Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dried Fruit: Choose the Ugly Ones

Dried fruit is a healthy snack right? Well, not so fast. It depends on what kind you choose. Most dried fruits are treated with Sulpher Dioxide to prevent spoiling and to preserve the fruit's beautiful color. That is why dried fruit not treated with Sulpher Dioxide loses it's color and tends to look brown. 

While unsulphered dried fruit doesn't look as appetizing as the chemically treated fruit, consider this; Sulfur Dioxide is a gas that's created by burning oil or coal and smells like rotten eggs. It is also an air pollutant that can cause severe health problems in humans. That is far less appetizing than naturally sun dried fruit that has lost it's color. 

Many dried fruit brands using Sulpher Dioxide also contain added sugar, which seems really unnecessary considering how sweet fruit is on it's own. Additionally, Sulpher Dioxide is used in products as a bleaching agent or disinfectant. How this chemical can then also be used as a food preservative is really beyond me, and sadly, it is in so many foods, including your favorite glass of wine. While it is unavoidable in some instances, like wine, I feel we should steer clear of this preservative wherever possible, especially for children.

Some people actually have a sensitivity to it and can have serious health issues as a result. If you are sensitive to Sulpher Dioxide, being exposed to it can lead to breathing problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and respiratory disease. Eating foods treated with Sulpher Dioxide when you have a sensitivity may cause an upset stomach, an asthma attack or a skin rash. 

The FDA considers Sulpher Dioxide safe in small doses, but it doesn't sound very safe to me, especially in food for children. I recommend buying organic, unsulphered dried fruits whenever possible. They are available at most natural food stores like Whole Foods and Fairway Farms.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Did Processed Baby Food Become The Norm?

As parents, we want to do what's best for our babies. It's our instinct.

As women, when we find out we are pregnant, we do everything we can for our developing baby. We want to give them the best start to life. We try and have as healthy a pregnancy as possible. We stop smoking, drinking, we eat as healthy as we can, we find out what medications we can and can't take, we do whatever needs to be done for the health of the baby, even if it means being on bed rest or a complete lifestyle change. We do what's best for the baby. It's our instinct.

When planning for our baby's arrival, we research products, we make sure we choose the safest car seat, we read books and get advice from trusted friends and loved ones. We make sure our baby's environment will be as safe, cozy and loving as possible. It's our instinct.

When our baby is born, we nurse or pump our milk, because we know that breast milk is best. It takes a lot of time and commitment and can be painful at times, but it's best for the baby so we do it. If we are not able to provide breast milk to our baby, we research formula to find the best one that is closest to breast milk, because our babies deserve the very best. It's our instinct.

Then, when baby is 4-6 months and ready to start solids....we're supposed to feed them processed food for every meal, every day? That's a very different mindset from everything we've been doing for our baby leading up to this point. It's not our instinct to feed our babies processed food - it's marketing.

How did this happen? How did feeding babies processed food for every meal, every day become the norm? 

Store bought baby food in jars first hit the shelves in the late 1920's. Over decades and with very aggressive marketing, store bought baby food became the norm. Brands marketed to parents that their manufactured food was the best. That it was specifically made for babies, was better for them and safer than what a parent could make at home. It was also marketed that making your own baby food was laborious and inconvenient. With that kind of advertising, it's no wonder parents flocked to store bought. They truly believed, and were led to believe, that it was the best food available for their babies.

We know better now. It has been proven time and time again that homemade is the best choice. Store bought baby food has it's place and may come in handy at times, but I don't feel it should be the norm. It should not be for every meal every day, especially when homemade is so easy. All you have to do is look at these side by side comparisons to see how much more appealing the homemade baby food is.
Pea Puree
Store bought on the left and homemade on the right. Doesn't even look like the same food.
Butternut Squash Puree
Store bought on the left and homemade on the right. The difference in taste and texture is substantial.

Chicken Noodle
Store bought on the left and homemade on the right. The store bought looks like melted cheese. Where are the veggies? Where is the texture? This is supposed to be a Stage 3 meal. 

