Baby food pouches are incredibly popular here in the US, and the flavors and options available seem to always be expanding. But what’s the deal with them? Should you avoid them like the plague, give them whenever your child is eating, or somewhere in between?
Baby Food Pouches for Babies
Baby food pouches are a relatively new concept. They were only introduced around 2008, and have taken off exponentially since. Prior to pouches, baby food jars were really the main option parents had for pureed foods. So what’s the difference between the two?
Baby food pouches vs jars
Baby food jars involve a parent giving the baby a spoonful of food, or baby grabbing the spoon and getting it to their own mouth. This often results in some mess on their hands or their faces. With pouches, the food goes straight into their mouth and doesn’t tend to get anywhere else. While this might be convenient for parents, it’s actually not a good thing for babies! Babies need the sensory input from foods on their face on hands. Getting messy has so many benefits, including helping to reduce picky eating.
Sucking baby food from a pouch also continues to promote a sucking or drinking motion with a baby’s mouth. They already have this down pat, and this does not help them developmentally! Using a spoon can promote using their tongue to move food from the front of their mouth to the back. It also means they are getting the food in their mouth and truly tasting it, not just sucking it right to the back of their throat and down.
If all your baby is getting is pouches, they aren’t getting any sensory input outside of their mouth, and they likely aren’t even really tasting it much there. Now if you want to take a pouch and squeeze it into a bowl for feeding, then your baby will get the same experience as when it comes from a jar and off of a spoon, and the concern really decreases.
Toddlers and baby food pouches
Now let’s get down to where pouches are really being used, and the potential issues that ensue. Baby food used to be primarily given to kids under one, but with the invention of pouches we see kids much older eating pureed foods consistently.
How long should babies be eating pureed foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be on table foods similar to what their families eat by around 12 months. This means that transitioning fully from purees, as well as pureed food from pouches, should be the goal by a year. There is also research that shows babies who are not introduced to different textures by 9 months have less acceptance of foods as they get older. (source) Yet another reason to emphasize table foods over baby foods!
There will still be naturally pureed foods like applesauce, but these fall into the category of family table foods, as they are something that adults might eat too. With pureed foods, we’re talking more foods that are not normally pureed for adults or older kids.
Pros and cons of baby food pouches for toddlers
Let’s look at the reasons many parents are giving pouches to toddlers and discuss them individually.
Baby food pouches are convenient
There’s no debating this. Throwing a pouch in your bag as you’re out and about is one of the easiest things you can do. But there are a few things to consider with this.
Kids under one do not need snacks. If your child is not yet one, stick to 2-3 meals a day and the rest of their calories from breast milk or formula. Many times when kids are given snacks before this age, it is done to keep them entertained and content when parents are out and about.
Using any kind of food to distract children from their emotions, including boredom, is setting your child up for a poor relationship with food. We want them to feel their hunger and satiety cues, not reach for food every time they’re bored or need something to do.
Pouches can be given on the run
While it is true that giving a puree while moving is safer than giving a table food that can be more easily choked on, it still causes some issues. Giving food while moving, without taking the time to sit down and concentrate on eating it, results in mindless eating.
It takes about 3 seconds for the average toddler to suck down an entire pouch of pureed food. There’s no thinking about their food there. There’s no enjoying the flavor or texture of it. It simply becomes an act done without thinking. Encouraging that during the period of time when they are figuring out the relationship with food that they will have for the rest of their life is not something we want.
It is much more beneficial for our kids to take an additional 5 minutes to sit down and have actual table foods. While I realize that that can often be hard, the long term benefits are worth it. It’s important to learn that when it’s time to eat you stop, eat, and listen to your body. Teaching them to listen to whether it is telling them that they are hungry or full is one of the best skills that you can help your child foster.
Baby food pouches help expose your child to vegetables
While many pouches do indeed have vegetables, they are often there in minuscule amounts or disguised by a sweet fruit. If you look at all the pouches you can buy in a store, there are usually only 2 or 3 that don’t have a fruit puree or concentrate right at the top of the ingredients list.
Just what is wrong with that? While normally I’m all for fruit for kids, in this form it is really just serving the purposes of disguising the taste of the more bitter vegetables. Kids are learning that food should taste sweet, and are not actually being exposed to the flavor of vegetables!
I’ve heard from many parents that pouches are the only way they can get vegetables into their kids. But do they really count as vegetables? Our goal with feeding is to teach our kids how to lead healthy lives as they grow older. This does include learning to like vegetables. But we’re in this for the long haul.
Getting a few nutrients in our kids from “vegetables” in pouches is not serving our kids at all. It is telling them that we don’t expect them to have actual vegetables on their plate, and that they don’t need to learn to like whole vegetables because getting sweet pouches in pureed form is fine. It may make us feel better about them getting veggies in the short term, but it helps them none in the long-term!
Pouches can help to “top up” your child after a meal
Many parents are concerned that their children aren’t getting enough food at meals, especially when eating unfamiliar food or out at restaurants. Finishing a meal with a pouch is often a guaranteed way to get in some extra calories at meals. I get it.
But this is where learning to trust our kids comes in. It is our job to serve a varied and nutritious diet at predictable times throughout the day. It is our child’s job to decide whether, and how much of it to eat. That means that if they decide that they aren’t hungry, we have to be okay with that! (For some more information on this, head to this post!)
Yes, if this is a new concept to your family there might be some growing pains with it. You might be worried that they won’t sleep through the night, or any other number of issues. But when you get down to it, they are going to have to learn sooner rather than later how to get their fill with actual table foods. Helping to set the structure so that they are able to learn these skills now will only benefit your entire family.
If they aren’t hungry, why are they still eating the pouches?
I get this question all the time! There are usually two reasons for it.
One, if it is something they especially like then they are likely eating more than they actually need. Think about your own eating habits. You might finish a meal, and then if someone brings out a dessert or some other food that is one you love, you’d still eat some! Even if you weren’t hungry for it. That’s just a natural part of eating.
Two, pouches are easy. They take no effort, and are often sweet. If your child knows that you will bring out a pouch if they don’t eat, then they are likely holding out. Why bother taking the time to try foods that you don’t love, are new, or a harder texture to manage. Instead, they can just hold out for the easy pouch option. All they have to do is suck it down, it tastes sweet, and is just an easier option altogether for them.
Baby food pouches AREN’T the worst thing ever
With all that being said, pouches really aren’t the worst thing ever created. Promise! But they don’t serve a good purpose for our kids other than pure convenience for us. And while convenience and parental sanity is definitely important, we also want to be considering the other side of things.
So with that, if you are using them, do your best to limit how often you serve them. Don’t do it at every meal, and try your best not to be predictable about it. We want them to be open to trying actual foods and not holding out for pouches they know are coming!
Do your best to squeeze them out into a bowl, or even just onto a spoon. Especially if serving to babies. We want to encourage the full sensory experience, and for kids to learn to be mindful with their food.
And finally, keep in mind that we’re in this for the long-haul. Getting in a few veggies in pouch form or trying to “top them up” is not more important than your child’s long-term relationship with food. And learning to be okay with new and different foods, and getting their fill from the foods they are served, is all a part of that.
What you should serve instead of pouches
And finally, here are some ideas for how to replace pouches. Because I don’t just want to tell you to try to limit them without giving you some other options!
If you are using them for snacks, grab a bar like a Lara bar instead. For kids over one, who are really the only ones who should be having snacks, these are a much better option. And they tend to be more filling as they require chewing.
You can also grab my On-the-Go Snacks e-booklet for some less messy ideas for snacks to bring with you when you’re out, including some recipes for freezer stash muffins and cookies.