Smart Shopping for Baby Foods: Tips for a Stress-Free Experience Day 2: Smart Shopping for Baby Foods

Smart Shopping for Baby Foods: Tips for a Stress-Free Experience

Grocery shopping can be a daunting task for parents, especially for those with newborns. With a myriad of baby products on the market, each boasting unique claims, making the right choices can be confusing. But remember, you don't always need specialized baby-labeled products. 

Start with the basics and make informed decisions to provide your baby with the best nutrition. We’ve put together a guide to help you select the right foods for your little one while shopping.

Start With the Basics: Building Blocks of Your Baby's Diet

1) Fruits and Veggies: Opt for fresh, seasonal produce from local markets. These nutrient-rich options offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential nutrients for your baby's development. Variety is key, so aim to diversify their diet. Remember to wash them thoroughly with water to remove chemical residues.

Fruits and veggies are easy to make baby-friendly. They are naturally soft, whether raw or cooked, which makes them easy for your baby to eat and experience different textures. You can add veggies to your home-cooked curries or dishes. 

Research shows that if babies try lots of different fruits when they are little, they are more likely to keep eating them as they grow up. When you buy fruits, choose whole ones instead of pre-cut or fruit juices because they are fresher and healthier.

Refer to earlier articles on Introducing Fruits and Introducing Vegetables to your baby’s diet.

2) Lentils (Dals) and Pulses: Rich in iron, protein, fiber, and zinc, these are ideal first foods for your baby! And the best part is they’re a traditional staple in Indian cuisine, often prepared in unique ways from region to region.

Refer to an earlier article on Introducing Pulses and Lentils to your baby’s diet.

3) Grains: Grains are so nutritious especially for growing babies. Choose from various millets (ragi, jowar), rice, wheat, amaranth/rajgira, and oats. Grains offer energy and essential nutrients to your baby. 

  • Look for traditional whole grain varieties when possible for maximum nutrition.
  • Choose whole wheat or millet-based pasta and noodles.
  • Opt for whole wheat or whole grain bread; ensure it is low in sodium and contains no added sugar or honey (especially for children under 1).

Refer to earlier articles on Introducing Grains to your baby’s diet:

  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Millets
  • Oats
  • Amaranth

4) Meat, Chicken, and Eggs: They offer vital nutrients: essential iron (heme iron), protein, zinc, and choline. Some parents worry whether it’s safe to serve nonvegetarian foods to young babies. But don’t worry much. You can safely introduce non-vegetarian options into your baby's diet, modifying them for their age. Opt for organic and grass-fed choices for added safety and nutrition.

Previous Slurrp It Up articles have explored baby-friendly and age-appropriate ways to prepare, cook, and serve nonvegetarian foods. Feel free to check them out:

  • Introducing Chicken
  • Introducing Meat
  • Introducing Eggs

5) Dairy: While dairy is not suitable as a beverage for babies, milk can be added to or mixed to make other foods like porridges. Additionally, include curd, cottage cheese, unprocessed cheese, and yogurt, as they are full of essential fats, calcium, and probiotics. These dairy products can also be easy finger foods if you’re on the go.

  • Stick to full fat, pasteurized milk.
  • Buy full fat, unsweetened/non-flavored curd or yogurt.
  • Mozzarella cheese and paneer/cottage cheese are low sodium varieties of cheese. 
  • Try out chenna or local varieties of cheese.
  • Avoid processed cheese as it’s very high in sodium (popularly sold as slices or cubes).

Refer to an earlier article on Introducing Dairy to your baby’s diet.

6) Oils, Ghee, and Butter: Oils and ghee are good sources of healthy fats (polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) and monounsaturated fat (MUFA)) and antioxidants (Vitamin E). Go with local varieties that are easily available to you or the oils/ghee you’re used to cooking with at home. In each region of India, distinct oils are used for cooking and preparing food. Examples: coconut oil is commonly used in South India, while sesame oil is used in Rajasthan. In Western/Central India, groundnut oil is used, while mustard oil is common in East and North regions of India.

