Pouch-based baby and toddler foods are marketed as a healthy food option for parents who are seeking to provide their children with nutritious food. At first glance, the pouches appear to be sound in terms of their macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) content as well as their predominant use of organic and clean label ingredients. They can be lifesavers for families during busy times.
At Sprout, we do see these products having a place in today’s busy family schedules, for example when traveling or on the go – when there is no time or alternative.
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However, these pouches become a problem when they are used beyond occasional consumption when they become staples and replace healthy meals produced by using a whole-food, home-cooked approach. Parents are not to blame, they are persuaded by savvy marketers who take advantage of an underregulated industry (kids food industry). They make parents believe that these foods are either equal to or in some instances even better than home-cooked, wholesome healthy kid’s meals. This is not true and is a disservice to a child’s well-being and future nutritional growth.
We spoke with our US-board certified dietician to understand this better and she points out that numerous nutritional shortfalls exist in pouch-based snacks:
1. Insufficient calories
On a calorie by calorie comparison, a child would need to consume several pouches to get one meal worth of calories. In this case, a child may meet calorie requirements but not overall nutrient requirements. Several pouches may end up costing far more than a home-cooked, wholesome meal, or a Sprout healthy kid’s meal.
2. Added sugar disguised as fruit juice
Pouches often use concentrated fruit juices (where the fiber has been removed) to sweeten the content. Medically, this is comparable to adding table sugar to the food – irrespective of whether the sugar came from a fruit or not (table sugar comes from plants too, think sugar cane). Only fiber-bound (fruit/vegetable) sugars don’t cause a blood sugar spike. Added sugar consumption has been attributed to childhood obesity and obesity in adulthood.
3. Lack of fiber
Fiber is of special importance to children not only to prevent constipation but also to appropriately “feed” the bacteria in the gut. Dietary fiber (which is only found in plants) provided in Sprout meals is significantly higher in comparison to the pouch-based products. This is because all of our meals are freshly made from whole plant foods. Poor gut health has been linked to several chronic conditions developed later in life such as obesity and metabolic syndrome.
4. Lack of nutrients
The majority of bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables (beyond vitamins and minerals, but those included) are significantly degraded by the exposure to ultra-high heat, mechanical agitation and general processing that occurs in shelf-stable food production. Depending on the pouch-based meal, preservatives, stabilizers, etc. may be added which also negatively impacts nutritional quality.
5. Associated with stalling motor development
Pouched food is a one-dimensional fluid, which deprives children of the experience of different textures. This limits the child’s ability to develop fine motor skills associated with eating family meals with whole foods. As many of these products are marketed towards toddlers, reliance on these products may prevent a child from experiencing and developing self-feeding skills.
6. Associated with stalling palate development
Overall, food pouches are similar across flavors and heavily skewed towards sweetness. This fosters a limited palate in children and prevents them from experiencing and learning to appreciate real, healthy foods. For our children to develop preferences, experience all tastes and flavors, and become accustomed to (and like!) different flavors, they must be exposed to them. Masking certain flavors because they are deemed “unlikable” promotes picky eating and negatively impacts preferences for a lifetime.
Evidence shows that children who are raised on a whole-food, plant-based diet have a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, and some cancers.
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Check out – Why Sprout cares about kid’s nutrition.
At Sprout, our recipe framework* (which is based on the best available balance in evidence) ensures all of our healthy food include vital components such as fiber, macro and micronutrients exclusively derived from whole plant-foods to maximize nutrient-density. Our cooking methodologies also focus on minimal processing to protect and preserve food quality.
*Our recipe framework is based on Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen. To find out more about the Daily Dozen and the food groups listed visit NutritionFacts.Org