If you’ve walked down the baby food aisle recently, you know that the industry is massive. It’s not just puréed baby food in the aisles anymore. There’s everything from pouches to baby puffs and yogurt melts.
But, do babies need these baby snack foods? Is it necessary for their development? Is it even helpful?
The industry has led us to believe that yes, we need these foods that are specially designed for babies. But in reality, they’re not needed at all. In fact, they can actually have negative consequences if we’re not careful.
Here’s what you need to consider and know when you’re thinking about picking up the puffs at the grocery store:
- Babies don’t need snacks. It’s actually not beneficial to offer snacks to babies in their first year of life. We don’t want it to displace the milk from their diet. Food is complementary to milk at this age, meaning milk provides the main source of calories and nutrients for baby up until one year of age. If baby appears to be hungry in between meals, offer milk instead of baby snacks.
- When food is offered to baby, it needs to be nutrient-dense. When babies do eat, their bellies are so small and their nutrient needs so great, we want to make sure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck. All food counts at this stage, so filling up on puffs isn’t helping them get the nutrients they need. Nutrient-dense foods is what they’re needing at this point (foods high in iron and calories as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables).
- Most of the snacks marketed in the baby aisles are not energy- or nutrient-dense. Since they’re puffed, they’re mostly air with minimal calories and nutrients. We don’t want baby to feel like he’s getting filled up on something and then not drink as much milk because of it (again, refer back to #1. Milk is the main priority for most of baby’s first year).
- Babies and kids don’t require “kid food.” You don’t need to buy the baby yogurt or the baby puffs. The food industry markets these foods in a way that makes you think it’s necessary to set your baby up for success. But real, whole foods can do the exact same thing and actually do it better.
- Baby snacks don’t help advance baby’s eating skills. Puffs are designed to be safe for baby by dissolving quickly and pouches provide the convenience of eating with little mess. Our goal is to help baby eat finger foods by 9-10 months. The only way they can learn is by putting foods in their mouth, learning how to chew the food, and then successfully swallowing the food. If we depend on purées or puffs, baby won’t learn the skill of actually eating and chewing.
- Identify the motive for offering the snacks. Why are snacks being offered in the first place? They’re typically used as a way to distract or calm a fussy baby. In the long run, this results in a child (and future adult) associating food as a way to solve a problem unrelated to hunger. It often leads to a future of mindless eating or eating out of emotion, rather than eating due to physical hunger.
After considering these things, also know that there’s nothing wrong with offering puffs or other foods marketed towards babies to your little one. Try to include them with the meal (while at the table and not on the go) and offer a number of other balanced and nutrient-dense foods to go along with it. This will help set you and your baby up for success in that first year of life and beyond.
Kara Hoerr is a wife, mom to a 6-month-old, and a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in family and childhood nutrition. She’s originally from Iowa, but has called Madison home for the past 9 years. When she’s not helping families and individuals end mealtime battles or quit diets for good, she’s usually baking or cooking in her kitchen, running or biking on the Madison trails, or relaxing with a good book. She never expected to start her own business, but here she is with Kara Hoerr Nutrition. She offers nutrition coaching and online courses to help moms (and dads!) out at the dinner table. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, email Kara at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Instagram.