How ‘healthy’ is that jar of baby food?
Nicki Shaw loves cooking and has always tried to ensure her family eat nutritious meals containing lots of fresh produce. But Nicki also understands the time constraints working mothers face. Nicki tried to find the best ready-made baby food she could to ensure her little girl was still getting all the vitamins and minerals she needed. She did quite a lot of research and was amazed at the results. Enraged by these findings, she decided there was only one answer – to start her own company making quality, easy to prepare baby food! Do read Nicki’s story. It might make you think twice next time you go to put a few jars of baby food in your supermarket trolley!
Baby food - how healthy is it really???
Every parent wants to do the best for their children, especially babies, but with the difficulty in understanding food labels how easy is that really? When you look at a jar of baby food it probably looks as if it will provide a nutritious, balanced meal – particularly if it is labelled organic. It will tell you all the things it hasn't got in it, such as GM ingredients, salt, milk, preservatives. It will tell you it is naturally preserved and it all sounds great doesn’t it?
Before I became a mum I didn't give jars of baby food much thought at all, but once I became a mum that all changed. After my research into jars of baby food, I wouldn't even give them to my little girl Page if we were out and I was desperate!
The facts about baby food jars:
There is usually little vitamin or mineral content left in these jars: the food is cooked at such high temperatures it destroys any nutritional value along with the flavour, that's why they can stay on a shelf for a couple of years. Most of the ingredients are on the cheaper end of the spectrum which is why many baby foods are orange! Babies should have a wide range of vitamins as the human body needs different vitamins for different functions, such as vitamins A and E for growth and maintenance. The process used for baby jars is the same as that used for canning; a process designed to sterilize food and destroy bacteria that can cause food poisoning. It does this very well, but the side effect is a lack of flavour and nutrients.
These canning and bottling processes are commonly used in the food industry and information about them can be found in any catering and food safety books, or on the Internet.
Facts about any labelling:
There is a 20% variant on any label. This means a label could say 1g of fat but in reality it could have significantly more.
Trading standards can only do spot checks on a limited number of food products: most never get tested.
Clever marketing people can make you think you are getting a healthy meal when you really are not. For example, perhaps you have seen labels that state ‘from 100% beef' on the front of the box and when you look at the ingredients it has only got 63% beef and a lot of additives. All very legal, but all very confusing!
As consumers we all assume that processed food must contain vitamins and minerals, when in fact they contain very little: nutrients and flavour are depleted by the processes employed and the industry typically compensates for this by adding high levels of salt and sugar. As consumers we all assume that the food standards agency has control over what is put into food: they actually have very little control except as to how the food is labelled! It is then all down to consumers to make informed choices, but if you combine a general lack of knowledge of the food industry together with the sometimes questionable tactics of marketers, it is often very difficult for the general public to make wise choices.
That's why I started up a baby food business called Mothers Choice (unfortunately no longer trading). I looked everywhere for healthy food options for Page when I was considering going back to work and I couldn't find anything. I ended up cooking everything from fresh for my daughter which took ages, although for me it was no hardship as I've always liked cooking. But for anyone who is working full time it is so hard to cook healthy food: it is so much easier to just put a processed meal in the oven or buy a jar of baby food, especially when you've had a hard day at work and you want to spend time with your children. For many people, because of the way we try to fit so many things in our lives, it is not always practical to cook fresh food every day. That's why I have made a range of ‘ice cube’ and boil-in-a-bag meals for babies. Because of the way the food is cooked and then frozen it retains all its vitamins and minerals, and all you have to do is drop an individual pouch of baby food into a pan of boiling water.
Cooking fresh meals everyday is definitely the best way to provide healthy food for the family, especially children who need the most vitamins and minerals for their physical and mental development. But at least if you don’t have the time to do that you now have a healthy baby food option!
If you are cooking from fresh and your children don't like vegetables, they are often easy to disguise in food. Spaghetti bolognese and shepherds pie are great examples. We all have our own take on these two favourites but try adding a few more ingredients: cut the vegetables up small enough and your children will never know! I can add in excess of 10 vegetables to both of these meals. Why not give it a try?
By Nicki Shaw