Apparently pre-packaged toddler meals, sold by Gerber, Heinz and various other companies, aren't actually that great for kids. Color me not surprised.
What I find most surprising about the sudden media coverage of the nutritional content in these meals is that everyone is suddenly appalled.
Seriously? Have people never read the labels? Have they never tasted jarred baby food? Has it never entered the realm of possibility for these folks that feeding their children actual fresh, healthy food isn't that hard? Or that it's actually a lot cheaper than the commercial alternatives?
Listen up, Folks, because I've a newsflash for you:
Healthy food doesn't come in prepackaged meals. It doesn't come with undecipherable ingredient labels. It doesn't come tagged with misleading portion sizes. What these prepackaged meals may save you in time will be paid back in spades with future health issues. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that convenience foods can actually create picky eaters -- kids don't know they want something until you've first offered it to them. The most important gift you can give your child is a love of food tasting the way it is supposed to taste -- without the chemicals, preservatives, excess sodium, sugar and fats.
So why do people buy these for their kids?
- Convenience: A big part of it is the idea that they are easier than preparing separate food for a toddler.
I get hung up on this one, as I didn't find it time-consuming or difficult to set aside an age appropriate portion of the family meal for my toddlers. If necessary, I would do this before seasoning or adding nut butters, but my kids ate the same food as the rest of us. It was no inconvenience to put aside some carrots or cooked pasta before mixing the meal for everyone else.
Don't forget that you pay for this supposed convenience -- these meals are a lot more expensive that making your own food!
- Marketing: We're told that these are healthy, portion-appropriate meals for our kids. They're put out by longstanding, trusted names in the industry. They wouldn't lie to us, would they?
Babies and toddlers are big money. Everyone wants the best for their child, and we try to be up to date on the latest and greatest in kids' products. Big bucks are poured into "Mommy Marketing" and guilt is a big motivator when it comes to deciding where to drop our dollars for our children.
If you don't believe me, keep in mind that these same companies produce "baby desserts" for children under the age of 1. Babies don't need desserts. Tapioca and sugar are not part of a well-rounded baby diet.
An important thing to remember is that just because something is fortified with vitamins and minerals does not make it healthy. Junk food has vitamins and minerals added to it now. I wouldn't feed it to my baby.
Feeding a toddler isn't hard. Fresh veggies and a healthy dip are an easy way to introduce textures and flavours. Pasta takes only minutes to cook -- toss on a bit of tomato sauce or grated cheese and it's ready to eat. Until my kids were over age 3, I avoided using much seasoning or salt on their portions of our meals.
While I can be heard to complain about my kids being picky, that's by my standards -- they still eat a far more varied diet than many of their peers and are pretty open to trying new foods. They're 6 and almost 8 now and I'll be introducing foods the same way for this new baby. As older kids, they do get a certain amount of packaged foods incorporated into their diets but those are more than balanced out by easy meals prepared from scratch. There is such a short window where we, as parents and food providers, can educate their palates in the taste of foods. I can't understand why so many feel this need to resort to commercially-prepared foods when feeding their kids.
In a nutshell, all of this is why I don't understand the sudden outcry. It just makes sense that this food isn't good for kids. The lure of a popular brand name and promise of convenience is no excuse for common sense.