We’ve gotten some requests from readers to review baby / toddler foods over the past few weeks, so we’ll try to oblige. I strongly urge you read a previous posting entitled Do Children Need Kids Food?, Children meaning toddler from one year up.
Before Gerber and other companies discovered this beautiful market niche called babies, toddlers, preschoolers, etc…, humanity was able to feed its offspring pretty much the same food the grown ups were eating, but in smaller bite-size pieces, once the child had teeth in place and passed the one year mark. And perhaps a bit less spicy as well.
So why do parents buy prepared meals for their young? Probably for the same reason they buy it for themselves: Convenience.
But what about the taste and nutrition? We decided to take a look inside the label of Gerber Graduates for Preschoolers Healthy Meals, Cheesy Pasta, Chicken and Vegetables…
What you need to know:
Here’s the ingredient list:
Water, Peas, Cooked Chunk-Shaped White Meat Chicken Pattie (White Chicken Meat, Water, Soy Protein Isolate, Potassium Chloride, Rice Starch, Sodium Phosphate, Sea Salt, Chicken Broth Powder (Chicken Broth, Salt, Natural Flavor)), Carrots, Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes, Sodium Citrate, Annatto Extract Color), Enriched Macaroni Product (Wheat Semolina, Egg Whites, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Corn, Squash, Modified Cornstarch, Less than 2% of: Nonfat Milk, Cream, Chicken Fat, Salt, Sugar, Disodium Phosphate, Chicken Broth, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor, Onion Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Potato Starch, Celery, Carrot and Onion Juice Concentrates, Paprika and Annatto Extract Colors.
Oh my, look at all those ingredients (all 46!).
The first ingredient is water! You’re paying for food here, not water. Why would it be the ingredient with most weight in this product? This is not a good sign. We’ve got peas as ingredient #2 (good) and then at #3 a “chicken pattie” that is made from chicken PLUS 9 additional elements. Why can’t junior just have bits of plain chicken breast?
The cheddar cheese and macaroni are standard with a tiny amount of corn and squash added as well. The list goes on with a bunch of ingredients making up the sauce, presumably.
While there are no artificial colors or preservatives, this is a highly processed product. Gerber boasts “no preservatives”, but salt is used copiously here. (Salt is one of mankind’s first preservatives)
Which brings us to the main problem with this meal – the amount of sodium in it. 450 milligrams for a toddler/preschooler is too much. Adults are advised to consume no more than 1500-2300 mg per day for a 2000 calorie diet. Toddlers consume about half that number of calories and thus should need no more that 750-1200 mg of sodium per day.
Here, in one meal, they’re getting a third to a half of the daily maximum of salt. It’s not only too much, it takes over the flavor of the food. Kids need to get used to the taste of new foods. By masking the real flavor with excess salt, we’re doing them a disservice.
Bottom line: If you want to control the sodium your child is getting while getting her used to the texture and mouth feel of real chicken breast, better make it yourself.
What to do at the supermarket:
Buy chicken breast, pasta, some cheese, and veggies (carrots and peas). Get ready to prepare your own baby dinner in 10 minutes work, 30 unattended.
In a pot – boil water. Dice then cook the veggies in the water and remove. Use the water to cook the pasta (will absorb the vitamins left over from the veggies). Either cook, broil, or fry the diced chicken pieces till fully done. Place veggies, pasta, chicken in a plate. Grate some cheddar cheese over the mix. No need to add too much salt – there’s enough in the cheese.
Prepare a batch and freeze for several weeks or refrigerate for a few days.