Until around six months of age, babies generally get all their nutrients from breast milk or formula. After six months, they are introduced to solid foods. While most parents prefer to make their own, for convenience reasons, they may need to buy pre-packaged food. Here’s what to look for.
Additives and vitamins
If you’re worried about additives in baby foods, you can breathe a sigh of relief – they’re restricted in foods for children under 12 months of age; as are preservatives, artificial colours and flavours. Vitamins and minerals are permitted in baby foods, but only to prescribed levels. Vitamin C is often added for its antioxidant properties, to prevent natural fats from going off and to prevent fruit and veg from turning brown. Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest introducing foods containing iron at 6 months of age, so choose foods that contain iron whenever possible. It is mandatory for cereal-based infant foods to contain iron.
Thickeners and ‘fillers’
Thickeners and fillers – such as cornflour, ground rice or water – are sometimes added to food during manufacturing to create the right consistency. The amount can vary, so check the ingredient list to figure out what percentage of the product consists of water or a thickener. They should appear near the bottom of the list, and don’t be concerned – thickeners and fillers won’t harm your baby.
Many baby foods contain sugar, but this isn’t something to worry about – it mainly comes from ingredients such as fruit, vegetables or grains. Try to avoid added sugars, such as cane sugar or concentrated fruit juice. These will be listed on the label.
You should also keep your eye out for the word ‘sweetened’. If a baby food has more than 4g of added sugar per 100g, it’s required by law to have the word ‘sweetened’ on it.
Just like sugar, some sodium is fine, if it appears naturally in food ingredients, but, as a rule, avoid added salt. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has introduced regulations to restrict the amount of sodium permitted in baby foods The maximum amount of sodium in foods for babies under 12 months is 100mg per 100g, except for rusks and biscuits where the maximum is 350mg per 100g. Aim to feed your baby foods containing less than 75mg sodium per 100g.
"At what age should I start introducing solids to my baby?"
Until six month of age, babies only need breast milk or formula. It is recommended to exclusively breastfeed to around six months and breastfeeding should continue for six months after that, at least.
Tip: Don’t use leftover baby food, for food safety reasons. Be sure to store cans, jars or bottles as instructed on the label.