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Pouches and Squeezies: nice option or enabling counterproductive feeding?

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 in Blog Posts | 17 comments

I was shocked at Target recently when I saw that fully half of the baby foods section was taken up by pouches or “squeezies.” (This recent NYT article details their meteoric growth, convenience  factor, and why they may be problematic…)

I had first seen these about ten years in France. (Can you believe a convenience food that wasn’t invented in the U.S.!?) My nieces would get a pouch packed in the picnic lunch or on the bike ride. It was not a food consumed at home. It was only available as apple sauce.

These pouches can be a fine tool to round out snacks on the go (then again, so could an actual apple), but they should be the exception, not the rule. I recently had my own squeezie run in… M wanted some for her lunches, many of which have to be “disposable” when they go on field trips at camp. I bought a 6 pack, and she insisted she loved them, we even had a few for our sit-down snacks at home. So, next time we were at Target, I bough a large pack of 18. Guess what, she doesn’t like them anymore… Sigh. I think one day she sucked down two, didn’t really pay attention and then didn’t feel very good. Too sweet? I don’t know, but now I have a big box. All part of life with the fickle tastes of even an adventurous eater.

But, I digress… As a feeding specialist, I worry that the pouches are not helping children learn to be competent eaters, and I am definitely seeing families getting stuck with the pouches and not able to move beyond them to more challenging and appropriately textured foods. The pouches seem to enable and promote counterproductive feeding habits often fueled by parents who are worried about nutrition and weight, and who don’t get good feeding support and advice.

—When a child is sucking down a squeezie of pureed pears, she is still sucking. Yes, it’s “solid” food, but delivered in a way that is developmentally not appropriate for a good portion of food intake. Not exposing a child to appropriate textures can actually lead to or worsen sensory problems. Children need more and more challenging textures and flavors to learn how to chew and manage foods appropriately.

—Some parents I’ve worked with are terrified of choking use squeezies or mesh feeders, missing out on exposing the child to appropriate textures. (Many often confuse normal gagging with choking.)

—When some parents worry about nutrition and weight, and their child readily eats squeezies, I’ve seen them offer squeezies every meal and snack, which the child then chooses to the exclusion of other foods. (Squeezies, even those with veggies, tend to be sweet, and don’t help children branch out with texture or flavor.)

—For a very selective child, perhaps with severe sensory issues or on the autism spectrum who only eats purees, these are also tricky as some of these children get fixated on packaging. So maybe they will only eat one brand or one flavor… (Then again, if texture is the big issue, perhaps this can at least introduce a few new flavors while the family begins to rehabilitate feeding.) Standard advice for children on the spectrum who may have this rigid tendency,  is to avoid serving foods from the original containers, which is pretty hard with a squeezie. Kind of defeats the purpose.

—Pouches also make it too easy for the child to eat on the run, one more nail in the coffin for family meals. Family meals are critical for children to be exposed to and learn to like the foods the family eats. (I’ll assume Mom and Dad aren’t sucking down Squeezies too…) Family meals help children to enjoy better nutrition (eating more fruits and veggies), they tend to have more stable and healthy weight, and they are happier and healthier to boot!

—A child also may be encouraged to graze, since kids can often help themselves to these handy, sweet snacks throughout the day, in front of the TV, or on the way to soccer, ballet, judo, piano, violin… It was interesting in the NYT article that these are seen as a solution to hectic lives (aren’t we clever), when perhaps they are enabling less than ideal eating habits. Wouldn’t it be nice if the discussion focused on why our kids are more programmed than a “CEO?”( Back to France, which everyone seems to be fixated on these days in the food world,  it would simply be inconceivable to our French nieces, now tweens with busy schedules, to miss family dinners for gymnastics or flute…)

In addition, as the article stated, pouches are appealing to children because the child can control the experience. The older infant can hold and take in the food on her own terms, which may be preferable to being fed by an anxious parent, or one who is pushy with the spoon. The families I have seen who fall into this trap often have smaller than average children and are having difficulties and battles around “getting solids in,” so these pouches seem like a blessing. (It may seem like a blessing to the child too, when the battles over the spoon are over, and they are allowed to suck on a brightly colored pouch, with no one interfering…)

