Ah, the joys of parenthood. From the moment a child cuts his first tooth, parents are faced with learning when, and what, food is best for baby.
This is National Baby Food Week, and once a year, the city of Fremont, Mich., is transformed into a haven for toddlers. Fremont, home to Gerber Products Company, is the baby food capitol of the world, according to the National Baby Food Festival website. Events for the four-day festival include a baby crawl, baby food eating contest and of course, a parade.
Traditionally, baby food has been associated with bland, single-item flavors strained into tiny jars. No more.
Today, some of the most popular trends are pouches for baby food, and a mixture of fruits and vegetables, often organic. The pouches are designed to be squished and slurped by the tiny consumers.
Local resident Stefanie Hampton uses the pouches, and is pleased with the result.
“The newest big thing is the baby pouches,” said Hampton. “[Varieties include things] like apple, strawberry, peach, banana sauce or yogurt in an easy-to-use, non-refrigerated pouch. Lots of moms make their own, but I don’t. My 18-month-old loves fruit of any kind, but a couple of the [varieties] sneak in spinach, squash and sweet potato, and he loves them, too. He mostly east whatever we’re having, but I ten to sneak in a pouch for extra nutrients if he’s being picky.”
According to a report by the Associated Press, the baby food industry nets about $1.5 billion a year, and pouches have broadened the appeal beyond the traditional baby food ages.
Maureen Putnam, chief marketing officer for the Hain Celestial Group, making of organic brand Earth’s best, told the AP the pouches have helped fuel 11 percent growth at the company.
“It’s allowing us to age up,” Putnam told the AP. “Where moms have stopped baby food at 9 to 12 months, the pouches have really helped extend the shelf life of baby food. “We see growth for a long time to come.”
While prepackaged foods are a convenience for some parents, others prefer to make their own baby food.
“Making baby food at home seems to be more popular now,” said Heather Winn, Family, Home and Consumer Science educator with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. “Parents can choose what is in it; the nutritional value is as good or better than commercially processed baby food. It’s also convenient, tastes great, is quick and simple and can cut food costs up to 70 percent.”
According to Winn, a commercial brand of baby food may cost 46 cents, but home-processed food can be made for 20 cents.
“We have a simple fact sheet with steps to follow available at the extension office,” said Winn. “You can even prepare and freeze baby food for several months.”
Local resident Kristen Thomas made all of her daughter’s food until she started on solids.
“Her first favorite foods were bananas and avocados,” said Thomas. “Carrots were up there, too. It was summer when I started, so she had lots of fresh, locally-grown veggies and fruits: squash, zucchini, green beans, sweet potatoes, peaches and pears. Heck, I accidentally made a batch of cucumbers once. It wasn’t her favorite. I combined some flavors. Sweet potatoes seemed to work well with just about anything, especially apples.”
Thomas made food for her daughter to know exactly what the child was getting.
“It also allowed me to eliminate all the excess sugar,” said Thomas.
Like Thomas, local resident Ashley Linn made her daughter’s baby food and preferred to know exactly what her daughter was ingesting.
“Plus, we learned more about our Farmers’ Market,” said Linn.
Cherokee Lowe, local librarian, fed her daughter oatmeal and jarred foods until the child was about 8 months old, then began adding solids.
“We used Beechnut jarred foods and cereals, because Gerber adds sugar,” said Lowe.
“We never give her anything other than water or juice, and she won’t drink milk. She is now 13-1/2 months old, and we give her a variety of foods, most of them prepared. She will eat minced up versions of what we eat without butter, sugar or salt. And she loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
Kristi Torkelson, another local mother, also fed her children standard jarred baby food.
“My kiddos each ate baby food bought from store until [they were] 9 months old,” said Torkelson. “Then they wanted big people food. Both my children enjoyed squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, and most fruits, except peaches. After nine months, it was mac and cheese, and vegetables like green beans and carrots.
Kellie Odeneal, former Press employee, is the mother of two sons, and took yet a different approach to feeding her boys.
“We didn’t bother with pureed foods,” said Odeneal. “We do baby-led weaning, where we follow their cues. Only real foods for my kids, and they feed themselves most of the time.”
According to babyledweaning .com, this feeding method allows children to feed themselves from the onset of weaning.
The term was originally coined by Gill Rapley, a former health visitor and midwife.
The premise is that most babies begin to reach for food at about 6 months of age, which is also the time mothers are encouraged to wean, based on World Health organization guidelines.
To train the child, simply hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it, they eat it, and if they don’t, they won’t.
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