Infants who eat commercially prepared baby foods tend to consume a wider variety of vegetables and more fish than those who eat homemade baby foods, according to a new study.
Researchers from Dortmund, Germany, writing in the journal Appetite, analysed the variety of ingredients in commercial and homemade baby foods in Germany, noting that the food variety, particularly for vegetables, was similar across European countries.
They found that vegetable variety was low for both commercial and homemade meals with no difference in variety at 6 or 9 months of age, but that by 12 months, commercial complementary foods provided greater variety than homemade meals. Poultry and beef were used most often, while fish was rarely offered.
“The latest German guidelines for complementary feeding recommend a wide range of different vegetables and the occasional replacement of meat by fish as (repeated) exposure of a variety of foods during the complementary feeding period seems to increase the acceptance of novel foods and might contribute to a long-term preference effect,” the study’s authors wrote. They added that in Germany, 55% of babies aged 6-12 months ate commercially prepared baby foods.
The researchers found that carrot was the most common vegetable used across 15 brands, found in 69% of commercial meals, followed by onions (24.7%), tomato (24.4%), parsnip (17.1%), peas (10.7%), pumpkin (9.8%), spinach (8.5%), courgette(8.2%), leek (8.2%), corn (7%), broccoli (6.7%), cauliflower (3.4%), fennel (3.4%), celery (2.7%), pepper (2.4%), and aubergine (0.6%).
“German parents seem to be uncertain about offering a wide range of vegetables to their infants, especially in the first months of complementary feeding,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, it is important that professionals highlight the advantages of a daily vegetable variety with also green vegetables in early infancy since neophobic dietary behaviour emerges later.
“Within a meal only one vegetable should be provided, but variety across meals should be increased to get the infant familiar with the particular taste of a vegetable.”
They also noted that the rare use of fish in both homemade and commercial baby foods might be linked to outdated dietary advice to avoid fish in an attempt to reduce allergy risk. This advice was reversed in Germany four years ago.
A German study conducted in 2008 found that on average toddlers only consumed about 70% of the recommended amount of vegetables, while only 6-7% of those aged 6-11 and 18-29% of those aged 12-17 met the age-specific vegetable recommendation.
Published online ahead of print http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.01.074
“Food variety in commercial and homemade complementary meals for infants in Germany. Market survey and dietary practice”
Authors: Christina M. Mesch, , Madlen Stimming, Kristina Foterek, Annett Hilbig, Ute Alexy, Mathilde Kersting, Lars Libuda