Food for Toddlers
Yesterday the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. launched a new line of toddler foods that promise to offer better nutrition than competing products and "No Junk" -- meaning no artificial flavors or colors, MSG, trans fats, added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or excessive salt -- in their recipes.
A quick check of the products' Nutrition Facts panels shows that they are indeed devoid of "junk." And a chart comparing their price to that of comparable products from Gerber and Earth's Best shows them to be pretty similar, costing about the same, ounce-per-ounce.
So why am I not ready to rave?
I'm just thinking back to when my own kids were toddlers, just over a decade ago. I don't remember buying them any special "toddler" foods, outside of the occasional Zwieback toast. We usually gave them toddler-size portions of what we were eating (for better or worse), cut into bite-size pieces.
I checked my hunch with Frank Greer, professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition. He agreed with my instinct: "What does a toddler really need? A well-balanced diet like everybody else." That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, dairy, whole grains, and some meat or other protein. (Here are the federal government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which apply to people ages 2 and up, and here's a page full of links to information about feeding infants and toddlers compiled by the USDA. The government's My Pyramid program for incorporating dietary guidelines into daily life doesn't cover toddlers' needs. Jackie Haven, spokesperson for the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, says the agency "finds that doctors need to advise at that point, based on children's individual needs. It's hard to give general, global advice for children under 2." But, she adds, a new My Pyramid for Preschoolers will be launched on October 26.) Instead of Beech-Nut's "Fruit Nibbles," Greer suggests, how about some cut-up carrot or apple? "You don't need to spend any extra money" on the likes of these packaged products, he says.
"In general, fresh is best," he adds.
On the other hand, Greer admits, "I can't argue against the convenience" products such as the new Beech-Nut line and other packaged products offer.
That gave me pause. Because, as a work-at-home mom, I've always had the luxury of cooking meals for my family. Of course I've occasionally resorted to packaged foods, but not usually because I didn't have time to make something fresh.
So, here's the question, moms and dads: Do you find it hard to find time to plan, shop for, and prepare nutritious meals using fresh ingredients? How often do you turn to packaged foods to keep your kids fed? Do you check the nutrition facts, or do you go for the cutest character on the package?
(BTW: The New York Times yesterday ran in its Well column an interview with TV chef Rachael Ray about encouraging kids to appreciate healthful foods by inviting them into the kitchen to help prepare it themselves. It's an approach I heartily endorse -- with one caveat. if you've got kids who like to cook, you need to be careful about how you stock your pantry and fridge. My kids made themselves brunch this weekend: thick-cut bacon -- which I'd actually bought to use in a spinach salad -- scrambled eggs, and whole-wheat toast, with a few strips of sliced red pepper on the side. Delicious, yes, but suddenly that bacon seemed like not the best thing to have sitting around. Thank goodness for those red peppers!)
Alert: The FDA has issued a warning to consumers about tainted baby formula made in China. Read more here.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness
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