Since having my first child nearly 10 years ago, I have seen many changes in baby equipment and trends. Yet nothing worries me more than the foil food pouches that have become ubiquitous in every diaper bag. My youngest child is 18 months old, and they’re in mine, too. I have watched my son suck down a pouch in 20 seconds flat and thought to myself, “Oh great, he’s eaten. Let’s carry on with the hundred other things I need to do in the next 20 minutes.”
What’s the problem, you may ask? At first glance, food pouches seem like a convenient, mess-free and efficient way to get all-natural or organic fruit, veggies and other healthy foods into our little ones. But then I looked at my son’s mouth as he was sucking (or “suckling,” I should say) and thought, “Oh no—that’s not the jaw pattern I want to see on a child.” (These kind of observations are how a feeding therapist takes his/her work home.) So I reached out to other pediatric-feeding specialists, and it seems that all around the county we are finding that we need to educate parents about the negative impacts we are seeing because of this new fad. Many members of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) have expressed concern. Yet the message is having a hard time getting traction, and I continue to see more pouches and less spoon use. So here I am, another voice telling you how the food companies neglect to ask the experts before they unleash products on consumers.
The mouth movements our little ones are using to extract the food at the pace they use when consuming a food pouch are not good, especially for kids who have oral motor (mouth movement) issues or delays. Our little ones are no longer interacting with food directly. Food preparation (touching, feeling, chopping and cooking) are important parts of their development. Getting messy is part of the process of learning to eat. Taste and textures are stilted when children use food pouches, and it’s harder to move on from the pouch diet to real food.
One of the biggest issues is that it takes practically no effort to eat from a pouch. Much like sippy cups, the pouches prolong an immature tongue pattern, more like a suckle than a suck. Moreover, they prevent the cheek muscles from developing as they would with spoon feeding and the natural progression to soft, chewable foods.
Children with strong gag reflexes, low muscle tone and hyper-sensory sensitivities all seem to be more interested in eating from the pouch than from a spoon, because it’s easier. In the long run, however, this only limits feeding development and a vicious cycle begins.
In her recent article for ASHA, Malanie Potock comments: “Purees offer a safe start to eating solid foods, but ultimately, we want to practice chewing and swallowing foods in whole form. Research shows babies who linger on purees are at risk for developing a feeding disorder.”
If you really must use these as a main food source, it would be much, much better to use them with a spoon. There are spoons you can purchase that attach to the top of the pouch, and there are silicon straw tops you can attach to the spout for older babies—about 9 months and up.
So how does this on-the-go, busy mother balance things? I’m lucky. With my husband as chef, we make most of our own gourmet baby food. Also at home, my big baby helps me unpack the shopping, watches me in the kitchen and knows where to get himself a real banana. He even has his own kitchen toys. I admit that there is often one of these “foil friends” in my diaper bag for the emergency “Oh no! This line at Target is so long and my toddler is grabbing everything and about to melt down on the floor now!” moment. But to me, these “friendly” foil food pouches are more foe than friend.
By Gemma White
Gemma White, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language therapist who focuses in the area of autism spectrum disorders and pediatric dysphagia (feeding issues). Gemma qualified as a speech-language therapist in the U.K. 15 years ago. She worked for the McCarton Center for Developmental Pediatrics and is currently in private practice in Manhattan and Riverdale. Gemma has lectured as a continuing education provider for speech-language pathologists, ATIA and Apple on the uses of technology in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
If you have concerns about your child’s eating, drinking or weight gain, please contact your pediatrician or local speech-language pathologist.