Children generally do best with structure and sit down meals and snacks where they can pay attention and tune in to hunger and fullness cues. It’s too easy to slurp a few of these down and either get too much, or sip on these throughout the day just enough to take the edge off any real appetite that might prompt a child to try a new food or enjoy a balanced meal with protein, fat and carbs…

There is nothing inherently wrong with a squeezie, and it’s a decent choice to round out that snack at the park, or with one meal or snack a day, but be careful if you are reaching for the squeezie at every meal or snack “just to get something in her.” The same advice goes for any food, whether it’s a smoothie, frozen pop, or supplement. If it’s the only thing you are offering, beware…

What do you think? Love your squeezies?  Hate them?  Feel stuck and can’t move on?

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17 Comments

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  1. Crystal

    I am a little late to this article but I am now stuck with the squeezies. This is the only way I can get my now two year old to eat any kind of vegetable. If I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I would never have brought squeezies into my home.

    • katja

      Don’t lose hope! My book may have some insights, intro through chapter 4 especially. Also, Mealtime Hostage blog and FB page can have some ideas. Take it slow, serve all the fruits/veggies etc in lots of different and appealing ways and try to avoid pressure. (I go into this a lot in the book, what is pressure, why it backfires, and what to do instead!) Good luck, and hope you stick around! Lots of great stuff and support on the FB page.

  2. Kris

    I find them very useful. I make a two lunches every day, and I always want to include a fruit and vegetable. Whole fruit has a shelf life, so if you didn’t go to the grocery store recently enough, you can be out. And some whole fruit needs to be cut up, which adds to the morning routine time. Apples need to be cut, at least for my youngest, and grapes need to be cut for both (if I don’t, the teachers do, and I feel bad about that). So it’s convenient to have a shelf-stable fruit to round out lunch for those days when I don’t have fresh or don’t have time to chop.

    Then there’s the mess issue. I don’t like sending a young kid to school with lots of spill-able stuff, particularly when they are still learning the spoon. Since the squeeze foods aren’t nearly as mess-prone, I feel better about sending them along with spoon food like yogurt than I would sending two spoon foods.

    They’re also useful in picnic situations.

    The one bad habit they enable for me is breakfast in the car. I do try to make breakfast, but sometimes we’re running late. Without squeeze foods, breakfast in the car would be cheerios, with squeeze foods, it cheerios and a squeeze food.

    My kids like them, but I try not to serve them at home because they are so expensive, and we usually have better options if we’re home.

    • katja

      sounds reasonable and like it’s working for you. Go for it! Interestingly, our kid’s preschool wouldn’t allow yogurt tubes, wonder what their policy is on Squeezies? It is a nice option for meals away from home.

  3. SherryH

    I’ve never encountered these pouches and squeezies – they weren’t around, I don’t think when my kids were young. (They’re currently 17 and 19.) We did have squeezable yogurt and small packets of fruit-flavored snacks to pack in lunches on occasion, but that’s a different ball of wax, I think.

    With Debby bearing down on Florida, it does strike me that these would be great to store away for hurricanes, blizzards, and similar events where refrigeration and cooking may be interrupted. Maybe also for camping, or to keep in a car emergency kit? I think I’d rather have something with more fat and protein, though, like trail mix or nuts. Oh – perhaps for someone older or disabled or both, who might not be able to cook well on his or her own?

    And, as cecile says, the cost would definitely be a factor for us. And the packaging – I agree with Melinda Hemmelgarn that it’s probably not the most Earth-friendly way to eat.

    • katja

      What about cans? I guess safer than jars. I imagine their shelf-life is much more limited than canned foods, but an interesting point! :)

      • Camilla

        I think the cans serve the function of keeping you from starving in an emergency that drags on for days, since you will eventually get hungry enough to be willing to eat them cold.

