Store-Bought Infant Meals Often Lack Nutrition, Variety: Study

Baby food and infant meals bought in stores often lack variety and nutritional needs, while homemade infant meals tend to be too fattening and too high in calories, according to the findings of a new study. 

In a study published last month in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers indicate that over half of the most popular store-bought meals lack essential nutrition and vegetable variety needed to help children grow at young ages.

Given that past research has found shortfalls in nutritional value within commercial baby food products, Sharon Carstairs, public health researcher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and her team of researchers performed a study to compare the cost and nutritional pros and cons of commercial meals and home-cooked recipes.

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The study assessed 278 of the most popular store bought meals purchased in UK supermarkets and 408 recipes from best-selling cookbooks for children’s meals. In addition to being more expensive, researchers found that nearly 30% of processed commercial meals did not meet the minimum requirements for children’s nutritional needs and 52% were below the recommended fat content.

Although the data indicated store-bought meals contained a greater vegetable variety in each meal, the vegetables lacked taste and texture due to being in processed form, which according to Carstairs is important for children to be exposed to for developing food choices.

When comparing the store-bought meals to popular cooking recipes, researchers found 44% of home cooked meals were vegetable, whereas the largest portion of store bought meals were red meat based, followed by seafood based and poultry based meals. However, both store-bought and home cooked meals both had vegetable or red meat based products ranking at the highest portions.

Home cooked meals were shown to provide roughly 50% more calories than prepared meals. Home cooked meals contained 101 calories per 100 grams per 3.5 ounces of food, whereas processed meals only contained 67 calories per 100 grams. According to researchers the home cooked meals provided 26% more energy and 44% more protein and total fat content than commercial products, while on average costing less.

Home cooked meals may offer more nutritional value and be more cost effective, however, Carstairs noted that the information was assessed as it was instructed in the cookbooks, and not how parents may actually be preparing the meals. One negative of home cooked meals pinpointed in the study was that meals often contained more salt intake than processed foods. Even though fat content is essential in child growth, home cooked meals were shown to exceed energy density in meals by up to 50%. Limitations on fat content are necessary in prevention of the child becoming attached to a high-fat content diet.

Carstairs said the purpose of the study is to raise awareness to parents and caregivers who rely solely on either store-bought products or home cooked meals that each requires close attention to nutritional value. Parents relying solely on home cooked meals should be cautious not to add too much fat content and those relying on store-bought products should incorporate additional dietary fats and vegetable variety in non-processed forms.


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