Baby food packaging pros and cons: Glass jars, plastic bowls, and pouches
When buying baby food, you have a choice of glass jars, plastic containers, and pouches. Glass jars are recyclable and don't leach chemicals, but they're also heavier and more prone to breaking. Plastic containers are lighter and recyclable, but they may leach chemicals into food if not made from BPA-free material. Pouches are convenient, less messy, and won't break, but they aren't recyclable and may delay some developmental skills in children if overused.
Premade baby food comes in an array of packaging – including glass jars, pouches made from layers of plastic and foil, and plastic containers. When you're shopping for baby food, here are some things to consider about the different packaging types.
Baby food in glass jars
Pros of glass jars
Recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for storing or preparing food (versus plastic containers)
Eliminates the risk of potentially harmful chemicals found in some plastics that can leach into food
Cons of glass jars
Heavier weight than plastic containers or pouches
Risk of breakage
Depending on the brand, jar lid liners might contain a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) (see "Cons of plastic containers" below)
Baby food in plastic containers
Pros of plastic containers
Lighter weight than glass
Less likely to break than glass
Cons of plastic containers
Very small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals – including BPA and phthalates – may leach from the plastic into food. To avoid these chemicals, look for baby food that's labeled "BPA-free" or "phthalate-free."
Heat (for example, from a microwave) or damage to a plastic container increases the chance of chemicals leaching into food.
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Note: While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging, the agency says that the use of BPA in other types of food packaging is safe.
However, since babies and young children are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures, the AAP recommends that parents avoid plastics marked with these recycling codes:
7 (bisphenols, including BPA)
You may also want to look for products in packaging that's labeled "biobased" or "greenware" – these containers are made of plant-based materials.
Baby food in pouches
Pros of baby food pouches
Squeezable, which is more convenient on the go – no spoon required
Less messy, since there's typically less dripping and splatter when the food goes straight from the spout into your child's mouth (if your baby is younger, squeeze the puree into a bowl so you can feed him with a spoon)
Cons of baby food pouches
Usually more expensive than jarred food
Not locally recyclable, usually added to landfill
Overuse of baby food pouches may raise the risk of certain developmental delays and health problems in children (see following caution)
Note: Baby food pouches are lined with polypropylene (designated by recycling code 5), a BPA-free plastic.
A caution about overusing baby food pouches
A baby who's learning to eat solid foods should gradually progress from purees or soft finger foods to foods with more textures. Overusing pouches, which contain purees, can lead to potential problems in several areas, including:
Eating skills: If your baby is ready to try food with more texture but continues to eat only purees, this may delay the development of critical eating skills, such as chewing and swallowing thicker or chunkier food. These skills are also important for speech development.
Range of flavors: Pouch purees often combine multiple ingredients – such as a fruit and vegetable or meat – with the fruit's sweetness as the dominant flavor. So your child may be eating savory foods like beef or kale, but she isn't necessarily becoming familiar with those flavors.
Eating habits: Some experts believe that the convenience of pouches means parents may make them available too often – whenever a baby or toddler starts fussing, for example. This encourages more frequent snacking that could lead to overeating and an unhealthy association of food with comfort.
Dental health: Sucking on pouches of purees, especially ones containing fruit (which is naturally sugary), throughout the day can put babies at a higher potential risk for tooth decay.
As your baby is mastering eating solids, focus on helping her eat developmentally appropriate foods, get used to eating from a spoon, and, eventually, feed herself. Whenever possible, squeeze the pouch contents into a bowl so that your child can see and smell the food as she eats. Save offering food directly from pouches for when you're on the go or as an occasional snack.
Is baby food packaging recyclable?
Glass jars: The glass is recyclable. Separate the metal lids and follow local guidelines for recycling metals. You may need to remove and throw out the lid liner.
Plastic containers: Typically recyclable. Look for a recycling code that indicates the type of plastic and check local guidelines. However, wrappers and pull-off lids may need to go in the trash.
