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?