How to read baby food nutritional information

Pre-packaged food is fine if you need to use it – just check the labelling to guide you to nutritious choices for your growing baby. 

Don’t feel guilty about giving your baby pre-packaged food every now and then – just take a few seconds to better understand the nutritional information so you can make a healthier choice.

When we first start our babies on solids, most of us spend hours lovingly steaming and pureeing endless amounts of carrots and pumpkin (or at least we intend to). Then life intervenes, and our best intentions get lost somewhere between the interrupted sleep, work and perhaps the demands of our families. Let’s face it, a few pouches of baby food are also quicker, easier and generally a whole lot less messy when you are out and about with the bub. While fresh, whole food is the gold standard, thankfully recent innovations in food technology and packaging mean there is now a wide range of options to choose from in the baby-food aisle.

"Allow children to experience as many flavours, colours and textures in their food as possible"

Bupa dietitian Gemma Cosgriff says that we should “aim to provide as much diversity as possible” in our children’s diets and “allow children to experience as many flavours, colours and textures in their food as possible to help them be good eaters and ensure they get a wide range of nutrients in their diet”. 

She says you can keep this up even if you are choosing packaged food from time to time, but that it is important to be aware of what the label is telling you about what’s in your baby’s food.

Knowledge is power 

Cosgriff says there are three different areas to look at in food labels in general: health and nutrition claims, the nutrition information panel (NIP) and the ingredients listing. When feeding babies and young children, she advises looking for foods labelled ‘low in salt’, ‘reduced salt’ or ‘no added salt’; high fibre; ‘good source of iron/vitamin C’; and ‘no added sugars’. 

‘No added sugars’ does not mean a food is sugar free

She adds, “Be aware, though, that ‘no added sugars’ does not mean a food is sugar free – ingredients such as dried fruit, honey or fruit juice can be added to provide a sweet flavour.”

However, babies and small children can have a little bit of natural sugar in their diet, just aim to keep their overall sugar consumption low.
Cosgriff says that the ingredients list shows foods listed in order of amount of that ingredient in the product, so the first ingredient listed is the most prevalent by weight in the product. “If sugar, salt or fat are in the top three ingredients, then it means that the food is going to be high in sugar, salt or fat, and depending on the food it is something that might raise concern.”

Gemma warns to watch out for sugar in other forms – it can be called a range of names including glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose and dextrose. She also says it is important to keep sodium (a main component of salt) at a minimum.

“The Heart Foundation recommends that a low-sodium food contains less than 120mg per 100g.” 

Baby food in jars

Comparing like with like 

“Remember that not all products have the same serve size, so always look at the mandatory 100g listing on the nutrition information panel to be able to compare products,” says Cosgriff. 

Does it need to be organic? 

Cosgriff says that recent studies have found that there is no difference in the nutrient profiles of organic and non-organic food, but that you may wish to choose organic options for other reasons. 

Less is more 

Look for foods that have as few thickeners and preservatives in the ingredients list as possible. Do this and “you’re getting as close to natural foods as possible,” says Cosgriff.

You can find some baby foods that contain simply mashed fruit and vegetables – almost as good as making it yourself! 

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