A new study from the U.K. looked at homemade baby food versus commercial baby food bought in grocery stores. They both come up winners in some categories and losers in others.
The researchers wanted to assess how well homemade and commercially available readymade meals designed for infants and young children met age specific national dietary recommendations.
Once thought to be the ideal baby food, homemade meals turned out to be higher in calories and fat and more time-consuming to prepare, but less expensive and higher in nutrients and variety. Commercial baby food came in more convenient, lower in calories, total fats and salt but was more expensive and lacked variety. Sugar content was about the same in both foods.
Each option had upsides and downsides. For example, home-cooked food had higher nutritional content, but 50% of homemade meals also exceed calorie recommendations, and 37% exceeded the recommendations for calories from fat, reported a research team led by Sharon Carstairs, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Only 7% of the commercial baby food evaluated exceeded calorie recommendations, and less than 1% exceeded recommendations for calories from fat, Carstairs and colleagues reported in Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Researchers compared the store-bought meals with 408 recipes for home-cooked infant meals obtained from best-selling published cookbooks. The investigators entered the recipe ingredients into dietary analysis software to calculate the nutritional composition of the recipes per 100 grams.
A chief limitation of the study was that it only analyzed the recipes for homemade meals and did not take into account how these meals might be prepared in "real life."
"Parents may use cookbooks prescriptively or only as guidance, and thus the nutritional content of home-cooked recipes can vary greatly, and this can be augmented further by natural variations in the nutritional composition of raw ingredients," Carstairs and colleagues noted.
In addition, "the authors may have overestimated the values for salt within home-cooked recipes as it was often cited as optional; these results should thus be considered with caution."
The study reassures parents that it is okay to give homemade food to babies being weaned from breast milk or formula, Lauri Wright, PhD, of the University of South Florida College of Public Health and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told MedPage Today.
"This is an important study, because in the United States parents think they have to do the commercial foods. Parents are afraid their child will miss out on nutrients if they don't give the specialized baby food."
The greater variety offered by homemade food may result in healthier taste preferences later in life, Wright added. "We used to think that taste preference developed at age 4 or 5, but we now know that taste preferences develop with the introduction of these first solid foods."
The bottom line from this study is that both types of baby food are acceptable; each comes with its own pros and cons. Just like with any other meal, how your homemade baby food is prepared is the key to whether it’s going to be healthy or not for baby. Understanding the guidelines for nourishing infant food and knowing the nutritional values of the foods you use, can help you prepare a wholesome meal for baby. Commercial baby foods also offer convenience and lower calories and fats. A mix of both will probably suit most families very well.
Story source: Medpage Today staff, http://www.medpagetoday.com/pediatrics/generalpediatrics/59228