Mango, Kiwi & Apple
Store bought on the left and homemade on the right. The jar only said "kiwi juice" it doesn't even contain the actual fruit. Plus, it's apparently "good" until 2016. 
Homemade baby food benefits
  • Healthier - Homemade baby food is healthier, because it's fresh and not processed. Homemade baby food is only lightly steamed or roasted so it can retain the most nutrients. Plus, as soon as your baby is 7 months, you can puree fresh fruits without cooking. This gives your baby 100% of the wonderful raw nutrients and antioxidants in the food. It has also been shown that babies fed a diet of homemade fresh fruits and veggies have a lower risk of developing a food allergy by age 2 than babies fed a steady diet of processed foods. Store bought baby food is processed for a long shelf life. This process destroys nutrients, taste, texture, aroma and color of the food. Many store bought baby foods also contain fillers, additives and preservatives. Additionally, some brands are not even organic, exposing our babies to potentially harmful pesticides and GMOs. Yuk. 
  • Cheaper - Homemade baby food is hands down the most affordable option when it comes to feeding your baby. Homemade can actually be up to 5x LESS than store bought! Some of the more expensive organic pouch brands can be as much as $2.00 per pouch. You can make a serving of organic homemade baby food for as little as $0.12 per ounce!
  • Tastier - Homemade baby food is absolutely delicious, because it's fresh. In my opinion, there is no comparison between the taste of store bought and homemade. Sadly, I feel we are unintentionally breeding picky eaters with all of this store bought baby food. So much of it just doesn't taste right. A baby's taste buds are developing the first 12-18 months of life. We need to be feeding them a wide variety of fresh, delicious foods to help them develop their palate. If we feed babies a steady diet of processed store bought baby food that doesn't taste as good as homemade, we are most definitely affecting their developing taste buds. I can't tell you how many moms have told me that their 1st child was fed exclusively store bought and has grown into a picky eater, but the 2nd child was fed homemade and will eat anything.
  • Correct texture - With homemade baby food you can expose your baby to many different textures and consistencies, whereas store bought baby food is mainly just purees. If kids are basically fed only pureed foods out of a jar or pouch the first 18 months of life, it's no wonder they can become adverse to different textures. Most babies only need puree until about 6 months while they are learning to swallow food from a spoon. After that, you can start giving them mushy and then chunky consistencies until they are basically on bite sized table food at a year old.
  • Eco-friendly - Can you imagine how many baby food jars, pouches and lids get thrown away every year? Unfortunately, only a small percentage gets recycled, leaving the rest to either be incinerated or put in a landfill. With homemade, there is very little waste and everything is reusable. 
The bright, vibrant colors of homemade baby food.
Common misconceptions about homemade baby food
  • "I don't have the time" - This is the biggest misconception when it comes to homemade baby food and it couldn't be further from the truth. The key is preparing it in bulk and storing it in the freezer. In an airtight container, like our Sage Spoonfuls jars, most baby food will stay fresh for up to 3 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer. You can make 2 weeks of baby food in only 10 minutes. You literally go shopping in your freezer instead of wasting your time and money schlepping to the store to buy baby food. With the right tools, homemade can be just as convenient as store bought.
  • "I don't cook" - You absolutely do not need to be a cook to prepare homemade baby food. It does not need to be, and should not be, fancy or complicated. It's all about single whole foods served on their own or mixed together with other whole foods. It's truly as simple as boiling water. A great place to start is with a no cook food like banana or avocado. Just peel and mash with the back of a fork - so easy! 
  • "I'm afraid I will do something wrong and hurt my baby" - As long as you follow simple guidelines and the recommendations of your pediatrician, you can't go wrong.
  • "I buy organic in the pouch, it's the same as homemade" - While organic is a better choice than conventional, it's not the same as homemade, because it's still processed for shelf life and can also contain additives, fillers and preservatives.
As more and more parents learn the wonderful benefits of homemade baby food and switch to making their own, sales of store bought are declining. Baby food manufacturers have recognized the move toward homemade and are doing everything they can to be more like homemade.

Companies are changing their marketing and some are even re-branding themselves to appear more like homemade. Through their very own advertising, baby food companies are telling us that homemade is best. Even if it's "just green beans" in the jar, it's still "just green beans" that have been processed.

While they are striving to be as close to homemade as possible, store bought baby food is processed for shelf life. Feeding your baby a food that claims to be "good" for nearly 2 years is not what's best. Fresh is best. Homemade baby food should be the norm.
If you haven't tried making your own baby food yet, give it a chance.  Homemade is super easy, crazy inexpensive, not at all time consuming and can be as convenient as store bought. It's your instinct to give your little one the very best and you'll know you are giving your baby the freshest, healthiest start to life.