If you've been to a baby shower at some point in your life, you're probably familiar with the baby food game: A Gerber jar is passed around and partygoers have to guess the flavor. Without fail, it's accompanied by lots of giggling and comments about how gross it tastes. Hilarious, until you stop and think about what's really going on: Why would you feed your baby something you wouldn't touch yourself?
Baby food has widely been unchanged since the 1940s, when shelf-stabilized options were introduced. The only major advancement since then was the advent of organic products—over 50 years ago. Needless to say, the baby food industry is eons behind the rest of the healthy food world. But in the past two years, a few key startups have begun to turn the tide.
"When I had my daughter, I was able to find healthier food for my dog than I could my baby."
"When I had my daughter, I was able to find healthier food for my dog than I could my baby," says Alyson Eberle, who went on to found Pure Spoon, a line of organic purees now available at grocery stores across the country that can also be delivered straight to your door. And she wasn't the only frustrated parent making her own baby food at home, wishing there were more—or at least any—options out there.
For the first time, parents are now able to get organic, nutritionally-balanced baby food without spending hours blending it themselves. And that's major.
What does the baby food revolution look like? Keep reading to find out.
Evolving passed mashed bananas
As a registered dietitian, Michelle Davenport, PhD, RD, knows exactly how food impacts the developing brain. "When I had my daughter, I had this whole plan of how I was going to make my own baby food and be the perfect mom," she says. "I literally had a scale and measured out her food to make sure she was getting a balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbs—and not too much sugar. But it was way more work than I ever anticipated."
She shared her baby food-making woes with her friend Santiago Merea (the former CEO of Orange Chef). "I have twin boys, so I was making baby food times two," he says. "The first weekend, it was a fun project. The second weekend, it wasn't that fun. And the third weekend, it really wasn't fun."
"When it comes to adult food, we're obsessed with getting the right amount of protein, healthy fats, and carbs. But when it comes to babies, we're like, 'oh, just mash up a banana it's fine.'"
Seeing a need, the two joined forces and created Raised Real, a homemade baby food system that delivers pre-portioned, ready-to-blend meals straight to your door. Everything is still measured on a scale, just like Davenport was doing at home, to ensure a perfect nutritional balance.
"When it comes to adult food, we're obsessed with getting the right amount of protein, healthy fats, and carbs. But when it comes to babies, we're like, 'Oh, just mash up a banana; it's fine.'" Merea says. "That's not fine. That's not what babies need!"
Around the same time, Lisa Barnett co-founded Little Spoon, a meal subscription service of healthy, organic pureed baby food. "Babies actually have tastebuds not just on their tongue, but on the inside of their cheeks and the roof of their mouth too," she says, adding that what you feed them sets the stage for what cravings they will develop later on. (Um, whoa.) "If you give your baby pureed avocado or greens, they'll want that later. It's important not to just feed them sugary fruit or Spaghetti-Os."
Nourish Baby, a New York City-based delivery service, offers food that mimics breastmilk for those first months of transitional eating for babies. "We incorporate a lot of egg yolk, ghee, salmon roe, and even liver," founder Marissa Lippert says, adding that they use more traditional baby food ingredients, too, like avocados, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. Nourish Baby's line also includes a couple food options for moms—including comforting bone broth and a lactation cooke—because, Lippert says, "When you're a new mom, you're consumed with taking care of your baby, but so often no one is really taking care of you."
There's even a Paleo baby food now on the market. Like Nourish Baby, Serenity Kids' purees are high in fat and protein, similar to breastmilk. And the ingredients are simple. One example: uncured bacon with organic kale and butternut squash. That's it. And it tastes so good adults are using it as a Whole30 snack.
New technology is feeding new innovations
Baby food is now finally able to get an upgrade because technology has advanced enough to allow for new innovation. Eberle, the Pure Spoon founder, was one of the first to figure it out, using high pressure processing (HPP) the same way many cold-pressed juice companies do. "No one had ever done it with purees before," Eberle says.
"What the HHP machine does to the food is it kills all the bad bacteria that you would with high heat pasteurization, but it doesn’t kill the good parts of the food. With heat pasteurization, you’re killing the good with the bad." It took her 18 months to get it right, but she did it.
Moving beyond the pouch
One reason it took so long for Eberle to get the cold-pressed purees out the door was because she had a hard time finding packaging that worked with the HPP machine. "It was important to me to not use pouches," she says. "Babies need to see and handle their own food."
Barnett, of Little Spoon, feels the same way. "Our purees come with a spoon so kids learn to feed themselves," she says. "That understanding of what mealtime is really does start that young. It helps them develop motor skills and long-lasting life habits."
Bringing healthy baby food to the masses
For Barnett, it was really important that their subscription service wasn't so expensive that it was inaccessible for the average family. "We did a lot of research on what the median income was for parents with young kids," she says. (Meals cost between $2.99 and $4.99, depending on the type of subscription service.)
While the home delivery method is the most popular for emerging healthy baby food startups—and perhaps the most appealing to busy, exhausted parents—Pure Spoon has worked their way into many big grocery chains, including Whole Foods, Kroger, and Walmart. And no, not on the shelf next to the shelf-stabilized options.
What started as a few frustrated parents on a mission has turned into a movement. And babies across the country are eating a whole lot better because of it—let's just say you're going to have to find a new game to play at your next baby shower.
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