Frozen Baby Food Benefits

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Author: Cinthia Scott, RD, IBCLC (The Baby Dietitian LLC)

Do you find yourself curious to know if there are any benefits to preparing homemade baby food, or if premade baby food is just as healthy? It can be incredibly convenient to have store-bought baby food on hand when you don’t have time to make a homemade option! However, you may wonder about the ingredients for your baby and if you are providing them with the nutrient-dense diet they need to grow and thrive. In this article, we will cover your options and the different varieties of baby food. As a Pediatric Dietitian, I’ll provide you with some tips and tricks on how to read a baby food label and unpack the nutritional differences between homemade and store-bought baby foods. Let’s get started on helping you feel educated and empowered to make nutritious choices for your baby!

Let’s get into the big question: Is homemade baby food really that much healthier than store-bought?

I understand the confusion surrounding this topic and it can be truly overwhelming, let’s talk through some key points to help clear the air. Currently, there is no clear data on homemade baby food being “healthier” than store-bought baby food. Both options can be nutrient-dense and provide vital micronutrients and macronutrients to help your baby grow and thrive. Keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of each type of baby food to help you decide which option is best for you!

Unpacking the Differences Between Types of Baby Food Available

Homemade Baby Food

Homemade baby food is typically made right in your kitchen using fresh fruits, vegetables, and preferred proteins and fats. Caregivers choose to make their child homemade purees or to modify family meals to make them suitable for children in finger food format, this approach is called baby-led weaning. Some parents will purchase special baby food makers if they believe they will be making a significant amount of homemade foods for their children. If following the baby-led weaning approach, there isn’t much need for a special baby-food maker since foods will be served in finger food style and will be made from the family meal.

  • With homemade baby food you have the bonus of knowing exactly what is in the food you are serving your baby. You can choose to opt for potentially higher quality fruits, meats, and veggies than what you may find in a packaged baby food option.
  • You have the option to use your cultural spices and seasonings in homemade food, which can expose your child to a diverse variety of flavors as they start taking part in family meals.
  • Being able to add nutrient-dense additives into homemade baby food to boost the nutrition content! This includes foods like hemp seeds for additional protein, chia seeds for extra omega-3s, and avocado oil for additional energy and fat.
  • Many parents often notice that providing babies with modified family meals or homemade purees is less expensive when compared to purchasing baby-only jarred food.
  • When preparing baby food, you can choose the texture of the food provided to the child (thin purees all the way up to finger foods) to expose them to many different textures. This has been shown to help avoid texture aversions down the road!
  • Time-consuming! If you are a busy caregiver with other children to attend to or are working out of the house, it may be difficult to find the time to prepare homemade baby food for every meal served.
  • When preparing baby food, you need to ensure you are being diligent in using safe food handling and storage guidelines to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. Learning proper temperatures to cook food and store food, as well as following the CDC guidelines for food safety is important when preparing homemade baby food.
  • Homemade baby food doesn’t last as long as shelf-stable or frozen baby food. When preparing and storing homemade baby food we do not have the bonus of using preservatives, meaning we may end up wasting baby food if not used within the appropriate time frame.
  • We need to ensure that we are educated on what babies can or cannot eat. Making sure we do not add salt, sugar, unpasteurized products, or honey into our baby’s diet are just a few ingredients we need to be mindful of avoiding in our homemade baby food for health reasons.

Frozen Baby Food

As the name implies, frozen baby food is baby food that is made and then frozen to last longer and retain nutrients. Foods that are frozen at their peak freshness and fresh whole foods are considered the gold standard when it comes to nutrition profile. This would mean that frozen baby food options or homemade fresh food options may be the best choice when it comes to nutritional composition.

  • Frozen food has been shown to preserve the nutritional quality of food and to be comparable, if not more nutrient dense than fresh foods due to the frozen food being picked and frozen at peak ripeness. (PMID: 25526594). With that being said, there are minimal studies that specifically compare the nutritional quality of shelf-stable baby food to frozen baby food. One small study showed that children exposed to veggie-based frozen meals were more likely to be receptive to trying new vegetables when compared to those fed veggie-based jarred baby food. This may be related to frozen foods preserving the true flavor of the food more accurately than jarred baby food, but more research needs to be done on this topic. (PMID: 33601214)
  • Frozen food lasts longer! This is a huge positive, knowing that you have easy and nutrient-dense baby food available to quickly heat up whenever needed. Typically, most store-bought frozen baby food is good for around 3 months allowing you ample time to use it before it expires.
  • Price point. Some brands of frozen food can have a pretty high price point which may not be feasible for some families.
  • If you are only serving a rotation of a few different types of frozen foods, it may limit the variety a child receives in their diet. We encourage parents to rotate through foods frequently to ensure nutritional needs are met and the child is developing a diverse palate.

