With an 8 year old son and a 6 year old daughter, my wife and I were a little bit rusty when little Mia came last September. After not seeing a diaper for four years, getting used to having a baby in the house again took some getting used to. Luckily, Mia went easy on us. In many ways, muscle memory takes over. Making bottles, changing diapers, and burping babies seem to be skills akin to riding a bike; once learned, they aren’t easily forgotten.
But, how much different is the baby landscape today than it was 6 years ago? Well, Sesame Street is still on, and Alan, Maria, and the gang don’t look too much older. Baby Formula and diapers are still outrageously expensive. The “bouncie seats,” “excersaucers,” and play pens seem a bit fancier, but relatively the same. Except the food. Back when my other kids were babies, you seemed to have a choice between making your own baby food, and spooning from a gar of Gerber’s. Any parent worth their salt has sampled most of the jarred flavors, and I know of few parents that are dying for another spoonful of jarred “Mac and Beef” or “Chicken with Vegetables” after they’ve temperature-tested the first one.
Imagine my surprise, then, when my wife exclaimed, “yum!” after sampling a spoonful of baby food. The sample in question was Tasty Baby’s Corn in the USA. Jen took another spoonful and insisted that I try some myself. The pureed corn was so unbelievably fresh—and smelled so good—that I couldn’t believe this was actually baby food. I tasted several spoonfuls and pronounced it fit for Mia’s consumption. Welcome to the new age in baby food: where fresh-frozen, really tasty 100% organic meals come right out of your freezer, rather than the pantry. With the assistance of my very hungry 8 month old daughter Mia, Canvas put three of today’s popular frozen baby food brands to the test. Here are the results.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, HappyBaby is one of the more popular fresh-frozen organic baby foods on the market, and widely available through Babies R Us, Fresh Direct, and many local markets. Packages come with two flavors to serve together. Mia tried Smarter Squash and Wiser Apple and also sampled the Super Salmon and Regular Prunes and the Grreat Greens and Easy Going Greens. Everything with the exception of the salmon was enjoyed heartily—and gobbled down.
When taken out of the package, the food comes in a plastic ice-cube tray, with individual portions that can be divided to customize the meal. For Mia, who has an unusually large appetite, 3 cubes of greens and 3 of apples made for a hearty meal. Having the portions relatively small means being able to introduce a lot of variety in a single meal also. One drawback was that the cubes are not individually marked, so (unless you write on them), it is not easy to distinguish a cube of, say, Super Salmon from Smarter Squash.
HappyBaby was founded by Shazi VisramI, a Mom who wanted better prepared choices for her baby. According to Shazi, “I dedicated myself to offering parents an alternative to processed jarred foods once I became aware of the lack of nutritious store-bought options for baby foods and the desire of so many moms to make their own foods though they simply don’t have the time. Feeding baby the best variety of fresh whole foods truly impacts the eating habits and taste profiles that stay with your child for life, yet the norm since the 1930’s has been a jar of food that can sit on a shelf for three years! Along with Dr Sears, our belief is that the purity of organics and the freshness in taste, texture and color are extremely important in growing a healthy eater.”
Mia couldn’t agree more! (We understand that HappyBites toddler meals, with “hidden veggies in every bite” are coming to Whole Foods soon, so parents of older kids may want to look out for that).
Started by Gigi Chang (whose current title is “Founder and Mom of Cato”), we found Plum Organics in Whole Foods. Gig talked to Canvas about the company and where it’s going: “Seeing my son when he was 9 months old so engaged in eating and the joy he had for mealtime was what led me to start Plum Organics. Even though he is 4 now, he is still my inspiration-every day. After starting Plum Organics, I have learned so much about the impact our actions make on our environment. As a company, we are proud to be the only baby food partner of Healthy Child Healthy World and strive to minimize our carbon footprint. For example, our new Kids line uses a biodegradable tray that is the first of its kind. We are also using a paperboard that is 100% carbon neutral because of the materials it uses and the energy used to produce it. Packaging is one of the most wasteful parts of a food product so I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do to make our packaging better.”
Sounds good, but what did Mia think? Mia sampled a large variety of Plum Organics, trying offerings ranging from the simple (“super greens” and “pears and apples”) to the more robust (“chicken whole grain pasta” and “red lentil veggie”). Like me, Mia enjoyed the basics, like the greens and fruit, was slightly more resistant to some of the healthier fare, like the lentils. That being said, the meals kept disappearing into her tiny belly. Packaged in small plastic bowls, the Plum Organics meals are very easy to defrost (keep in the fridge overnight, or a quick blast in the microwave), and the portions are well-sized.
Unless you are from Los Angeles, you probably haven’t head of TastyBaby, but this brand of frozen organic baby food was started by Liane Weintraub, a former New Yorker, and Shannan Swanson, who has strong roots in the world of frozen food (yes, that Swanson). Anyway, the name really does say it all: they make one heck of a tasty baby food. Mia has been devouring Bangos (Mango banana puree), Sweetie Pie (a sweet potato, apple, and cinnamon mix), and Corn in the USA like it’s going to be outlawed tomorrow.
The food is honestly so fresh and delicious that TastyBaby offers adult recipes. I tried the Life’s a Peach bellini recipe and found the cold, pureed peaches the ultimate accompaniment to soarkling wine. I also found myself sharing Mia’s Corn in the USA. If Mia has a favorite of all the brands, it was probably TastyBaby’s Bangos.
Although available via Boxed Greens, the excellent organic online store, TastyBaby is coming to the Food Emporium in Manhattan—and will hopefully be in Whole Foods soon.
[This was originally published in Canvas Magazine]