It’s common knowledge that certain foods aren’t great for us – it doesn’t take a genius to understand that ice-cream, chocolate or fizzy drinks are full of sugar and should only be eaten in moderation (sorry to break it to you if you didn’t…). But what about other foods? Those that we perceive to be good for us or that we assume are nutritious for our kids? Well, I hate to break it to you (again), but all may not be as it seems.
For a second year running, I’ve teamed up with Organix as part of their #NoJunkJourney. This year, they’re undertaking a study of 150 snacks sold on the baby and toddler aisle in order to analyse their nutritional standards – the aim being to expose the reduction in the quality of snacks and the detrimental impact this is having on our children’s health. The results are expected in July 2018, so keep an eye out for them.
However, I can already make a couple of guesses as to what might be found based on my own experiences with L. I reckon we’ll be seeing stuff about misleading claims on packaging, too many unnecessary ingredients added, a lack of clear information as to the nutritional makeup and ultimately the realisation that some snacks made and marketed specifically for our kids are basically junk.
This is all stuff I’ve noticed in the last few years as L has graduated from the boob to proper food through the ‘fun’ process known as weaning. Like plenty of parents, I often head to the baby and toddler aisle for snacks – they are convenient, there is plenty of choice, and because they are made for kids, I’ve always believed that they are the best option for them – particularly because of the premium price tag.
I soon found though that some of the targeted baby and toddler snacks which appeared to be healthy and nutritious thanks to the packaging, were actually full of stuff I didn’t expect. By looking closer at the packaging, I noticed ingredients that (a) I didn’t recognise, (b) I couldn’t pronounce and (c) I was unsure why they were there. Take things like Triphosphates, carrageenan and tartrazine – they seem more suited to a game of Scrabble than my three-year old’s snacks.
I also started to look at the nutritional information on the packets and was surprised by the high proportions of certain ingredients – namely salt and sugar. This takes a bit more digging as it’s not obvious. Sure, it’ll tell you how many grams of salt there are, but there’s no context. Is it a low or high amount? How does that fit in with the recommended guidelines? (FYI, NHS recommends no more than 2g salt per day for 1 to 3 year olds).
Let me share a specific example from a recent supermarket trip. The below ‘vegetable crisps’ aimed at toddlers contains 0.2g of salt per bag or 1.5g per 100g. Without context, this is lost. With context though, it becomes worrying for something that most parents would assume is a good option for their hangry little ones. It is in the baby and toddler aisle after all…
One bag of these crisps is 20% (0-12 months old) and 10% (1 to 3 year old) of your kid’s salt intake for the day. It actually contains more salt per 100g than a bag of ready salted crisps (1.4g per 100g) – I find that pretty incredible to get my head around. It genuinely baffles me why something designed for kids needs so much added salt – it’s actually the second highest ingredient in the pack.
This is just one of the many examples on the supermarket shelves. Something that most parents would assume is good for their kid as it contains tomato, kale and spinach, but is actually worse than giving them ‘adult’ crisps from a salt perspective.
There are obviously better balanced options too – take Organix, for instance. They are a brand we’ve always bought for L and will continue to do with ‘Beetle’ when he’s weaning. They just use organic ingredients and don’t add anything unnecessary to baby and toddler snacks due to their No Junk Promise.
If you compare the above to a similar crisp-based product from Organix – the organic cheesy pea snaps, for instance – you’ll see that the amount of salt is so much lower. In this case, we’re talking 0.02g salt per pack and 0.11g per 100g – that’s around 15 times less. A significant reduction of salt which your kid is unlikely to even notice.
As parents, we try to make the best choices for our kids. Food is just one of the many areas that we have to consider. However, it’s not easy – food is bloody complicated and I don’t think that we’re really helped to make those choices and decisions by those ‘in the know’, particularly when things stated turn out not to be true.
Time and time again, us consumers are misled. Did you hear about the recent story of the celebrity-endorsed vegan yoghurt that turned out to contain milk? Or the numerous stories about vegetarian meals bought in supermarkets that accidentally contain meat? Or the horse meat scandal which saw food that should have contained beef instead contain our equine brethren.
A big part will come down to education and understanding. I can’t be the only one who wants to make better choices, but is left a bit confused by it all. Packaging gives you information, but without the context it’s pretty useless. I quite like the ‘traffic light system’ which shows red, amber, green and percentages of your daily intake, but for whatever reason, this isn’t on baby and toddler snacks.
Then we have claims like “gluten free”, “natural” or “contains no added salt”. Is that actually true or are we being misled? I guess something could have no added salt, but it could still contain really high salt levels – where are we told that in a simple, honest, easy to understand way?
Am I naive to want all of this? Perhaps, but I’d say no more naive than the majority of parents out there who want the best for their kids too. If we struggle to understand things like this, then how do we expect our kids to. They’re not going to be able to know what percentage of their daily salt intake is in a packet of crisps or why choosing an apple over a chocolate bar is the healthier option.
It’s not just snacks though. It wasn’t until we started to make more of an effort to cook meals from scratch for L that we started noticing all of the added stuff. For instance, remember when everyone was shocked that a jar of bolognaise sauce contains more than six cubes of sugar! Making it ourselves means it’s cheaper, more nutritional and allows us to know what does and doesn’t go into it.
We need to educate our kids, but we also need to be educated ourselves. I think the study mentioned at the start can really help with this and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s uncovered. Until the results are out, here’s some useful advice from Organix about labelling on baby and toddler snacks:
- Really long ingredient lists: go for fewer ingredients.
- Added ingredients: there’s no need for anything unnecessary, so avoid foods with added salt, sugar or flavourings.
- Unrecognisable ingredients: go for simple ingredients – look at the back of the packet and choose something with simple ingredients – things that you recognise.
- The organic logo – If you see an organic logo on pack you can feel sure what you buy has been made to the highest standards.
So, the next time your going to the supermarket, have a gander at some of the packaging and nutritional information on the back of the baby and toddler snacks – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!
Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Organix as part of the #NoJunkJourney.