Pouches: Not recyclable locally. Manufacturers are still looking for a solution to this, although at least one company offers a mail-in recycling program for used baby food pouches.
What else do I need to know about the safety of baby food packaging?
Baby food is perishable. Some store-bought baby foods need to be kept in the refrigerator (if you purchased the food from a store's refrigerated section, this is likely the case). Other baby food is shelf stable and can be stored unrefrigerated until its expiration date.
Once a container of baby food is opened, follow the manufacturer's instructions for storing leftovers and the timeframe for discarding whatever is uneaten.
Always discard baby food in these situations:
A safety button that isn't flat in a glass jar's lid. If the seal of a jar of baby food is broken and a jar doesn't "pop" when you open it, throw it away.
Swollen or leaking pouches. Either could be a sign that the food is contaminated.
Past expiration date. It's a good practice to check the expiration date of any food you feed to your baby.
Understanding baby food labels
There's a lot of information on baby food labels. Here's how to decode some of the most common language you'll see.
"GMO" stands for "genetically modified organism." These are plants, animals, or microorganisms that have had their genetic material altered in some way. There's no evidence that GMO foods are harmful to eat. In the United States, they're regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, along with other government organizations.
You may see the following GMO-related labels on baby food:
Non-GMO means the food was made without genetic engineering and contains no ingredients derived from GMOs.
Non-GMO Project Verified means the product meets the standards of the Non-GMO Project Product Verification program, North America's only third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.
Bioengineered refers to a specific type of GMO food that can only be created in a lab and can't be found in nature.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates and approves products with organic labels.
If a product has a USDA organic seal, it means the product was grown without the use of GMOs, most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides; and the product doesn't have artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. If the product contains meat, the livestock only ate 100 percent organic food and wasn't given antibiotics or hormones.
Different versions of the organic label include:
100% organic: The ingredients are all 100 percent organic.
Organic: The ingredients are at least 95 percent organic.
Made with organic ingredients: The ingredients are at least 70 percent organic.
"OU" stands for Orthodox Union, the world's largest and most widely recognized Kosher certifying agency. A Kosher designation means that the food conforms to Jewish dietary law. Here are the different product designations:
OU is for kosher products that contain no meat or dairy.
OU-D is for kosher dairy products.
OU-M and OU-Glatt are for kosher meat products.
Understanding nutrition labels
There's a lot of information on the nutrition facts label you'll see on baby foods, but not all of it is necessarily relevant for your baby's health. Here's a breakdown of what you'll see on the label.
The percent daily value on the nutrition facts label includes an amount in grams and a percentage that represents how much of that nutrient the Food and Drug Administration recommends you get in a day. On baby food products, the percentage is based on how much of that nutrient a baby under a year old needs.
Calories are a way to measure how much energy you get from a food. There isn't an official recommendation for how many calories a baby needs in a day, and you don't need to worry about calories when feeding your baby. Instead, watch for clues that tell you when your baby has had enough to eat – for example, they'll turn away from a bottle, breast, or spoonful of food when they're not hungry.
Fat is a concentrated source of energy, a must-have for your growing baby. And fat is essential for brain development – the majority of the brain is composed of fat. You don't need to limit your baby's fat intake.
Cholesterol helps your body build cells and make vitamins and other hormones. You don't need to limit your baby's cholesterol for the same reason you don't need to limit their fat – they need the energy since they're growing so quickly.
Sodium is the salt in a food product. Babies get enough sodium in the breast milk or formula they drink. Experts advise against giving your baby extra salt in their diet before they're 2 years old.
"Total sugars" refers to both naturally occurring and added sugars in a product. Naturally occurring sugars are found in many healthy foods, such as fruit and milk. Added sugars are those added to foods and drinks during processing or preparation – like corn syrup and white sugar. Experts advise against giving children under 2 years old added sugar in their diet.
Protein is another essential nutrient that you don't need to limit in your baby's diet.
The FDA requires that manufacturers include vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, since people in the United States often don't get enough of those nutrients in their diets. Manufacturers may include other vitamins and minerals, too.
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