Their staggering findings? That 53 per cent of products geared towards the tiniest consumers derive more than 20 percent of calories from sugar, an amount considered excessive by any dietary standard.
There was no evidence these products for kids had any nutritional superiority that makes them especially appropriate for children. Or that even begins to outweigh the amount of additional sugar or sodium they contain compared to similar products geared to a general audience.
And there's the rub, really.
The entire notion of baby and toddler foods is flawed.
"I hate the way there is a divide between adult food and kid/baby food," says Emma Waverman, a mom, blogger, foodie and co-author of Whining and Dining. "Babies don't have to have food that is made only for them. Food is food."
Registered Nutritionist Lianne Phillipson-Webb agrees. "Give babies real food not 'kid' food," says the author of Sprout Right: Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler.
Capitalizing on a time-pressed population that tends to place too much faith in the makers of packaged goods, brands like Gerber and Heinz have been able to branch out from traditional baby cereals and purees with little packaged pastas for toddlers.
Basic purees are handy, of course, but they shouldn't contain anything apart from the fruit or vegetable and water. You can make your own, but that doesn't come naturally for everyone and it's not my intent to make parents feel guilty for not grinding all of their baby food. Instead, I'm suggesting new parents keep it simple and stick with whole foods wherever possible.
Here are some alternatives to packaged baby products:
1) Forgo store-bought teething biscuits. Most packaged teething cookies are full of sugar and salt. Naturally, parents want to know any teething product they give baby is hard enough to gnaw on without large chunks coming loose, posing a choking hazard. Use regular rice cakes instead, or day-old bagels. If you're feeling ambitious, try a batch of homemade teething biscuits. Alternatively, Healthy Times Teething Biscuits have a relatively simple ingredient list.
2) Don't be fooled by products called "graduates" when baby is ready to move beyond purees. Simply steam vegetables until they're soft (you can use the microwave) and offer in tiny, finger-sized pieces. You don't need to find special foods for your one-year-old. Mash or grind up some of what you're having for dinner (once you know baby has tried each of these items individually, of course, to rule out allergic reaction).
3) Get to know the banana. It's high in potassium and it's sweet. Freeze banana fingers dipped in regular vanilla yogurt as a teething treat, or serve them mashed on the end of a spoon or in little bits babies can grab once the pincer reflex is in place.
4) Make tiny pasta. There's no need to buy packaged servings of pasta in sauce when the regular pasta aisle offers so many options and there's little more to do than boil it. Look for stelline, a tiny star-shaped pasta, or narrow tubes called (surprise!) tubetti.
5) Use whole foods for finger foods. Phillipson-Web recommends frozen organic wild blueberries, which are tinier than conventionally-produced blueberries and that basically turn to mush on the high-chair tray (Grab the camera! This makes for a pretty cute purple face). She also suggests small pieces of ripe, skinless pear or apple, and finger-sized bits of fruits such as melon, plum, peach, mango and papaya. Dried fruits are very high in iron, she says, so try little pieces of dried apricot, apple and raisins. Watch closely while baby gets to know these foods, but know that the gums are more powerful than you might imagine.
6) Reconsider the Cheerio. The timeless classic is low in sugar, simple and fun for babies to grasp.
These are just a few suggestions. Have more? Please add them in the comment section.
Thanks for tips @jennhoegg @emmawaverman @sproutright @maryvallis @MamaAsh77 @blakeeligh @alexmlynek.