Cold-pressed oil is gaining a lot of popularity in our country. Compared to refined oils, cold-pressed oils undergo the least amount of processing and have a better nutrition profile. However, they are not suited for high temperature cooking like baking, frying, or slow cooking, as they can burn at higher temperatures. 

For high-temperature cooking, filtered or refined oils are the best choice. In India, oils are also fortified with fat-soluble vitamins like A and D, so try to look for those options. 

We highly recommend not using hydrogenated fats like vanaspati (or Dalda), which are harmful for babies and adults.

Which Packaged Baby Food Should You Choose?

Next, let's look at buying packaged baby food and how to pick the right ones.

When you go to the store, you'll see baby food labeled for different ages (Stage 1, Stage 2, andso on). These stages are targeted for different age groups (mentioned on the pack) and they tend to have different textures. Stage 1 baby food is usually very smooth, like thin puree, while Stage 2 baby food is thicker and has more texture or lumps. This increases with age and stage.

But here's the thing: your baby doesn't have to stick to just one type of food. Babies can bite and chew too. They don't need to eat boring, paste-like food all the time! In fact, they can benefit from trying different flavors and textures 

If you do decide to buy packaged baby food for convenience, opt for the kinds with more texture, especially if your baby seems ready for it.

Now, let's talk about what to look for in the ingredients:

1) Check the First Ingredient: When you look at the list of ingredients (on the back or side of the pack), the first ingredient name should match what the product claims to be. For example, if it's a “moong dal porridge,” moong dal should be the first ingredient. A ragi porridge will have “ragi” as the first ingredient. If you find this is not the case, it's better to skip it. Remember, the ingredients are listed in order of quantity.

2) Watch Out for Sugar: Avoid baby foods with any type of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Some baby foods say they're made from vegetables like spinach but taste sweet because they add sugar. 

Sugar can hide in different names. Even if the word "sugar" isn't on the pack, look for words like maltodextrin, sucrose, or sugar syrup. 

The World Health Organization recommends that babies under 2 years old should not be given any form of sugar.

Cannot find sugary ingredients in the Ingredients list? Look at the Nutritional Value table (every pack has one). Look at the “Added Sugars” row to see what that number is. Anything more than 0, put the box back on the shelf! 

3) Look for Whole Grains: If the baby food contains whole grains like millets, whole wheat, amaranth, ragi, or oats, it's a healthier choice.

4) Choose Low Sodium: Try to pick baby foods with low sodium (salt). We'll talk more about this in the next article on "Reading Labels."

5) Fiber and Iron Are Great: It's a plus if the baby food is high in fiber and iron. These are good for your baby's health.

6) Look at the Expiry: When buying your baby’s food products, ensure the expiry or “best before” date is okay; it should not be very close to expiring either. 

Opt for Organic, BPA-Free Foods

Organic: When you come across the term “Organic” on food items, it indicates that the food was produced with fewer commercial fertilizers or pesticides. Occasionally, it may even carry a third-party certification, meaning an independent organization has inspected and confirmed that the product meets the standards for organic designation. 

To ensure that a product is genuinely organic and that the claim is trustworthy, keep an eye out for a certification seal or stamp. This seal demonstrates that the product has undergone third-party testing and verification! 

BPA-Free: You may see the word "BPA-free" when shopping for baby items such as plates, cups, and spoons. BPA (Bisphenol A) is a highly harmful substance and is, in fact, prohibited by the FDA. It can also be present in containers for canned or plastic-packaged foods, so be sure to choose products that bear the "BPA-free" label.

Environment-Friendly Pack: If you happen to spot baby food products in eco-friendly containers like glass jars, consider choosing them! Glass jars are a preferable choice over baby food pouches. One key reason is that when you scoop the food out of a jar to feed your baby, they have the opportunity to develop more oral-motor skills compared to simply sucking on a food pouch.

Stay tuned because tomorrow we will cover more in detail how to read labels on packaged baby foods. Being well-informed and equipped with this knowledge can lead to a more positive and less stressful experience when you’re filling up your (physical or virtual) shopping cart!