For time-strapped mums, baby food pouches seem like a fuss-free lifesaver. Just pop open the cap, hand the pouch to your baby, and go do some other chore while he sucks contentedly.
Not only are these squeezable packs convenient, they are touted as being chock-full of nutritious ingredients. What's more, you won't even need to wash up any mess from spoonfeeding. Extra time, healthful concoctions — what's not to love?
A lot, it turns out.
The traits that make food pouches so convenient — suck-on, disposable — are the same that spell trouble if they become part of your kids' regular diet. These are the most important negative impacts that food pouches can have.
1) Difficulty learning how to eat
Babies are pros at sucking, but there comes a point when your children must transition to solid food. They have to learn biting, chewing, spoonfeeding — all skills that cannot be developed by sucking at food pouches.
According to Dr Dina Kulik, mum and paediatrician, "Children need to learn how to eat. Simply sucking the goo out of a package skips out on a learning experience and a whole range of oral skills can be bypassed because of this."
This isn't a big concern if you only use food pouches occasionally. On bad days when you're rushed off your feet, or when you're travelling with the kids, they make a great on-the-go snack.
2) Issues with solid food texture
Food pouches come in pretty much one texture: pureed. However, tots are bound to become picky eaters if they aren't exposed to a variety of textures, especially as they transition to semisolid and solid foods.
"Toddlers need to start experimenting with different foods and food textures," says Dr Sue Hubbard, paediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. "They need to feel the textures between their fingers, as well as in their mouths."
She highlights that though parents love the mess-free nature of food pouches, mess is part and parcel of babies' learning. "Have you watched a child between 9 months and 2 years old eat? It's not a pretty sight, but effective. They mush up food in their hands, put it in their mouths, taste it, swallow some, maybe spit some out, then repeat the process."
"If parents don't experiment with textures and permit messy self-feeding, their children may miss out on some of the important "side effects" of this behavior and have issues with food texture as they get older."
3) Trouble with portion control
Learning how much to eat forms part of children's healthy development of feeding skills. With their portions controlled by food pouches rather than by themselves, your kids don't learn to listen to their internal cues of fullness.
Dr Kulik points out, "Children need to learn about portion control through trial and error. Food pouches tell your child how big a serving is, and off-loads the responsibility from your child to the manufacturer. Improper portion control also contributes to obesity."
4) Tooth decay
Most food pouches taste sweet, even when the label touts them as packed with healthy ingredients like spinach and grains. That's why kids love them, after all! As compared to whole fruit and veggies, they tend to be packed with sugary fruit blends while lacking fiber.
Furthermore, the consistency of pouch food makes it particularly bad for teeth. It "tends to stick on teeth and prolong the opportunity for bacteria to build," says Paul Casamassimo, oral health research and policy centre director at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. This bacteria eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities.
5) Environmental pollution
Food pouches are so convenient because they are disposable — no dishes to wash, just toss the empty packs in the bin! What we often don't pause to think about is the harm we are doing to the environment.
The plastic pouches are typically made from multiple layers of materials, which can't be separated out for recycling. Not only do such plastics take up to 1000 years to decompose, they leak pollutants into our soil and water, poisoning fish and wildlife species.
Of course, plastic waste comes in other shapes and forms. The NTUC Fairprice or Sheng Siong bags we find in every Singaporean home, for example, probably contribute more to plastic pollution.
The reason why environmental activists are targeting baby food pouches is that eco-conscious alternatives are readily available. Traditional glass jars of baby food, for example, are eco-friendly as well as cheaper.
“I can’t get everyone to use washable menstrual pads. I certainly can’t get everyone to use cloth diapers,” environmental blogger and mum of two Lindsay Gallimore points out. “Feeding your baby healthy purees could happen in so many other ways that don’t require the little squishy packs.”
Environmental impact is worth thinking about, even if its consequences don't seem important in the present. After all, in the long run, plastic waste pollutes the earth that our children and grandchildren will inherit.
ALSO READ: 7 unhealthy foods you think are healthy