It’s the news that overworked and stressed parents needed to hear. Feeding your baby store-bought food might not be so bad after all.
For years now, parents have been made to feel guilty for buying pre-packaged food for their babies instead of making it from scratch themselves. But honestly, who has the time or enthusiasm to cook every day, especially when most of the meal ends up on the floor or in someone’s hair?
Now, researchers in the UK have found that food made from recipes in cookbooks for babies and young children might actually be unhealthier than store-bought food. On average, it contains slightly more sugar, two-and-a-half times the saturated fat and three times as much salt.
The researchers at Aberdeen University, led by Sharon Carstairs, compared 408 home-cooked meals from best-selling cookbooks with 278 meals aimed at under-fives sold in supermarkets.
As well as being higher in sugar, saturated fat and salt, the home-cooked meals had a smaller variety of vegetables than the store-bought meals. However, they did have a wider variety of meat and seafood.
A young baby food reviewer considers his verdict. Photo via iStock.
The researchers described commercial meals as a "convenient alternative".
"Home-cooked recipes provided 6 per cent – 77 per cent more nutrients than commercial," they said. "However, the majority of these recipes exceeded energy density and fat recommendations.
“Dietary fats contribute essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins together with energy and sensory qualities, thus are vital for the growing child. However, excessive intakes may impact on childhood obesity.”
What... so home-cooked meals are more likely to make your child fat?
Slow down a bit. UK experts have been quick to point out that the study looks at recipes from cookbooks aimed at babies and young children, not just your average family dinner.
"If anything, the study does call into question the value of 'expert' infant recipe books over pre-prepared meals or ordinary home cooking," says Professor Julian Hamilton-Shield from the University of Bristol.
Yum. Photo via iStock.
It's also important to remember that plenty of previous studies have found that food marketed at young children is not nearly as healthy as parents might think it is.
Recently, Choice asked two dietitians and a nutritionist to review 80 baby and toddler snacks on sale in Australia. They discovered snack bars that had more than 40 per cent total sugars, and vegetable rusks where vegetables made up only 1.5 per cent of the product.
So what's the take-home message from all this?
“Offering a variety of tastes and textures is important, as is not adding salt or sugar to home cooking and checking labels on manufactured foods," says Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England. "Between the ages of two and five, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family."
What do you feed your young children?
Confessions: The time I felt like a terrible mother.