Shelf-Stable Baby Food

Baby food that you can purchase from the inner shelves of the grocery store is considered shelf-stable baby food which means it has been heat treated to kill off any potential germs and can be stored for multiple years without posing a health risk when consumed. Unrefrigerated pouches would fall into this category of shelf-stable baby food. Shelf-stable baby food also contains preservatives to keep the food safe for consumption.

  • Super convenient and time-saving! Grabbing a pouch of baby food and it being ready to be fed to your child instantly is incredibly helpful. Many parents opt to have shelf-stable baby food on hand for an easy meal, even if they choose to serve homemade baby food the majority of the time.
  • It has a very long shelf-life meaning you don’t have to worry about your baby eating it before it goes bad. Take note that pouches of baby food generally expire sooner than jarred baby food, so make sure to check expiration dates frequently.
  • Shelf-stable baby food may be a helpful way to increase variety in your child’s diet! If you are stuck in a mealtime rut, grabbing different varieties of baby food flavors can be an easy way to expose your child to many different food groups and flavors to ensure nutritional needs are being met and the child is developing a liking for many flavors.
  • Expensive. Purchasing shelf-stable food may in some cases be more expensive than preparing homemade baby food. That being said, certain baby-food brands are on the WIC-approved groceries for those who meet the requirements.
  • Some brands of baby food can contain higher amounts of heavy metals. Currently, there is a need for more stringent regulations regarding appropriate and safe levels of heavy metals in shelf-stable baby food. Due to this concern, many parents will opt to prepare their baby food. However, you should take note that some ingredients (like rice, sweet potatoes, and carrots) naturally contain higher amounts of heavy metals whether they are in baby food or even prepared homemade. To avoid excess heavy metals, we encourage offering babies a nutrient-dense diet full of a variety of different food groups and choosing “Clean Label Project Certified” baby foods whenever possible. These products have been tested for heavy metals and are a great option when purchasing store-bought baby food.
  • They may contain added sugar and sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 0g of added sugar per day for children under two years of age and sodium is generally recommended to be limited when possible. When reading a nutrition label for baby food, read the label and look for “0g added sugar” and “<50 mg sodium” per serving.
  • Ingredients may not be as nutritious. When possible, we want to choose baby foods that contain whole food ingredients with minimal additives. Try to avoid rice-based products due to the higher levels of arsenic, and look for baby food that contains nutrients our babies need like iron, fat, protein, and B12.
  • Depending on what type of cooking and processing the shelf-stable baby food has gone through, nutrient composition may be impacted and some vitamins (like water-soluble vitamins) may be lower than in fresh or frozen baby food options.

Does Cooking Food Change Its Nutrition?

The way baby food is cooked does impact the nutritional content of the food being prepared, but this is highly dependent on the type of food and the cooking method used. In some cases, cooking vegetables actually increased the fat-soluble vitamins present in the food, and in other cases, the concentration of water-soluble vitamins decreased with cooking. (PMID: 30263756). Taking into account what type of food you are preparing and the method you are using to cook that food would determine the changes in nutrition content.

Frozen Fruits and Veggies as a Natural Teething Remedy

For teething children, frozen fruits and veggies like banana, mango, broccoli, and berries can be a natural remedy to soothe sore gums while also providing antioxidants, vitamin C, and fluid! Many caregivers will purchase “baby feeders” where the frozen fruit or vegetables can be stored in a silicone or mesh feeder, and the baby can safely gnaw on the frozen fruits to explore new temperatures and flavors of foods. Using a Little Bellies frozen cube in a baby feeder can provide gum relief while also helping meet the child’s nutrient needs and exposing them to new flavors during a critical period of adventurous eating. If opting to provide a frozen fruit or vegetable to a baby without using a baby feeder, a frozen pineapple core, mango pit, or stalk of broccoli can be a great option for the baby to easily hold and gnaw on the food for cooling relief. Celery has been touted to be a fabulous option for teething due to its natural “analgesic” effect, try offering the baby a frozen celery stalk and see if you notice an improvement in your child’s symptoms.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to all available baby-food products! I recommend choosing the one that works best for you and your little one, while also ensuring your baby’s nutritional needs are being met.

More tips and hacks in our Frozen Food Recipes, Teether Pops and Bites.