptance of the pouches, we settled on Plum. Since then we have become very loyal to Plum, buying other products the company makes as well as various line extensions they’ve introduced as they’ve grown under their parent company Campbell Soup.
Because I trusted the brand, I am ashamed to admit it, I started buying these products without really reading the ingredient list for every item.
One day, my son and I were out at a playground, and we took a snack break. As I went to take the cap off a Plum pouch marketed as Stage 4 my eyes scanned the ingredient list, and I was taken aback at how much longer the list of items was for these pouches versus the ones for Stage 2-the last ones I had noticed.
Now, while there are a lot more ingredients, none of the ingredients on the longer list was on my “do not eat” list. But I got angry at myself and a little at the company. On the way home, I stopped in at the Whole Foods to see if the types of pouches my husband had originally bought (Stage 1) had changed as well. I was pleased to see they had not.
I also took the time to look at other brands and saw that they followed the same pattern as our family’s brand of choice to that point. Later stages had more ingredients.
Turns out analysis the category data supports my anecdotal observations. Here’s what I found out:
1. Ingredient Length
Of the 187 Stage 1, 2 and 3 baby foods (pouches and jars) I analyzed, Stage 1 and 2 averaged 6.4 ingredients while Stage 3 jumped to an average of 10.1.
2. Food Additives
Unsurprisingly Lecithin, Pectin, Corn Starch and Gelatin did not show up with much frequency until Stage 3. And organic products didn’t mean Lecithin was not included. What was most interesting is the inclusion of Sunflower versus Soy Lecithin, would I imagine is the company’s choice to also claim GMO Free on its label.
What is interesting, is that fortification falls off by over 50% from stage 1 to stage 3 products and preservatives (mostly Citric Acid) diminishes slightly.
Ingredients included for coloring were rare at less than 3% of all the products. No artificial colors were listed, which is not surprising given the public dialogue and fact that these are baby foods. Instead companies who did call out ingredients use for coloring used Annatto, Tumeric and vegetable and/or fruit juices for coloring.
Stage 1 products averaged 5.8g of sugar, however, Stage 2 and 3 contained an average of 8.5 and 7.4 grams respectively.
My incident at the park was a good reminder to me that health halos can be powerful.
My 2.5 year old has mostly outgrown pouches, but in a pinch they’re still a convenient snack and one he likes. I’ve decided to continue to buy Plum, but instead of buying Stage 4 I purchase Stage 1 and try to buy the products with just one ingredient such as Just Peas. In a pinch, they’re a great way to get him something nutritious.
What do you think? Will this data make you buy a different stage of baby food?