        The squeezies serve the function of keeping the kids from whining in the first hours of an emergency, when maybe you’re cooped up in the car waiting for a tow truck, or the power’s out but it’s not time to fire up the propane grill and empty the freezer.

        Personally, I buy stuff that’s a lot on the sweet side for the latter, and I pack it off to the food bank promptly when the forecast clears.

  4. Melinda Hemmelgarn

    One issue that I’d like to see addressed is the total cost of these processed foods. How much fossil fuel is used to create these little packages, and how much waste is generated from these pouches. I’d like to see us look at the food system with an eye toward conservation and real sustainability.
    Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.
    Food Sleuth Radio

    • katja

      I totally agree. each pouch is 100 calories worth of energy. Seems highly wasteful in terms of sustainability. I often think of how different it was for even my parents in the 40s and 50s, when there was so much less packaging associated with food. Makes me crazy when an individual pepper is wrapped in plastic. I would love to know how Germany or more progressive companies deal with this. If we want to tax “junk foods” for the perceived health costs associated, maybe it’s time to start taxing packaging and carbon footprint. Who knows! I know in general, Germans pay far more for trash removal, when I visited there as a kid, people would unwrap items at the store and leave the trash at the store. I bet that would get the packagers to rethink packaging pretty quick! Thank you for bringing up this important perspective!

    • Heidi

      This was my first thought also – look at all that waste!

  5. Heather

    These pouches weren’t around a few years ago when my son was a toddler, but if they had been I can see having them as an occasional option for snacks on long outings or while travelling. I don’t like how they seem to be used as a meal substitute or for ‘mindless’ eating while kids are doing other stuff.

    I’ve actually wondered about them for myself as a fuel source during bike rides or long runs. And it’s interesting from the NYT article to note that Grimmer of Plum Organics used to work at Clif Bar, a company that makes food for athletes. Clif Shots (a gel that comes in a squeezable pouch http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_shot_gel/) have been around long before these pouches for kids but they deliver food in such a similar way that I have to think they were a model for these pouches.

    • katja

      Yes, I was a little surprised that it was presented like a new idea, when they were around in France at least 10 years ago (Maternel I think) and there were those pouches for athletes. I thought of those too. I mentioned somewhere on a comment that I can see us all in 150 years sucking these down. At least with Clif bars there is some chewing involved.
      I admit I am looking for easy to pack snacks, since M has yet to find a granola or other Clif bar type of thing that she likes… Sigh. I would love to have something in a wrapper I can just toss in my purse for those rare occasions when I can’t pack and apple with some crackers and cheese…

  6. cecile

    They are OK for an occasional snack, as you say, when they need a disposable option… but I find their price to be really limiting, when you compare it to jar apple sauce, or, yes, apples. And my kids don’t really like them, too sweet.

    • katja

      I haven’t done an ounce for ounce comparison. I should! Thanks Cecile! I do notice when M eats something sweet (or drinks it) without fat or protein, she complains that her stomach hurts… I think that’s what happened and it put her off it.

  7. Lisa

    I was hoping you would do a piece on that NYT article, Katja :) I have never used these, and agree with you that perhaps as an occasional snack they’d be OK. I thought the author of the NYT article did a good job of discussing the pros and cons and questioning the business owner’s framing about how we parents have no choice but to move to eating-on-the-go. I actually emailed the writer and recommended your website to him as he seemed genuinely interested in helping his daughter eat well.

    • katja

      Thanks Lisa!
      I agree that the folks selling them have a vested interest in our grab-n-go culture… I always wonder if the folks who push this kind of thing don’t themselves know how to eat. I was blown away at a feeding therapies training when the trainers talked so much about weight watchers, their own weight issues, and how kids can’t self-regulate… When the people teaching kids to eat, or coming up with food products don’t value meals and food themselves, I think it shows. I do wonder if in 150 years most humans will be sucking food from pouches with vitamins, fat and protein powders added for “complete” nutrition…