By: Kristen Carli, MS, RD | Media Dietitian Nutritionist @camelbacknutritionwellness
Canned foods get a bad rap, but as a dietitian, I can assure you they are perfectly acceptable to feed your baby. In fact, they may offer a few hidden health benefits.
Why Choose Canned Foods?
In many cases, canned foods are often more nutritious than fresh foods. Did you know that canned tomatoes, for example, are processed and packed within 5 hours of leaving the farm? This remarkable speed helps to preserve the freshness and nutrients of these foods. Fresh tomatoes, in comparison, lose nutrients through oxidation as time goes on. So the longer it takes for the tomato to make its way to the grocery store and then to your home, the more time the nutrients have to degrade.
Enhanced Nutrient Content
Not only are the nutrients preserved in canned foods, but nutrients can also be increased in many cases. In the case of lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, the canning process actually enhances the amount of lycopene found in the tomatoes.
Because canned food is already cooked, it makes for a super quick meal option. Did you know you can purchase canned potatoes? Potatoes are wonderful baby-friendly food but typically require a long cook time in the oven. Instead of baking potatoes raw, you can open a can of potatoes, drain, rinse, and dress them with a flavorful sauce. I love to serve canned potatoes with store-bought pesto.
For busy parents, a major benefit of choosing canned foods is the convenience factor. Not only are these foods already cooked, they are often in the perfect texture for babies that are learning to eat. For example, canned green beans are the ideal size for a baby to pick up and gnaw on. For those babies who lack teeth or the ability to fully break down food in their mouth, canned veggies are often in a mushy texture that prevents choking.
But wait, it keeps getting better! We haven’t mentioned the best part: canned foods are really affordable. A can of beans is sold at Walmart for around $0.58. You can’t beat that! It won’t break the bank, and since they are shelf-stable, lasting more than 3 months, you can stock up on an assortment of canned foods to keep on hand at all times.
Things to Consider When Choosing Nutritious Canned Foods For Baby:
Avoid Added Sugars
There are a few nutritional concerns when it comes to buying canned produce for babies. Be sure to choose canned fruit options that are free from heavy syrup, such as varieties packed in 100% juice. This will significantly reduce the amount of added sugars in the fruit offered to your baby, which is important as added sugars should be avoided as much as possible until age 2.
Watch the Sodium
While parents should be surveying canned fruits for added sugars, screening canned vegetables for added sodium is also important. Luckily, most veggies are sold in “lower sodium” or “no salt added” varieties. When choosing foods for babies under the age of 1, I’d recommend sticking to “no salt added” versions.
Putting it into Practice:
Want an example of an entire baby-friendly meal from canned foods? The following example is one I serve to my 1-year-old often: canned cubed potatoes mixed with store-bought pesto, served with 100% juice canned fruit cocktail and no-salt-added black beans.