Growing Trends in Healthful Baby and Toddler Foods

The growing trends in healthful foods finally spilled over to better foods for babies and toddlers

By David Feder, RD

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“Both EPA and DHA are important in brain function and development and are essential especially during the formative years as children grow rapidly,” explains Ian Lucas, executive vice president at Ocean Nutrition Canada, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, another producer of omega oils. “The western diet lacks these essential nutrients for the majority of children, so including them in infant and toddler foods enables children to get this important nutrition in their diets.”

Ocean Nutrition developed a unique delivery technology that enables food manufacturers to include EPA and DHA in a wide variety of foods without altering product flavor or aroma. The trademarked technology, Powderloc micro-encapsulation, employs a double-shell protection so the oil isn’t exposed to the food chemistry and oxidation.

“To date, we’ve successfully commercialized more than 30 food applications with this ingredient,” says Lucas. “North American examples of omega-3 food products for infants and toddlers include Stonyfield YoBaby Yogurt, Danino Yogurt, Dr. Sears chews for kids, Kemps milk, Wonder Bread and Tropicana Heart Health Orange Juice,” he adds.

Another lipid product vital for fetal and infant brain growth and development, as well as all cell growth and function, is phosphatidyl serine (PS). This constituent of the brain phospholipids is found naturally in human breast milk. Lipogen Ltd., Haifa, Israel, provides a natural PS derived from soy lecithin for use in infant formulas and functional dairy products.

Lipogen PS recently attained FDA generally recognized as safe status. Also, Lipogen PS is produced without the use of solvents. Solvents in the extraction process of some brands of omega oils caused controversy recently over whether the resulting products can be labeled organic.

Babies, especially those who arrive early, often suffer from digestive system issues — specifically gas — as their gastrointestinal systems develop and acclimate post-partum. “Chamomile and fennel have a long tradition of use to calm the digestive system,” says David Hart, product manager of functional foods for Frutarom Ltd., Hertzliyah, Israel.

Frutarom developed its patented HyperPure production process to ensure its natural extracts of herbs such as chamomile and fennel contain the lowest levels of pesticides. “Safety is one of the most important factors in making foods and beverages for babies and toddlers,” adds Hart.

“These products meet the exacting standards of the German 'Deutsche Diaetverordnung' purity rules for baby foods,” says Hart. “Products formulated with Frutarom's botanical extracts answer the consumer desire for more ‘back-to-nature’ nutrition, including using natural and traditional ingredients."

Organic and other attractive descriptors

While organic is probably the main way processors are breaking away from the pablum-in-a-jar paradigm, there are a number of other approaches, including gluten-free, fresh, additive-free and other qualifiers. Some also are forsaking the jar.

One company, Culver City, Calif.-based Homemade Baby, added one particularly unique component to a product line that incorporates most of the trends. The company’s line of organic, gluten-free, fresh, non-GMO, kosher baby foods includes traceability for every single ingredient.

The company’s foods are marketed fresh (available in resealable plastic containers in supermarket dairy cases) and cover three spectra of ages, with three different texture designations. The “So Smooth” are single-ingredient items for 6-9-month babies, the “Good Mushy” line are slightly textured, multi-ingredient recipes for 9-12-month-olds and the “Kinda Chunky” have more texture in the multi-ingredient formulations for new toddlers cutting teeth.

Not content to make better foods for paying customers, Homemade Baby also employs the increasingly demanded aspect of corporate responsibility by helping to feed the poor. Ten percent of all the food it manufactures goes to charities serving undernourished children, and a percentage of its income supports Feed the Children.

Happy Baby Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y., makes its certified organic, frozen-from-fresh baby foods with ingredients that look more at home on an adult menu. “Research shows babies have much more sophisticated palates than previously understood,” says Kantha Shelke, principle for Corvus Blue, a Chicago-based consulting firm. “Adding interesting flavoring to their food allows them to develop broadened taste preferences, while adding healthful components they might otherwise not get.”

Happy Baby makes products using ingredients such as protein- and iron-rich red lentils; quinoa (“Also high in iron, and it contributes to a complete protein,” adds Shelke); and herbs and spices such as mint, cinnamon and cardamom. (“Mint, in addition to providing vitamins A and C can help soothe tummies and relieve indigestion,” notes Shelke.) Happy Baby also includes DHA in some of its offerings.

Recently, Happy Baby rolled out a line of dry cereals targeting immunity. Vitamin- and mineral-fortified, the cereals include probiotics for digestive health. They also are allergen-free, without nuts, soy, dairy, sugar, wheat or eggs. All Happy Baby products are organic, made from non-GMO ingredients grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Plum Organics took the approach of frozen-from-fresh for its baby foods as well. Plum, too, adds DHA to many of its offerings. Greens, grains, beans and lentils are the backbone of its similar three-stage approach to formulations, with the focus on bright colors, natural flavors and varying textures. Unlike many of the other companies, the company offers some meat and poultry items as well, using only organically raised products.

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