Over the last few months, I’ve truly been in my element as my baby daughter is now eating solids and so I can cook for her – yay! We decided to go the baby-led weaning route and so far, so good. I’ve really enjoyed preparing super yummy and healthy food for us to share and she’s enjoyed eating every last drop.
However, I wasn’t born on Mars and I would be fibbing if I said I hadn’t tried one or two of those trendy looking organic convenience foods when rushing around. They seem too good to be true… it all looks like it’s just real food, no added sugar, no hidden nasties, all organic, no additives…fantastic! But are these organic convenience foods really as good as they seem? What do we really need to look out for on the food labels?
Organic – check! Fruit and veg – check! Low salt – check!
This is easy, right? Then, as if by magic, we’re treated to rows of organic foods in cute little jars, packets, tubes and pouches, super innocent looking and the key word “ORGANIC” in big fancy writing, made just for baby and kids. How thoughtful! Hey, wait a minute, there are a few things that are not so great about some of these angelic looking foods!
When I stopped to think about it, the two biggies for me are:
1. Quality of Nutrients
As a raw food chef, I advocate a high raw food lifestyle because living food (food not cooked beyond 114 degrees F) provides us with living energy. The nutrients in raw food are kept in tact because a heat process has not depleted them. It’s not that I only eat or feed my baby raw foods, we do also eat cooked food, however, I usually steam my fruit and veg for baby to keep the precious nutrients in tact as much as possible. Most, if not all, of these packaged foods are basically dead foods: they’ve been heated and depleted of nutrients, processed and pasteurised to kill all bacteria – good and bad (and we need some good bacteria in our foods to help keep our immune system strong). How else can they keep the food preserved in little air-tight packets?
2. Sugar Content
Even though the label says “no added sugar” that does not mean that the sugar content is ideal. The issue is that there are no definite clear guidelines for how much sugar a child should have per day, and they do need some, as it’s a good source of energy. However, the source of the sugar makes a difference, as it can be a slow releasing sugar or fast releasing sugar, the latter is less ideal as it will impact the blood quicker – this is High Glycemic (GI) food. Too much sugar, in particular high GI foods, in a child’s diet can lead to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, tooth decay and it’s linked to many other illnesses.
A study in Canada in June 2010 found that half of the food products targeted toward babies and toddlers contain too much sugar. This study categorised an over-abundance of sugar as having at least 20 percent of its total calories from sugar. Keeping sugar intake under control can be difficult because many ingredients listed on packaged foods – even the organic ones, kids’ yoghurts and snacks like rice crackers or fruit chews – may not be indicated as “sugar.” Other common names of sugars include concentrate, sucrose, glucose, maltodextrin and many more. And just because one food doesn’t seem to have an overly high sugar content, if you measured your sugar intake from all your “convenient” foods, in a day, or week, and you might be surprised!
My top 3 things to look out for, and some yummy homemade snacks to try at home!
1. Organic Pouch and Jar Foods, generally
There are a number of organic baby food brands out there pulling us in with “organic”, “no additives” etc …BUT and it’s a BIG BUT, it’s still basically dead food – think about it – there is a reason it can sit on a shelf for so long. Most of the foods are high in sugar and low in nutrients compared to eating the food in its natural state. For example, a pouch of strawberry mushed food that can sit on a shelf for a few months does not contain the same nutritional and energetic value as a few beautiful fresh living strawberries full of living enzymes, vitamins and minerals fully intact. Plus, it’s cheaper! I would rather buy the non-organic fruit than buy the organic fruity pouch because you will get more nutrition value from the real deal.
My motto is always just eat real food. However, let me add on to that, to warn you that just because it looks and sounds like real “healthy” food, doesn’t mean it is a real living food. My advice, if you do use the organic pouches or packet foods for convenience, is make sure it does not form more than a small parentage of your child’s diet. Nothing can beat the quality of nutrition in a home cooked meal with steamed veggies and fresh produce. Also, remember to balance warm and cold food – a lot of cold food pouches for example, would be dampening in the body. Dampness in the body can cause mucus to build up.
Alternatives: Next time you’re in the organic supermarket, buy some dehydrated apple slices, instead of mushed apples in a pouch – they’re just as convenient to tuck into your diaper bag and kids can munch on this living food. Make sure you buy sulphur-free, which it should be, if it’s dehydrated, not “dried”.
2. Fruit Concentrate
You’ll find the word “concentrate” before a lot of fruit ingredients, for example “apple concentrate”. Basically, concentrate is sugar – it’s the sugar (or fructose) from the fruit. I have seen these ingredients in everything from Kid’s cereals, baby porridge, “fruit” yoghurts to rice cracker snacks, and it all adds up to a lot of processed sugar in a little one’s diet!
When thinking about alternatives, again, try just eating the real food – instead of a white rice cracker with added juice concentrate (i.e. coated in sugar), why not try chopped-up fruit dipped in sugar-free peanut butter – although the fruit still contains sugar, the fibre in the fruit slows down the body’s response to the sugar and therefore the body deals with the sugar in a far healthier way.
I’m no angel mother and, of course, I have tried those fancy organic, sticky rice crackers and organic baby porridge with added fruit powders, thinking one bit won’t harm, but that’s the problem! Because “concentrate” is in so many kids’ products, it really does amount to a lot! Just keep an eye out for how many of your kid’s products contain a fruit concentrate of some sort. In fact, stop reading the word “concentrate” – it’s sugar.
Alternatives: For easy snacks, why not make your own super easy fruit ice pops! All you need to do is whizz up some fruit in the blender and chuck it in the freezer – the freshness and nutrients are kept locked in and they’re an easy snack to have on hand! Check out my recipe below. My bubs love these for dessert (once in a while!).
Recipe: Fruit Freeze Pops
Simply blend 1 cup papaya + ½ cup coconut pulp or nut milk or milk of choice + 1 ripe banana. Pour into your freezer pop mold and freeze. For baby and toddlers, the Munchkin ice-pop mold is awesome, as it’s the perfect size.
3. Highly processed flours – maize and rice flour
Many of our “healthy” children’s cereals and convenience foods contain maize flour or rice flour and the concern again here is sugar. Maize (corn), is a high GI food, as is white rice. When these foods are processed into a flour it also becomes a highly processed food, stripping it of many natural nutrients. 100% stoneground, whole meal flours are less refined and not as unhealthy as other types of flours because they are not as finely ground and take longer to digest.
Alternatives: my all time favourite breakfast has to be good old porridge oats; low GI and high protein. Or even better, Porridge is super quick to make and if you try my Saffron Porridge Fingers recipe, you can even carry them around as finger snack food or freeze to reheat in the oven when needed! How convenient!
Please note, this article is not intended to provide medical advice and you should always consult your medical care practitioner before changing your diet or your child’s diet.